Warner's hundred another stage of the homecoming

When does a cricketer feel at home in a team? Some get that sense within the minutes of their first match for a side, others may go seasons without ever quite feeling a part of it, whatever their performances or how things look in all the on-field backslapping.

The Australian team can be an unforgiving place. One former opening batsman confessed some years ago that when he was first called up, days went by before any other team-mate spoke to him by way of welcome. Another called a Cricket Australia official during an early spell in the team to say he was lonely away from home, and to ask for something to do.

No-one, though, has quite had an experience quite like that of David Warner, banished from the Australia side in the wake of the Newlands scandal last year and, unlike the former captain Steven Smith, left very much isolated by his identification as the ringleader of the ball tampering plot, if not its subsequent cover-up.

In those desperate hours and days following Warner's ban, accompanied by a lifetime suspension from ever holding a formal leadership position in the team, he was seen to be at odds with the rest, even more so than Smith or Cameron Bancroft. There was, in the game's highest circles, widespread acknowledgement that he may never be selected again. Warner, for his part, said as much in an otherwise legally constrained return home press conference at the SCG.

A little more than a year on, it should be noted that the first leadership figure in Australian cricket to offer a more welcoming word to Warner was Justin Langer, when he was appointed national team coach in May 2018. While Langer was not without his own reservations, wanting to get a stronger sense of where Warner and the team were at before a lengthy reintegration process began, he offered far more carrot than stick to the ex-vice-captain.

"He's a really good young bloke and he made a mistake," Langer said at the time. "I love the way he plays his cricket. The way he runs between the wickets, the way he fields, the way he bats - they're things that for the less-trained eye, you might not respect as much."

So it was that Warner and Smith were reintegrated, by way of net sessions in Australia, a team visit in the UAE, a World Cup preparation camp in Brisbane, and innumerable phone calls, text exchanges and coffee catch-ups. Warner all the while kept a commendable silence, not seeking any platform for self-justification, and grinding out runs wherever he was permitted to play.

Even so, his return to Australian ranks had been halting prior to the century against Pakistan that underlined his exceedingly rare ability, turning a bowler-friendly day into a head start of 146 without loss that was still standing when Australia finally secured victory in the Taunton twilight. A pair of scratchy innings against Afghanistan and India, either side of a brief one against the West Indies, suggested he was not yet at home. The hundred, Langer now reckons, will be remembered as the knock that sealed his return.

"You can see in his eyes how determined he is to be back playing for Australia," Langer said. "When you score a hundred, it is almost like there is no better feeling in the world. I listened to the press conference you had with him, he can only explain how he felt, but for us if you score a hundred it's almost like, 'righto, I am back, I am back'. And that's a good thing.

"That's a nice feeling I am sure for him and it's a nice feeling for us that you can score some runs. Hundreds, they are the milestone, they are the reward. In a lot of ways, that's a really great reward for him."

Recognition, both for Warner and team-mates, that his singular match-winning skills remain very much intact, was distinct from regaining respect. This, Langer argued, had been generated long ago by the way Warner set about the time he had away from international cricket.

"Honestly, when you pay the price that he has paid for 12 months, and see him come back with a smile on his face and super fit, he didn't have to earn back any respect," Langer said. "Everyone knew what he has been through the last 12 months. They also know what a great player he is. He has always had the respect as a player. He is a really good young bloke and he has come back with a smile on his face, he is fit, he had respect as soon as he came in."

Langer has observed Warner's batting with optimism but also realism. He is looking for Warner the batsman, not Warner the hitter, perhaps with half an eye towards the Ashes. The Taunton century was Warner's first international hundred in England or Wales after also touring in 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2017. He has some ground to make up in the UK.

"There is a bit of talk about how he was going. He has done an unbelievable job for the team in all games we have played so far," Langer said. "You saw how emotional he was and how much it meant to him. It meant a lot to all of us as well."

If there was a criticism of Warner from Langer it was this: from where he set the team's platform, a far bigger score was in the offing against Pakistan, and Australia's subsequent decline needed to be seen as falling at least somewhat in his lap.

"I think we probably left 50 or 60 runs. It was a really very frustrating last 15 overs for us with the bat with the way Aaron and Davey started. We had a perfect platform and went a bit away from our game plan there," Langer said. "I remember Brian Lara used to always say, if you have a good day, have a great day because you have a lot of bad days in cricket. As very, very good as it was for Davey, he probably missed out on having a great day for himself and for the team and great players are frustrated about that."

But like Australia, with three wins from four games without having played particularly well, there is plenty more to come from Warner's bat. "It's a fickle game. You never want to mess with mother cricket," Langer said. "He will just keep preparing well and we'll make sure he stays nice and relaxed and enjoying his cricket because people with talent like that, when they are relaxed and well prepared, they perform. He has done that his whole career and hopefully he continues to do that."

Warner, having messed up before, is unlikely ever to do so again.