| New Delhi |
Updated: September 16, 2020 12:51:29 am
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It’s quite a story. A hardened professional known for his imperious batting, snarls, and clashes on the field and in stairwells, the villain in a ball-tampering scandal, moved to tears on air, and then the impressive cricketing comeback. David Warner has perhaps finally secured what had proved elusive throughout his career, at times even in his homeland: genuine love from fans.
Far away from Australia, he has unexpectedly gained adulation in India, especially in a bifurcated Telugu-speaking region united in its love for their Aussie Tiktok hero.
It was the Indian Premier League ecosystem that not only introduced Warner to the cricketing world at large but also made him aware of his own strengths.
Ironically, it was IPL that turned a batsman who seemed custom-built for the shortest format into a Test batsman through his association with Virender Sehwag, who was Jambavana to Warner’s Hanuman, making him aware of what he was really capable of. And it’s the IPL now that’s made him an object of endearment among fans who can’t have enough of the dancing champion. They love the smiles of his kids who prance with him and call his wife Vadhina, sister-in-law, in comments. The Warner brand is well established, at least in the Telugu-speaking cricketing world.
It didn’t seem possible in March 2018 when he stepped away from cricket in tears. Two months after he was handed a 12-month ban by Cricket Australia for his role in the ball-tampering fiasco, former Australia pacer Mike Whitney met Warner at Sydney’s Coogee Oval. He was not there to offer a pep talk or lecture him on morality. As president of Randwick-Petersham, Whitney was excited to have the left-hander playing grade cricket for his club in the upcoming season. Warner has been part of the club since 2013, but rarely found time to play given his international and IPL commitments.
“David is one of the finest players to play for Australia since World War II. To have a player of his calibre playing for us was quite special,” Whitney told The Indian Express. Without any fuss, he made a seamless shift to grade cricket. “Before every match, he prepared meticulously, as if he was playing a Test match. For our young blokes, he was an inspiration,” Whitney says.
Unsurprisingly, his presence sprinkled stardust rarely seen in those games. More than 6,000 flocked for a game between Randwick-Petersham and Sutherland Cricket Club that included players such as Shane Watson, Steve Smith and Steve Waugh’s son Austin.
Looking back, Whitney says Warner was a revelation. “Through the course of that season — in two-day games, ODIs and T20s — he averaged over 80. Off the field, he relentlessly signed autographs. Never said no to anything, interacted with kids and offered valuable advice to the juniors in the team. It’s something that never gets talked about. As the president of the club, I couldn’t have asked for more,” he says. In the dressing room, Warner would narrate stories from his international tours and the IPL that kept his team-mates captivated. According to Whitney, “Warner’s presence energised our team”.
SRH’s man for all seasons
Over the years, Warner has had a similar effect on his IPL franchise, Sunrisers Hyderabad. He has turned them into a force to be reckoned with, through individual acts of brilliance. Sample this. Warner scored over 500 runs in each of his five seasons with SRH and won the Orange Cap on three occasions. Overall, he has scored close to 25 percent of the team’s runs and led them to the title in 2016.
Nevertheless, success on the field can’t remove the stains of past misdemeanours. The ball-tampering incident was not just a one-off. Over the years, Warner had built a reputation of being a brash bully, who would get into ugly altercations — like the staircase explosion he had with Quinton de Kock during that ill-fated tour or punching Joe Root at a pub in Birmingham.
Following his suspension and the subsequent backlash, it could have gone downhill for Warner, but for the support of wife Candice and his three daughters — Ivy Mae, Indi Rae, and Isla Rose. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the daughters have mellowed him down. I think fatherhood changes people in different ways. You’ve got to work, provide them with the best of facilities, better than what you ever had experienced in your life. David has got a beautiful wife. She grew up in the same neighbourhood as he did, and I dare say that she has been the rock,” Whitney notes.
Social media superstar
Five months ago, when the world went into lockdown, Warner tweeted: “Me and Kane Williamson will be doing Tiktok videos during quarantine”. And a fortnight later, he followed it up with another tweet: “zero idea what’s going on but have been told to do tiktok by my 5-yr old”. From then on, it’s been an all-out barrage, much like the opener’s assault on opposition bowlers. From posting videos that show him grooving with his wife and daughters to lip-syncing popular Bollywood and Telugu songs and dressing up in a Bahubali costume, Warner has sent social media into a meltdown.
Social media analyst Gurudutt Biswal believes Warner was smart in his content creation. “He is quite popular with the Sunrisers Hyderabad, which is the reason why he has been generating so much content catering to that particular region.”
— ETimes (@etimes) May 19, 2020
Since his Tiktok debut on April 18, @davidwarner31’s growth has been nothing short of phenomenal — racing from 0 followers to 4.6 million in three months.
Overall, his videos were viewed over 90 million times and garnered 65.7 million likes during this period. Even a ban on Tiktok imposed by the Indian government in late June didn’t hurt Warner’s popularity.
His popularity on Tiktok has resulted in an increased fan following on Instagram. His followers there numbered 4.1 million on September 7. Warner joined Instagram in 2016 and till April 2020, had around 2.3 million followers. However, since April 18 (coinciding with his Tiktok debut), his followers have increased by close to two million. Out of his 4.1 million Instagram followers, 3.1 million are from India.
Biswal attributes Warner’s rise in popularity on Instagram to his sensational foray into Tiktok. “There’s a lot of cross-posting of content that’s taking place with regard to Warner. Since Tiktok gives you that flexibility to repost it on other platforms, we’re seeing a surge in his followers on Instagram as well. It’s an offshoot of that.”
In a sense, Tiktok and Instagram have given Warner the opportunity to change his image and showcase a contrasting side to his personality that many didn’t know existed. “His exploits on Tiktok and Instagram were covered extensively on the news here in Australia during the lockdown. He always had this reputation of being a ferocious competitor. But these videos have shown a funnier side of him. He has matured a lot, and his three daughters and wife have played a key role in his evolution. This virus has also given him an extended time to be with his family in more than a decade, which he has used to his advantage,” Whitney elaborates.
There are sceptics who view Warner’s foray into social media as an attempt at an image makeover. There are others like SRH bowling coach Muttiah Muralitharan, who suggested in half-jest that Warner was doing it for attention. “He wants to be in the limelight. That’s why he is dancing at Tiktok. If I dance, entire India will laugh,” he said on R Ashwin’s Youtube channel.
— David Warner (@davidwarner31) June 8, 2020
Whitney, though, sees it differently. “Even if he has done it for an image makeover, he is showing the world that there’s another side to his personality. When he looks back, he would have realised the mistake that he had committed. But when it’s all washed up and done, you’re looking at one of the greatest Australian cricketers to have played the game across all formats. It (the social media foray) may have started with a bit of fun and then it went viral. There will always be critics who will say negative things no matter what you do.”
Biswal provides an interesting take. “There hasn’t been a single negative post from that (ball-tampering) scandal. Since most of his followers are Indians, they don’t really care about what happened two years ago in South Africa. Had the incident happened in India, it could still have made a difference. But in India, Warner has created a name for himself with the IPL,” he says.
Whitney concludes on a philosophical vein. “If people are enjoying watching Warner and his kids dancing to Bollywood numbers, he is doing a great service because there’s not a lot to smile about currently.”
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