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Opinion

The trouble with Warner

Roar Rookie
22nd November, 2019
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Roar Rookie
22nd November, 2019
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Did we expect anything less? Forget the sandpaper scandal and forget Stuart Broad with a Dukes ball, David Warner is back home and making runs for fun.

Except for a brief post-lunch lull where the teenage debutant Naseem Shah was a legal delivery away from having his wicket, the 33-year-old was in total command against an inexperienced Pakistan attack, knocking up a colossal unbeaten 151.

So remarkable is Warner’s record at home is that he has never averaged less than 47.80 in an Australian summer. Despite his Ashes woes, his selection for the Gabba Test was in little doubt, particularly with a Shield hundred and imperious displays in the early summer T20 internationals under his belt. The quicker wickets and relative lack of movement plays right into his natural game. Even New Zealand’s vaunted pace attack will find it tough if Warner gets through the new ball.

Outside Australia, though, Warner’s record is problematic.

In 41 Tests outside Australia, Warner averages just 34.50. Three of his six away centuries have come in South Africa, where conditions replicate home. He has also managed two in Bangladesh – admittedly fine efforts in turning and tricky conditions – and one on the benign tracks of the UAE.

Take those countries out of the equation, and it gets uglier. Across 31 Tests, Warner averages 27.16 in Sri Lanka, 26.9 in the Caribbean, 26.04 in England, 24.25 in India, and just 13 in New Zealand. The sample size is large enough to suggest the numbers aren’t outliers. Pace or spin, if the ball is doing a bit, Warner usually isn’t.

David Warner

(Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Fortunately for Warner, Australia typically struggles with the notion of horses for courses when it comes to batting, favouring a stable top six that can experience – and hopefully adapt to – a range of conditions. When it does dabble with the concept, it’s generally on flat or spin-friendly subcontinental tracks, and typically only when there is already a vacancy. If the horse has success, the next course is overlooked, often to the team’s detriment.

Take Aaron Finch for example. With incumbent openers Warner and Cameron Bancroft suspended and no standout contenders, Finch vaulted into the Test team off the back of strong white-ball form. No problems on UAE pitches resembling concrete, but early promise meant he was retained as an opener for the next home series when a return to his usual middle order posting would have been more appropriate. The subsequent failure was as predictable as it was spectacular.

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So, Warner enters each winter with plenty of runs in the bank, plus a game-changing reputation that precedes him. Any struggles are quickly forgotten, because soon enough it’s summer and the runs are flowing again. The reputation is blindly backed in, as he is only ever one innings, catch or run out from playing the decisive hand in the next victory. This distinction explains why a more dour operator like Usman Khawaja – another batsman with polarising home and away records – is considered to be dispensable.

This is nothing new. Doug Walters was a trailblazer for aggressive Test batting. Like Warner, he had the ability to turn a match on its head with a century in a session. Walters’s reputation also granted him chances afforded to few others. Across four England tours, he averaged just 25.68 over 18 Tests, with no centuries. A fifth tour was not forthcoming, despite a 1980-81 summer where he averaged over 63, ending his career at 35.

Australia has no scheduled Test assignments to Warner’s bogey countries until 2022, when he too will be 35. As long as his home form holds true, tough calls on his touring future can wait until then.

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