David Warner, Trauma and a Test for Cricket

David Warner - Cricketer

The former New Zealand fast bowler Iain O’Brien has published an important article at ESPN Cric Info endeavouring to understand the Australian forceful opener David Warner’s recent on field displays of heightened and destructive emotions.

O’Brien writes, “I look at David Warner. A wonderful talent. Certainly the best opener cricket has currently. He is an awesome force. There are parts of his game that are beautiful. There is also a lot of brutality to it. He is his own man. But something is up. We can all see that.”

“As a cricket consumer (a radio listener, reader and TV watcher) I can hear or see what is happening … I like to know why these things happened. I like to delve a little deeper. And when I’m commentating I like to explore a player’s psyche. I enjoy attempting to give insight into their current behaviour and state of mind. I like to explore options open to them, discuss shot/delivery selections, and compare current performance to previous outings.”

So O’Brien endeavours to share with his readers his insight into Warner’s psyche, with the added advantage of having shared a dressing room with him when both played for Middlesex, “He has always been bullish, he has always been brash. He has always been close to the edge with his on-field behaviour. He has changed a lot in his off-field life, and he gives credit to his wife for a lot of that, but I feel he’s only going one way on-field. I don’t just see him as a serial offender, as Crowe wrote; I see him as an escalating offender.”

O’Brien notes, “the growing frequency and the level of these indiscretions, increasing since late last year.” And asks, “Is it wrong to try to find a reason for this?

He is, in effect, asking whether Warner is suffering from a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Earlier this morning, Professor Jamie Hacker-Hughes, Director of the Veterans and Families Institute at Anglia Ruskin University, and President Elect of the British Psychological Society, on the Today Programme (19.15 mins in http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0501jlv ) was interviewed on some recent finds in the texts of 3,000 year old Assyrian tablets that revealed soldiers suffering PTSD and Hacker-Hughes pointed out that, although these warriors were experiencing the same syndrome, the symptoms and the ways humans express PTSD change according to the cultures in which the subject lived and the ways in which that culture found acceptable for their expression. For instance PTSD was expressed as mutism and tremours in the First World War, which was different from the symptoms experienced by those surviving the Vietnam War and more recent conflicts.

Batsmen face a symbolic form of annihilation each time they walk to the wicket. Cricket has its own culturally generated ways of expressing reaction to dismissal and indeed reaction to bringing an opponent’s innings to an end.

Perhaps this is why ‘celebrations’ were more muted on cricket fields after the first World War. Soldiers and cricketers who had experienced the Second World War reacted differently again.

In our present competitive, individualistic and market based culture, players are conditioned to express greater levels of aggression. Which is why the aggressive send off is much in the news and the aggressive reaction of batsmen is escalating.

In his article O’Brian steps with care, “Is it wrong to possibly suggest that the tragic death of his good mate Phillip Hughes – Warner was on the field when Hughes was fatally hit – is having an unwanted affect on the decisions he makes, and contributing to his involvement in conflicts?”

Is it wrong also to see Warner as suffering from some kind of survivor syndrome, itself a significant symptom of post traumatic stress disorder, and expressing it as only a cricketer can? Is he, with his increasing recklessness, seeking relief from his torment in the only way that a fearless batsman can without showing weakness? Charmed with talent and form, the more reckless his batting the more effective he seems to have become. It is as if he knows that only the authorities can remove him from the field.

Is the lesson cricket needs to learn quickly that Warner needs help, that his opponents as well as his team mates, umpires and administrators need to be aware and to give him support and space, and that other players may be suffering similar effects, but at different stages of manifestation and expressed in different terms?

It is difficult to see Warner as a victim, or Australian cricketers in general, but in the coming weeks opponents, officials and the commentariat  must demonstrate understanding. A lot of support and care is necessary. This is another test for cricket.

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