David Warner heaped more embarrassment on Australia's embattled cricket team ahead of the Ashes when the hot-headed batsman was suspended Thursday and fined for the second time in a month after punching England player Joe Root in the face in an alcohol-fuelled late-night bar incident.
Warner escaped being sent home in disgrace from the tour of England and can return from his ban in time to play in the first Ashes test at Trent Bridge in Nottingham, starting July 10. On Friday, Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland called Warner's actions "despicable" and said he held the entire team accountable.
The unsavory episode left Australia in further disarray ahead of the eagerly anticipated series against its old foe, and continued the theme of indiscipline that has plagued the team in recent months.
After lashing out at two senior cricket journalists in an expletive-filled Twitter rant last month — earning Warner a fine of 5,750 Australian dollars — the volatile opener landed himself in further trouble by attacking Root in the early hours after Australia's 48-run loss to England in the Champions Trophy on Saturday.
"I'm owning up, putting my hand up," a contrite Warner said at a news conference in central London, acknowledging the incident occurred after a night of drinking. "I'm responsible for my actions, extremely remorseful. I've let not just my teammates down, but the Australia fans, the support staff, myself, my family.
"I'm sincerely apologetic." Warner admitted to breaching Cricket Australia's code of behavior during a hearing via teleconference on Thursday, and was suspended until the first Ashes test and fined 11,500 Australian dollars.
"Warner pleaded guilty to breaching Rule 6: Unbecoming Behavior," CA said in a statement. He will miss the rest of the Champions Trophy as well as Australia's tour games against Somerset and Worcestershire, but "will be eligible for selection for the first test."
"David knows he has not met the standards of an Australian cricketer," said Australia captain Michael Clarke, who flanked Warner at the news conference and said his teammate's behavior had been "unacceptable." ''He'll learn from this. Make him a better person and player."
Australia's preparations for the Ashes have been chaotic, having lost its most recent test series 4-0 to India during which four players — including then-vice captain Shane Watson — were dropped for failing to provide written feedback on how to improve their own and the team's performance. The saga was labeled "Homeworkgate" and proved humiliating to team management.
The Australians are on the brink of elimination in the Champions Trophy after picking up one point from its first two games, having gone into the tournament on the back of a 243-run thrashing by India in a warm-up match. Australia was skittled out for just 65 in that game and needs to beat Sri Lanka on Sunday to have any chance of advancing to the next round.
Throw in the problems with Clarke's lower back that have forced him out of the Champions Trophy so far and made him a doubt for the Ashes, and the team's tour of England couldn't have got off to a worse start. It continues Australia's sharp decline from the heady days at the start of the century, when it was the dominant force in world cricket in every format.
While Australian team officials in England had played down the latest incident involving Warner, calling it an alleged "physical altercation," England officials used stronger language in a statement on Wednesday, saying Warner had "initiated an unprovoked physical attack" on Root, who it said "was in no way responsible for nor retaliated to the attack." Warner said Thursday that he apologized to Root, and denied he had a drinking problem.
Reports across the British media said Root was with two other England players in the Australian-themed Walkabout bar when he received a glancing blow by Warner. Sutherland was scathing Friday in his criticism of Warner and five of his teammates drinking at the same bar.
"David Warner has done a despicable thing, but I also hold the team into account here," Sutherland said. "There were other people there with him and those who were there need to take account of that and so does the team as a whole as well. There's not a lot that is good that happens at 2.30 in the morning at a pub or a nightclub."
The chief executive said Warner's career may be at a crossroads. "He's under no illusions to which direction his career is heading at this moment," Sutherland said. "He's making some pretty ordinary decisions and getting himself into trouble and bringing the game, his teammates and the team down and that's not going to be tolerated much longer."
Memories are still fresh from Warner's Twitter tirade last month, sparked by seeing his photo printed alongside a story about corruption in the Indian Premier League. Warner apologized but said he was unhappy with the journalists' actions.
"It's disappointing to have two incidents in a matter of months," Warner said. "I have to draw a line under it and move on." Australia has given Warner a reprieve, though. He has been a regular in Australia's test team — averaging nearly 40 — since making his debut in December 2011 and is one of the cornerstones in the team's batting lineup when on his game.
But he has struggled for form since arriving in England, failing to score a run in both warm-up games for the Champions Trophy and then making 9 in the defeat to England. He wasn't in great form while playing in the recently completed IPL, either.
Warner was dropped for the no-result against New Zealand on Wednesday pending the hearing and will have little cricket behind him ahead of the Ashes, putting his place in the team in jeopardy. "I can't put myself in that position ever again and can't let the team down and everyone else down, and try not to be aggressive like I was," Warner said. "I have to move on, try to do everything I can to get picked for this first test now I am unavailable for the Champions Trophy."
The incident has inflamed tensions between the two fierce rivals ahead of back-to-back Ashes series. In all, the old foes will meet 25 times across every format during the next eight months.