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Two days after the Phillip Hughes funeral, and 20 minutes into his first batting session since seeing his long-time sparring partner being felled by a bouncer, David Warner broke down near the nets at the Park 25 cricket ground in Adelaide.
For the Australian team, after having spent a week mourning and grieving a gut-wrenching bereavement, Friday was all about getting their nerve back. Just minutes before they began an extensive training cum bonding session, coach Darren Lehmann had addressed the media. Asked repeatedly about whether his boys would be ready mentally and psychologically for the first Test, he had reiterated that “only time will tell”.
As it turned out, Warner probably wasn’t ready yet, not to strap on his gloves and bat anyway. He had seemed as ebullient and chirpy as everyone else when the Australians went about their pre-nets routine following an emotive team huddle.
They did it with a twist, literally so, with a new routine that got teammates revolving each other till they were dizzy. Right from Brad Haddin and Ryan Harris performing a mini-tango to a few others doing a worm-dance, they laughed and cheered with Warner among the most audible during the warm-up game of keeping the football from touching the ground, the one that the late Hughes so enjoyed.
When it was his time to bat, Warner did middle the first few he faced from Michael Di Venuto’s side-arm. But he looked edgy and restless, like his mind was somewhere else. Almost like he was fighting with himself to get his focus on looking at the ball. His characteristic knocks on the pads with his bat before facing a ball didn’t seem in sync as they always do.
He started mistiming them. Then came the head-shakes, and the time he was taking before getting into his stance kept increasing with each delivery. Having faced some 20 balls, Di Venuto gave him a two-minute break to regain composure. Warner walked till the centre of the pitch.
“Are you alright mate?” inquired Di Venuto to which Warner nodded his head and returned to his stance. A few more deep breaths under the helmet later, he was ready. Or so he thought. His second stint was patchier than the first. He hardly got bat to ball, and was even struck in the ribs—leading to a bellow of frustration and pain, and a cuss word.
‘You alright, mate’
From that point, the combative opener didn’t look too comfortable in the nets. He didn’t face more than a dozen deliveries post that, most of which he missed or got the splice of the bat to. Twice he kicked the floor with disgust after having edged a ball. He then edged another one before slamming his bat on the stumps, picking up his spare gear from behind them and walking off, wiping his face with his shoulder.
“Are you alright mate?” asked Di Venuto again. This time there was no answer. Warner was on his way. He ambled towards the tent outside the nets with his head bowed, replaced the helmet with a white cap, sat and broke down. Warner remained seated with his head covered in his hands for more than a minute.
That is before Michael Lloyd, the Cricket Australia psychologist, rushed to the tent and put an arm around his shoulder. Warner and Lloyd then spent the next 20-odd minutes in deep conversation, with the shrink doing most of the talking. Warner just sat there, nodding occasionally, and then staring into the distance. He spoke a little intermittently but that was it.
He then strode off towards the dressing-room at Park 25 followed closely by fast bowler Harris, who gave his teammate a consolatory pat on the back. That wasn’t the last sighting of Warner though. Lloyd, meanwhile, was seen having discussions with chief selector Rod Marsh and Lehmann.
Ready for Tuesday
When asked earlier about what the management would do in case any of the boys didn’t feel ready to play the Test after the two days of practice, Lehmann had insisted, “We have plenty of steps to be honest but we would like to keep it to ourselves for now to be honest. It’s all about getting them ready for that first ball on Tuesday.”
And after remaining indoors for around 40 minutes, Warner reappeared with ball in hand and in a better frame of mind. Though known for his effective yet part-time leg-spin, Warner opted for medium-pace on Friday and he came in off a longish run. Ball after ball, he ran in with gusto and even if he didn’t trouble Shaun Marsh much, he himself did look a lot more at ease while bowling than he did in the nets.
“Walking down that main street in Macksville, following the hearse and seeing all those people lining the side of the road really struck a chord with me. It was then that I knocked Mitchell Johnson on the arm and said: ‘Far out, this is why we’ve got to play next week,” Harris had written in his column on Thursday. And for their part, Harris, Johnson, Peter Siddle and Josh Hazlewood were in full throttle at Park 25, dishing out a truckload of bouncers, and a number of body-blows, leaving their batsmen a tad sore.
As the session wore on, and the Adelaide sun kept making encore appearances, Warner turned to bowling off-spin with a very questionable action, one that had fielding consultant Greg Blewett—stood behind the batsman—signal no-ball in jest after each delivery.
Warner didn’t take much notice of it though, and soon left the ground in the company of fellow opener Chris Rogers, with the two walking back to the team hotel. Next week, they’ll walk together again, this time in front of a packed Adelaide Oval crowd, and Australia will keep a keen eye on Warner from now till then to ensure he’s back to his pugnacious best, even with bat in hand.