After a weekend that has all been about pop culture farewells (read: Avengers and Game of Thrones), the 12th season of Indian Premier League had to bid goodbye to one of its biggest stars (temporarily, of course) on Monday.
David Warner, a flawed superstar much like many of the protagonists in the aforementioned global phenoms, was leaving the Sunrisers Hyderabad franchise for the season as national duty comes calling. For that alone, there was an air of expectation surrounding the match against Kings XI Punjab in Hyderabad, enhanced only by the fact that a win was crucial, even imperative, for his team’s playoff chances.
And Warner delivered.
With a performance befitting his stature as one of the greatest ever to have played the tournament, the 32-year-old Australian played a stupendous innings that helped SRH take a step closer to the playoffs with a 45-run win at home. It was a fitting farewell for Hyderabad’s favourite Australian as he made a brilliant 56-ball 81.
Another special innings
Against an opponent who managed to make him play a very uncharacteristic innings the first time they clashed this season, Warner showed he was in no mood to grind it out on Monday night. It was crash, bang, wallop from the word go. Young Arshdeep Singh, after bowling the near perfect first ball, made things easier by feeding him a couple of full balls on the pads in the first over.
Warner was operating only in top gear from there on. The powerplay, Sunrisers’ biggest strength while batting this season, saw Warner race to 37 off 24 balls, with Wriddhiman Saha playing a cameo at the other end.
The 2016 edition captain was joined by the in-form Manish Pandey in the middle and that’s when the afterburners kicked in, with the KXIP spinners operating in tandem. Warner started taking those ones and twos that have been such an integral part of his season – running like there was no tomorrow and making every blade of grass count on the field. He accelerated once again after reaching his ninth fifty-plus score of the season. It was also, remarkably, the eighth consecutive half century for Warner against the team from Punjab, who must be sick of the sight of the Australian opener taking guard against them.
There was a moment during the partnership with Pandey that Warner tapped the ball to midwicket, ran the first run as hard as he could, turned around for the second and put in a full stretch dive that saw him return to the striker’s end in the nick of time before the bails went off. If there was a run to be taken, he’d have it.
Whatever it takes.
All good things come to an end, however, and as he walked back to the dugout – after 692 runs, eight fifties, one hundred, at an average of almost 70 at a strike rate above 140 – the Hyderabad crowd stood up and applauded. It was a rousing reception and Warner soaked it in, kissing his bat and waving back at the adoring orange army.
“I think it just goes back to being still as a batsman. I get the tendency to moving around a bit if there have been a few dots. But I have worked hard on that over the last few months,” Warner said about his batting after the match.
Season of redemption
There was no doubt about Warner’s position among the tournament’s greats before the season began but there were certainly question marks about his form and, perhaps, his image among the fans. He, after all, was coming in from the cold into the tournament, thanks to the now infamous ball-tampering ban which saw him (perhaps unfairly) miss out on playing the tournament last year. One of the reasons bandied about was that the BCCI was hesitant to risk the image of the tournament by allowing someone who was seen as a villain by his own country’s cricket board. (Remember, Warner and Steve Smith were actually not banned by Cricket Australia for the IPL, it was a decision taken by the organisers.)
But what we saw throughout the 2019 season was Warner disproving both aspects consistently. Not only did he hit the ground running with the bat in the season-opener against Kolkata Knight Riders and never looked back, the adoration from Sunrisers fans has been evident, especially at home games.
On the field, with the bat in his hand, he was a force to be reckoned with. As written on these pages earlier in the season, Warner seemed to have returned hungrier for runs, pushing himself to the maximum possible limits and delivering metronomic consistency – a quality that we see in Virat Kohli in the 50-over format.
But it was not about that. Warner showed he is more than just a star batsman for the Hyderabad franchise as the cheers showed every time he walked out on to the field, or took a catch, or put in a dive. On Monday, for instance, he could have easily decided to relax in the dressing room during KXIP’s run-chase after his exhausting innings earlier. Instead, as late as the 18th over of the innings, he was giving his 100% on the field, diving around the boundary like a man possessed, even with the match in the bag by then. It was no wonder the Hyderabad crowd adores him, not just as a batsman but a team man.
“For the first few weeks [since the ball-tampering ban], I just put the bat down and tried to be the best man I can be, the best husband I can be and that’s worked for me,” he said in his parting speech for the season as applause rang out at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium.
Warner’s watch in this IPL came to an end on Monday and, after all that he has gone through in the past year, it could not have been more perfect. The season began with him seeking redemption and, much like many of the pop culture protagonists of the weekend past, he can rest knowing his position as a hero among his fans is reaffirmed.