David Warner had never looked worse – that’s both an opinion and a fact.
The opinion is based on having watched him bat in every single one of his 77 Tests and never having seen him so vulnerable, so removed from his usual aggressive approach.
The fact is supplied by analysts CricViz, who tweeted that Warner had played a false shot to 16 of his first 30 balls faced last night, the least control he had ever shown over that early period of a Test innings.
— The CricViz Analyst (@cricvizanalyst) August 22, 2019
It became comical. So regularly was Warner’s outside edge beaten and so bereft of answers did he appear that it was hard not to smirk when Stuart Broad befuddled him again and again.
It was genuinely funny when, after defeating Warner with an endless stream of jaffas, Broad got his first wicket with a rank legside delivery that Usman Khawaja tickled to keeper Jonny Bairstow.
At that stage Australia were 2-25 and the Dukes ball was swinging prodigiously and jagging off the seam. Warner was floundering on just five from 25 balls. Up to that point he had scrounged just 23 runs from 75 balls faced in this Ashes at a glacial strike rate of 30.
His issues were not just technical but mental – Warner looked overawed by the challenge. It wasn’t just a case of being beaten by good balls; he couldn’t even score off the loose ones. In those ugly first 30 balls last night he got several deliveries that peak Warner would have slammed to the boundary. Each time he was late to react to those opportunities, a by-product of what appeared to be a survival-first mentality.
Then something changed. Marnus Labuschagne replaced Khawaja at the crease and Warner got a full ball from Jofra Archer. He leaned into this delivery and cracked it through cover point. Soon after he tucked one away off his hip, then clipped Broad for two through midwicket and clattered him past point for four.
After a rain delay, Warner drove Chris Woakes down the ground for three and, even more importantly, began regularly taking swift singles from defensive shots. Warner’s aggression is not limited to his stroke play. At his best he puts huge pressure on the fielding side with his daring running between wickets. It’s a clear sign he’s switched on.
Cricinfo’s control stats showed that Warner was only in control of 52 per cent of his first 25 balls, but that figure increased to 82 per cent for his following 25 balls. His confidence was flowing, his balance had improved and he was, as he loves to do, putting the bowlers under the pump.
With Labuschagne batting beautifully at the other end, Warner cruised to 61 before being undone by a great delivery from Archer. This may well seem like an excessive amount of description for a score of that size. But in the context of this evenly balanced Ashes, Warner’s knock last night was immensely important.
Australia boast only two world-class Test batsman and one of them is currently sidelined due to concussion. In the absence of Steve Smith, Warner had to step up. As grim as it was early on, he did just that last night.
Conditions could scarcely have been more difficult for batting – poor light against a hooping ball on a pitch offering extravagant seam movement. In the circumstances his 61 was worth double that on a good batting deck. If Australia are to win this series, they need Warner contributing. Last night he appeared to rediscover his self-belief.
All the while, Labuschagne batted like an accomplished Test veteran. Unlike Warner, the 25-year-old looked assured from the start of his innings. When he wasn’t leaving the ball nicely he was playing it late and with soft hands. More than any of the Aussie batsmen, he refused to chase deliveries and so forced the Englishmen to bowl at him. That earned him a number of clips off his pads, a stroke he plays beautifully.
After impressing with his composed and courageous 59 at Lord’s – a knock that helped Australia to a draw – Labuschagne’s second consecutive half-century yesterday booked his spot in the starting XI for the remainder of this Ashes.
When Smith returns for the next Test it surely will be at the expense of either Matt Wade or Khawaja. Labuschagne has made himself indispensable.