David Warner and the charms of the bottle

It's not only the cricket, however, that has been in focus at the Champions Trophy. David Warner's seemingly Bacchus-driven indiscretion too has become a major talking point.

Updated: June 14, 2013 19:31 IST
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The Champions Trophy is just about hitting full steam. One semifinalist has already been spotted, and many other teams are in the running for the three remaining spots. The cricket has ranged from the ordinary occasionally to the intense and the gripping for the most part, Kumar Sangakkara's outstanding century to drive Sri Lanka past the line in a stiff chase against England as much the highlight thus far as new-look India's wonderful early form.

It's not only the cricket, however, that has been in focus. In what is not an isolated incident at a major tournament - remember Andrew Flintoff's pedalo exploits during the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007? - David Warner's seemingly Bacchus-driven indiscretion too has become a major talking point.

Even as cricket in the subcontinent is struggling to shrug off the jibes and the taunts relating to spot-fixing, in other parts of the world an equally unwelcome trend that needs serious and immediate addressing is gradually taking deep root. This isn't the first time Warner has courted controversy in recent times; he isn't the first cricketer either, from that part of the world, to have been involved in an alcohol-fuelled misdemeanour.

So, does Warner deserve ridicule, or does he merit anger? Or, does he deserve a bit of sympathy, too? Does he, and other young cricketers who find the stakes high and the pressure stifling, not need careful handling by authorities who, admittedly, have put systems in place but which don't seem to be working. At all.

Less than a month ago, Warner was in the eye of the storm during the Indian Premier League, unleashing an ill-advised, early morning Twitter rant against two senior Australian journalists. Warner was justified in his anger on that occasion - no one likes to see his photograph inside an article that talks at length about spot-fixing and the like, and especially when he has nothing to do with the completely unsavoury episode. The problem was with the method and the medium Warner chose to express his outrage. Surely, 4 am-tweets are very seldom well thought out, especially when reacting to such a sensitive issue. To go out on a limb, pour vitriol and make personal attacks on the journalists in question was an extremely stupid move which not even the most heartfelt apology can make up for.

Close on the heels of that Twitter outburst comes this latest episode, an altercation with Joe Root at a pub in Birmingham last weekend. At 3 am, several hours after Australia had been put in their place by England in the Champions Trophy. We are not making moral judgements here. What Warner does with his time is between him, his teammates and the team management and Cricket Australia, though one does feel that as a public figure, a little discretion never hurts. Of course, we wouldn't be talking Warner, 3 am and pub in the same breath had he not had a go at Root, but he did, so we are.

It has been a rough few months for Warner, unrecognisable as the batsman who destroyed India in Perth in January 2012, or who battered a quality South African attack at Adelaide in November the same year. He had a horrendous run in India in the four-Test series this February-March, and though he did have reasonable success for Delhi Daredevils in the IPL, his international track record has been less than edifying. Both the Twitter rant and the Root altercation can be put down to frustration, to feeling the heat, to pressures real and imagined, to his own perceived inability to contribute to the team's cause at a difficult period for Australian cricket, struggling to cope with the retirements of Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey, two serious legends. But whether the undesirable ends are justified is another matter altogether.

Warner is most certainly not in a minority. Just in the last few years, there has been a string of alcohol-induced incidents involving Australian cricketers - and we are not going back 14 years in time, when Ponting who occasionally had one drink too many as a youngster was knocked out by a punch at a Sydney Hotel. Marsh brothers Shaun and Mitchell have been censured, sanctioned and welcomed back, Luke Pomersbach has had his fair share of run-ins, but there has been no more high-profile incident than Andrew Symonds turning up drunk for practice during the tour of England in 2005.

Australia's trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand too have had issues with players and alcohol. Jesse Ryder has been involved in a fair few incidents, recently Jeetan Patel was pulled up for a night out with Daniel Vettori on the eve of a match and Doug Bracewell suffered an injury that could have been more serious not long before a Test match against South Africa.

Quite obviously, it will be ridiculously foolhardy to typecast players from a country or from a region, but equally clearly, there is a problem that needs to be tackled with urgency and the utmost seriousness. Alcohol management is an age-old problem, and has traversed the wide spectrum of sport. Cricketers aren't the only professional sportspersons to have fallen prey to the 'charms' of the bottle; the issue here is not whether a professional sportsperson should drink or not. As adults, they are perfectly entitled to make their own choices, but it is when the personal choice impacts his standing as a professional - in terms of performance, and in terms of individual and team reputation - that questions need, and begin, to be asked.

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