When you hit a lot of outlandish shots, you will be remembered for it. Almost only for it. It’s David Warner’s blessing and curse. The reputation precedes him everywhere he goes. But he isn’t a see-the-ball, hit-the-ball kind of a batsman. He is an outlander in the world of aggressive batsmen. He stands out in that crowd because he is a classicist by soul. The intent is post-modern, the means to the end is classical. Of course, it had to be Virender Sehwag who spotted it first, telling a T20 batsman that he will great in Tests.
The post-ban version has problems. No doubt about it. The past reputation helps him to mask a few flaws and the accomplishment of this 161 lies in how he fought through his struggles.
You notice his feet at his pomp. The quick hands for sure but also the feet. Not where they went but how quickly they went. He wouldn’t always go towards the ball but his feet would get him into position with last-instant movements that would allow him to pepper the off-side with his punches. Or he would jump back quickly and flick his pulls. Who swat-flicks pull shots? Warner does. Who punches deliveries from middle and leg through cover point? He does. In both cases the feet would lift and push his body back, and his hands would furiously do its thing to send the ball where he wanted.
These days, that feet are in a bit of a bother. Not chained but sluggish. Strange thing to say about a batsman who has two hundreds in this world cup but it’s a tribute to him that he has somehow managed to mask it. It isn’t just the ball that angles across him – that can be said more or less about any lefthander, it’s the ball that angles into him towards leg and middle that has caused him problems in the recent times. Pakistan’s Wahab Riaz tried to ping it a few times but would occasionally slip it too much on the legs. His captain Sarfraz Ahmad would walk across to tell him to bent it in from around off stump-ish. It’s the plan that all teams should go for Warner.
It’s a bit puzzling that teams haven’t quite targeted him consistently. Especially when there has been some success. Mashrafe Mortaza tried it one ball in his first over – the ball rolled off the inside edge. Mustafizur tried one in his first over—the ball rammed into Warner’s thigh. He tried that line his next over but like Riaz, he let it slid down the legs, and a four to fine-leg resulted.
That’s it. Nothing else came in that line. It’s a line of attack that shouldn’t be overused of course but surely more than just couple of balls? Especially when the alternative that was adopted was short and around off stump. Warner sidestepped to punch or if the mood seized him, pulled them away.
Ironing out flaws
It makes one wonder about the planning and strategy of the teams out there. During IPL, in the select dugout, guys like Dean Jones, Scott Styris, Brendon McCullum, and Kevin Pietersen had picked that problem and hammered away at it. At one stage, Pietersen even said Warner better be prepared, teams at World Cup are going to come hard at him with that line.
Restrict him, annoy, frustrate and then induce mistakes elsewhere. It hasn’t worked that way as teams have been going the completely opposite route. Bowl around off or outside off, and then try to use that in-coming line but that’s a perplexing way to go about it. India were better, a lot straighter and he couldn’t free his arms. His feet too have begun to move a lot better than that match, of course. Against India, he was forced to jump back to length deliveries coming in – not to punch them to the off but just to keep them out. That iffiness is slowly fading away as the tournament has progressed.
All that hand-wringing, preamble about his problems, don’t usually fit in a description of a knock over 150. But it sets the context of his achievement. The ban, worries whether he would fit in with the team, the technical problems – but he is stubbing them out, one by one.
Post his ton, Warner indulged in nostalgia. That straight six that he hits when he leans forward and lets his hands go through the line sent a Rubel Hossain delivery over sightscreen. In Rubel’s previous over, 38th of the innings, there was a four that was probably the better shot. It was on that middle and leg line, perhaps a touch short than what was required— and he was past 100 anyways, and Warner’s feet found its old springs. They moved in a flash, allowing him to get beside the ball, by the legside – and he actually punched that ball through point. Quite a shot, that was. In Rubel’s next spell, Warner would do that feet trick again. This time, to shovel a short ball at his body over third man.
He looks good now but why hedge and haw, here is the thing. Has he really come back to his old self? No, despite his two tons. But, more importantly, he is improving, he is hungry, he is finding a way out, he is patient in the initial years, he doesn’t let his own reputation of destroyer of the new ball define him. Perceptions haven’t become self-image. And that in the end, is why Warner is leaping and fist-pumping under the English sun.