David Warner is a meme in Pakistan now. His face has been superimposed on the face of a model selling a washing powder, and issuing an open challenge to other competitors. The text explanation makes it clear that this is Warner’s battle cry against Imam-ul-Haq’s claims to be the slowest left-hand opener in the Wold Cup.
At any rate, Imam is now using Warner’s slow and cautious starts to vindicate his style: 350 in a World Cup is greater than 350 in a bilateral series, Imam tells ESPNcricinfo. The pitches are slightly more difficult, he says. See, even Warner is taking his time, he points out.
Indeed, among those who have played 50 balls in the Powerplay this World Cup, Warner is the slowest, going at a strike rate of a little over 50 in that phase of the innings. Against Afghanistan, he scored his slowest ODI fifty, and against India, he went ahead and relegated that Afghanistan effort to his second-slowest.
“He’s still batting beautifully at the moment. He just hasn’t got off to that flow that we’re used to”
AARON FINCH IS BACKING HIS OPENING PARTNER TO COME GOOD
Except that, unlike with Imam, it is not a team plan because of the grand occasion. Warner is not batting with the mindset of Imam or, say, Rohit Sharma, the second-slowest man on the list. Rohit is, in fact, master of batting this way; his strike rate in the Powerplay this World Cup has been 57, and yet he has an overall strike rate of 83.64. Warner has not been able to kick on after the slow starts, striking at 71.84.
Warner’s numbers haven’t gone unnoticed in the Australian team management. After the India game, Ricky Ponting said Warner wasn’t at his absolute best, and that he knows and admits that. Too many shots were hit straight to the fielders, which is the opposite of a batsman in good form.
“It’s not a team plan,” Aaron Finch said on the eve of their match against Pakistan in Taunton. “I think the last couple of games, the last game in particular, India bowled really well at the start and he (Warner) hit the field a lot, which as an opening batter, as a top-order player, when the field is in that you do generally face a high percentage of top bowlers. And I suppose when the field went out he still hit them fielders, which didn’t give the innings a huge amount of flow, which I know he was disappointed about.
“But at the same time, every evidence suggests he’ll be back to his dangerous best. And when you give good players an opportunity, and might be just a little mindset change with Davey… I’m not sure, I haven’t spoken to him a huge amount about his batting. I know he’s been working a bit with JL [Justin Langer, the coach] and Ricky Ponting [the assistant coach] to just make sure he’s in the right mind frame.”
After the first game, Warner admitted his feet were not moving that well. Didn’t we see the same Warner smash it all over in the IPL, though? Finch says there are two differences: pitches and bowling attacks.
“Totally different wickets,” Finch said. “You have to remember that Indian wickets are quite low and quite skiddy with the new ball, which allowed him to use his hands and stand really still and hit the gaps. Whereas, there’s been just enough in these wickets first up that it doesn’t allow you to just walk out and hit through the line and blast attacks all over.
“And you’re talking about world-class opposition here. You’re not playing a club team where you can find one target and target them really hard. Each team is super strong. So, at times, it’s about taking calculated risks to get your innings and get your momentum in your game. He’s still batting beautifully at the moment. He just hasn’t got off to that flow that we’re used to.”
There has been enough rain around to leave enough spice in the pitches to require good footwork to be able to access gaps. By all accounts, Warner hasn’t quite reached there yet, but words such as “mindset” and “calculated risk” make it interesting.
Most of the times, for batsmen skilled enough to play international cricket, batting is about managing risk. If a batsman as good as Warner feels there is undue risk in trying to force the pace, the conditions must be that little bit extra challenging or bowling that good.
However, on air, Kumar Sangakkara made an interesting observation. He feared this new Warner might be too worried about wanting to succeed. Might be too afraid to get out. It might have been easier for Warner to take risks earlier, he might be erring on the side of caution. That he needs to be freed of that care.
Probably this is the mindset change Finch talked about. Perhaps it might be just one innings where he starts finding the gaps and everything falls back in place. And being the batsman that he is, Warner backs himself to be able to do it without taking undue risks.
Amid all this, Warner’s struggle and his desperation to hang in and not leave things to chance by using his bat like a swinging door is a reminder of things we, as spoilt fans, can take for granted: how much needs to go right for what comes across as effortless batting to us?