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Top-order get their time in the middle - now to beat Pakistan

14th December, 2016
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Matt Renshaw at the crease for Australia. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
Expert
14th December, 2016
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David Warner spoke this week about his need to adapt to the way his new opening partner, Matt Renshaw, plays the new ball.

Warner said he’ll be looking to better read the signals coming from his still very green colleague at the top of the order.

“I have to learn to adapt to the way he plays and he has to adapt to the way that I play,” Warner said in the build-up to the first ever day-night Test in Brisbane.

“The beauty is if I get on top of an attack, he might get the loose ones and he can start playing a few shots.

“Him leaving the ball on good areas may actually relay a message to me that there’s a bit of movement in the wicket and I have to start respecting it a little bit more and watch it closely.”

Renshaw, the young Queensland opener outrageously criticised for his scoring rate in the second innings in Adelaide – you know; his Test Debut, pink ball, all that – is Warner’s eighth career opening partner in his 56 Tests played to date.

You’d think it shouldn’t be a major issue for Warner, adapting to a contrasting style. Renshaw’s ‘real opener’ method, to borrow Richard Hinds’ favoured term, is the perfect foil for Warner’s natural game, and Warner’s longest and most productive opening partnerships have been with Chris Rogers and Ed Cowan; neither of them likely to give Warner a run for his money in strike-rate terms.

Warner and Rogers passed 50 as a pair on 16 occasions in 41 innings, converting nine of them into century stands.

Warner and Cowan went past 50 nine times in 28 digs, pushing three of them past 100 as well.

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Warner and Renshaw have started well as a pair, with their sole partnership netting 64 in the second innings in Adelaide against South Africa (remembering that Warner couldn’t open in the first innings due to an ill-timed decision to seek medical treatment for a shoulder issue while fielding).

It was equally interesting to hear Warner talk about an evident maturing of his approach, the realisation that now – as the oldest player in the batting order – the time for wild, cavalier heaves at anything outside off stump might be coming to an end.

“I haven’t been as patient… some balls I’ve been playing at, I probably shouldn’t be,” he said.

“There’s probably been a bit more movement in the wickets as well. I should be trying to rein it in a little bit.”

Yes, Warner probably should.

But Warner’s exceptional form in the Chappell-Hadlee ODI series this month showed plenty of that. He still played his shots – that won’t change in a one-day game – but he showed maturity in his innings early on, and whenever a wicket was lost at the other end.

And importantly, he gained some valuable time in the middle, which can only auger well for the first Test against Pakistan, against what will be another challenging bowling line-up.

Australian batsman David Warner

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Renshaw also spent some time in the middle, even if wasn’t as much as he might have liked, facing more than 110 balls across both innings and making a first-innings 30 in Queensland’s eight-wicket loss to Western Australia last week. And one of the few Bulls’ bats to spend more time facing up was Usman Khawaja, who made 157 and 61 against the pink ball, in what you’d hope is the perfect lead-in to the Gabba Test.

Steven Smith got plenty of time facing the New Zealand attack, and judging by the two ridicu-super-catches he took in consecutive games, he’s clearly seeing the ball pretty well.

Peter Handscomb made 17 and 30 for Victoria against Tasmania in the day-night Shield game at Bellerive, and while it was pleasing to see Nic Maddinson make a first-innings 80 against South Australia under lights in Adelaide, he was bowled for a duck again in the second innings, as NSW fell in a heap to be all out 87.

Even Matthew Wade got to spend some time with the batting pads on across the three ODIs against New Zealand, albeit late in the innings each time, and with Warner or Smith going at the other end.

The central thing in all this is that where little over a fortnight ago there was uncertainty around the ability of the shaken-up Australian top-order to bat for any great length of time, they have all – with the possible exception of Wade – since had multiple chances to spend time at the crease.

For the younger guys, this has even come against the pink ball, and the batsmen as a unit should take plenty of confidence out of the way they won in Adelaide.

That’s not for a moment suggesting they’re comfortable; far from it. But it’s been a much smoother, and less nationally nervous build-up to this Test, and that should put the batting order in a good place.

I’m just one cricket fan, but I feel a lot better than a fortnight ago about the Test team’s chances.

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