The suspension of this year’s IPL tournament has taken the immediate focus away from the ructions at Sunrisers Hyderabad, where questions remain over the sudden axing of the team’s former captain, David Warner.
Sunrisers had been due to play Mumbai Indians last night, where all eyes would again have been on the Australian opening batsman had he been recalled to the playing XI, or as seems more likely, running the drinks.
Warner was dumped as captain on Saturday night, and found himself out of the team altogether for the side’s next match against Rajasthan Royals, where Sunrisers slumped to their sixth defeat in seven games.
The team’s director of cricket, Tom Moody, said Warner’s absence was down to team balance, but a former teammate, South African great Dale Steyn, suggested there was more to the decision than on-field performances.
A source told Wide World of Sports Warner’s demeanour since early in the tournament was “grumpy” and “sullen”, even before the decision was made to dump the 34-year-old.
That’s at odds with his usual cheerful disposition at the IPL, where he normally embraces the Indian life, aware it’s the biggest market for his brand.
His outlook is unlikely to have been helped by the distance between himself and his family, with wife Candice and their three children unable to travel to India.
A social media post from Warner showed just how hard the separation has been, with the cricketer showing off a message from his daughter, simply captioned “My gorgeous Ivy”.
“Please Daddy come home straight away. We miss you a lot and love you,” the message said.
Life in a biosecurity bubble can also be challenging for players, with Warner having spent extended time in various bubbles since cricket resumed last year. While it’s nothing compared to the problems facing the general Indian population right now, Indian coach Ravi Shastri admitted earlier this week that bubbles are not a long-term solution for the game.
Warner was pictured last month in an eye-opening shot, clad in full protective clothing for an internal flight, hardly something cricketers are accustomed to.
Warner captained Sunrisers Hyderabad to the IPL title in 2016, a team that was coached by Moody and included Warner’s replacement as captain, Kane Williamson.
His contribution to the side’s performance since joining in 2014 can’t be understated. As well as captaining the team to its only title, he’s made 4012 runs at an average of 50.78 and a strike rate of 142.
In the period Warner has been at Sunrisers, no player has scored more runs in the IPL (Virat Kohli is second with 3803), and no other player averages over 50 (minimum 10 games, KL Rahul is second with an average of 47.71 at a strike rate of 136).
What is noticeable is the decline in Warner’s strike rate in IPL11. Having scored at 145 runs per 100 balls during his first six seasons with the franchise, that’s dropped to a strike rate of 110 in 2021.
The situation came to a head against Chennai Super Kings last week, when Warner made 57 off 55 balls, his side reaching 3-171 only through some lusty late hitting from Williamson (26 off 10) and Kedar Jadhav (12 off four).
Chennai chased down the total comfortably, with Warner’s innings in stark contrast to that of the Super Kings’ openers, Ruturaj Gaikwad (75 off 44) and Faf du Plessis (56 off 38).
“I take full responsibility. The way that I batted was obviously very slow,” Warner said post-match. “I was hitting a lot of fielders and (was) very, very frustrated.”
Moody’s explanation that Warner’s omission was down to team balance, with only four overseas players permitted, would have left selectors posing a question to which there was only one realistic answer.
With Williamson as captain, and a desire to include both leg-spinner Rashid Khan and all-rounder Mohammad Nabi, the choice came down to either Warner or his opening partner Jonny Bairstow.
At the time of Warner’s exclusion, Bairstow was the team’s leading runscorer, with his 218 runs coming at a strike rate of 141, compared to Warner’s 193 at 110, meaning the Australian likely paid the price for the fact that a number of the team’s Indian players have failed to fire, necessitating the inclusion of Nabi.
But the spotlight is also on the team management, which includes Moody as director of cricket and fellow Australian Trevor Bayliss as head coach, along with VVS Laxman and Muttiah Muralitharan as mentors.
Moody, who coached the side from 2013-2019, was replaced by Bayliss for 2020, before being brought back for 2021, a situation that has puzzled former New Zealand bowler, now commentator, Simon Doull.
“That dynamic … you sack a coach, Tom Moody, you employ Trevor Bayliss and then you bring Tom Moody back to oversee your cricket,” he said.
“I don’t know how that relationship can possibly work, and I wonder whether one [win] is the direct result of that relationship not working.”
Warner himself seemed to take a swipe at management earlier in the tournament, after Manish Pandey was dropped from the side.
Bayliss said Pandey’s omission was due to the fact the wicket was unlikely to suit his style, but Warner didn’t hold back in a post-match interview.
“It was a harsh call in my opinion. But at the end of the day, it is a decision of the selectors to do that,” Warner said.
Warner didn’t make it clear who “the selectors” were, but many took it as an attack on Bayliss or Moody, or both. A week later, Warner found himself out of the team.
It’s why Steyn, who played for Sunrisers from 2013-2015, feels Warner may have played his last game for the franchise.
“I don’t know whether David may have questioned some of the decisions they had made,” Steyn told ESPNCricinfo.
“Maybe when Manish Pandey was left out, I heard him say something along the lines of ‘It wasn’t his decision’ … Sometimes management don’t appreciate that.”
“The captain of the team also needs to take ownership of this squad and know who is going out onto the field, and sometimes that gets taken out of their hands. I don’t know.
“It just seems like there’s definitely something happening behind closed doors that the public are not aware of.
“It is strange that he’s not still part of the playing XI – it would be understandable if they want to change ownership in terms of the captaincy for next season (but) he’s still a phenomenal batter.
“I think this will be the last time we see David Warner in an orange army (Sunrisers) shirt.”
With the IPL now suspended indefinitely, the saga will drag on until the tournament is either cancelled, or rescheduled, with late September shaping as the only available gap in the calendar, immediately after India’s tour of England and prior to the T20 World Cup, should it go ahead.
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