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Explained: The public Mitchell Johnson-David Warner spat – newspaper columns, podcast confessions, radio u-turns and everything else

Mitchell Johnson and David Warner celebrate an Australia Ashes victory in 2013
by Wisden Staff 5 minute read

Here’s all the background to the public falling out between Mitchell Johnson and David Warner that has occurred over the past few days.

It is not unusual for greats of the game to be involved in public spats. Lord Ian Botham and Ian Chappell’s decades long feud is one such example of two of the game’s greats not getting on with another.

It is less common, however, for a pair of players who took the field for their country nearly 100 times together to be involved in a public war of words, especially when one of the players is still an active international.


This is where Mitchell Johnson and David Warner find themselves after Johnson’s explosive West Australian column lit the touch paper, prompting a war of words involving Johnson, the national selector George Bailey, Warner’s opening partner Usman Khawaja but not publicly – just yet at least – Warner himself.

It all started with Johnson’s column on Sunday in which he suggested that Warner earmarking the third and final Test of their upcoming series against Pakistan displayed the same “arrogance and disrespect to Australia” as he did in not owning the sandpaper scandal, more than five years after the infamous events at Cape Town.

In his column, Johnson wrote: “It’s been five years and David Warner has still never really owned the ball-tampering scandal. Now the way he is going out is underpinned by more of the same arrogance and disrespect to our country. As we prepare for David Warner’s farewell series, can somebody please tell me why?

“Why a struggling Test opener gets to nominate his own retirement date. And why a player at the centre of one of the biggest scandals in Australian cricket history warrants a hero’s send-off?

“Warner certainly isn’t Australia’s Test captain and never deserved to be for that matter. In fact, he ends his career under a lifetime leadership ban. Yes, he has a decent overall record and some say is one of our greatest opening bats. But his past three years in Test cricket have been ordinary, with a batting average closer to what a tailender would be happy with. Granted he made his double century against South Africa at the MCG last summer, but they were the only runs he had scored in years. Leading into this year’s Ashes series that was the only time he had reached 50 in his previous 17 Test innings.”

The former left-arm speedster also took a pop at George Bailey – another former international teammate of Johnson – who is the chairman of selectors, accusing him of being too close to the current crop of players. “I also wonder what the role of the head selector is these days,” pondered Johnson. “It seems to have moved to be a part of the inner sanctum rather than standing aside from it. There’s now throw downs for the players, golfing together and celebrating wins to all hours.” Since taking over the role in 2021, Bailey has overseen world title wins in all three formats.

In response to Johnson’s column, Bailey said: “I’ve been sent little snippets of it. I hope he’s okay.” Justifying Warner’s selection for the Pakistan Tests, Bailey said, “Ultimately, we still think he’s in our best 11 players to win the first Test. I think Test cricket, in terms of the way that the World Test Championship points is set up, each Test is critical.

“There’s points on the line for each and every game. So our focus is very much on picking the 11 that we think can do the job and obviously there’s roles within that for each individual and how that actually structures up the team as a whole and we think David is the right person for that for this Test.”

Khawaja also defended Warner, calling Johnson’s column as “harsh.”
In turn, Johnson responded to Bailey’s own rebuttal on his new podcast, the Mitchell Johnson Cricket Show, branding Bailey’s insinuation that Johnson’s mental wellbeing had a role in the nature of his column “disgusting”. In 2020, Johnson spoke publicly about his years long battle with depression. 

Speaking on his podcast, Johnson said: “I’m okay, that’s another thing, to make sure everyone knows that I’m okay, I’m actually in a good head space. That’s another point which was really disappointing, to ask if I’m okay because I’ve had mental health issues, it’s pretty much downplaying my article and putting it on mental health which is quite disgusting I think. But I’m fine, I’m not angry, I’m not jealous, I’m just writing a piece I felt like I needed to write.“It’s basically having a dig at someone’s mental health and that I must have something going on, a mental health issue that’s made me say what I’ve said. That’s not the truth that’s completely the opposite. I’m actually clear minded and it’s based on my interactions I’ve had with him in recent times. But it tries to downplay the questions that I’ve asked in that article and to also say that I’m not allowed to have an opinion.”

In the same podcast episode, Johnson also revealed that he had received a “personal” message from Warner after the former fast bowler questioned Candice Warner’s [David’s wife] public defence of Warner holding onto his Test spot earlier in the year.

Johnson said: “From the message I got in April, I think it was around the time that Candice [Warner] had said her bit on the back page about there not being openers good enough to take the position. I responded to that and then I got a message from Dave which was quite personal. I tried to ring him to try and talk to him about it – when I finished playing I said if I’m in the media and writing things and saying things that you don’t like just come and speak to me. It was never a personal thing then until probably this point… Some of the stuff that was said, I won’t say it because I think that’s up to Dave if he wants to talk about it, but there was some stuff in there that was extremely disappointing and pretty bad to be honest.”

Following the public exchange of words, Johnson was left off a list of Triple M radio commentators for the first Test of the Australian summer after Johnson had initially said he would be part of the team.

Warner is yet to have his say on the sage, but is expected to in a media engagement later this week.

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