Regardless of how David Warner performs in his debut Test match, he should have earned your respect. The 25-year-old New South Welshman will wear the traditional baggy green for the first time today, though his journey towards being Australia’s 424th Test cricketer has been anything but traditional.
His selection after a mere eleven first class games, and that of teenage tyro Pat Cummins after just three, suggests the traditional route that players take to the Test arena is a thing of the past.
While there were always exceptions to the rule, historically Australian batsmen tended to require a considerable number of first class seasons under their belt, with impressive statistics to match, before they would be even considered for Test cricket.
Just ask Mark Waugh, Darren Lehmann and Mike Hussey.
However, Warner and Cummins represent not just the new era of Australian cricket, but also the increasing trend of using Twenty20 to fast track your career. Both players have earned their spot in the Test team predominantly via their eye-catching performances in the shortest form of the game.
In fact, it’s highly doubtful either would have a baggy green today without Twenty20 cricket.
Warner became the first Australian cricketer in 132 years to be selected in a national team without playing a game of first class cricket, when he was chosen to play in a Twenty20 match against South Africa at the MCG on the 11th of January, 2009.
Warner, still unheard of by the majority of Australians, blasted 89 runs off 43 balls. At the time, it was the second fastest half century in Twenty20 international cricket history. To say he burst onto the scene was an understatement.
But while that innings put Warner on the map, and earned him a lucrative IPL contract, in some respects it did more harm than good for his overall career. It brought him fame and fortune, but he was branded a ‘basher’ and pigeon-holed as a Twenty20 specialist.
If that’s all Warner wanted to achieve in his career, then that would be all fine and good. There are plenty of cricketers that would be, and are, content playing just Twenty20.
But Warner had a burning desire to play not just first class cricket, but Test cricket. And this is where Warner began to earn immense respect.
It soon became quite apparent that Warner doesn’t play the game to be famous, or to make money. He could have forged a profitable and easy career just playing Twenty20 and one-dayers. But Warner wanted to play the pinnacle of cricket.
Real cricket. Respected cricket.
He wanted to play Tests.
And he was willing to do whatever it took to achieve that goal.
Having watched Warner play a handful of innings in grade cricket for Eastern Suburbs before his call-up to State cricket, I can attest to the fact that Warner has always been a hard hitter of the ball.
But he’s equally always had a tighter technique than he’s been given credit for over the last couple of years – many pundits have trouble reconciling a big-hitting batsmen with technical prowess.
In some ways, Warner has been his own worst enemy in that regard.
After his stunning international debut, he seemed determined to live up to his slogger reputation, attempting to whack almost every ball he faced to the boundary. He forgot that good cricket shots still give you the best run returns, regardless of the format.
As such, in order to be considered a Test player, Warner has had to work extremely hard. Not just on his game, but on his reputation – which anyone will tell you, can be the most difficult thing in the world to change.
He has worked with his coaches, slightly altering the way in which he approaches his batting. He’s learnt to reign in his attacking instincts. He learnt how to let balls go. He’s learnt how to pace his innings. He’s even adopted some breathing exercises, helping him to relax at the crease.
It’s a testament to the young man’s maturity, ambition and self-awareness that he has worked so diligently to establish himself as a more complete batsmen.
The hard work culminated in a fantastic Australia A tour of Zimbabwe, which included a double century. Combined with his 148 versus South Australia in the Sheffield Shield last month, it made him next cab off the rank for the Australian Test team.
And today, against New Zealand, all the hard work will have paid off when he makes his Test debut.
All credit to him.
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @RyanOak