David Warner has divided the nation this week. A referendum may not yet be out of the question.
Yes, 335* is a magnificent score, against a Test attack armed with a pink ball, under clouds, under lights. Another brick in the pantheon of Warner’s run-scoring feats.
Shane Warne gushed that ten of Warner’s 23 Test centuries have come on the first day of a Test.
And yet there are those who hesitated to laud this accomplishment.
Statistically, they could recognise the uniqueness of Warner, but something held them back: a gut feel, an aversion. To the man himself or to his achievements? It was hard to tell.
But Warner didn’t just divide a nation, he divided actual sports fans within themselves, torn between heart and head. Why?
I’ve reflected on this over the last few days as I have dipped in and out of the online debates. I wanted to rejoice for Warner as much as I did Steve Smith gorging during the Ashes.
I do not fall on the side of those who will never forgive the Cape Town three. They’ve done their time. Water under the bridge.
But I do keep coming back to that Ashes series. When Australia needed him most, Warner didn’t turn up. And it is not the first time that this has happened overseas.
There can be no doubt that not all Test runs are equal. When asked to cite their favourite innings, many Test batsmen recall a 60 or 70 made on a dodgy pitch rather than their big hundreds flayed against tired, inexperienced or submissive attacks.
Quantity has a quality all of its own but it is not often associated with greatness.
Greatness comes with performing at your best at the biggest moments. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal wouldn’t be where they are if their best tennis was played against the world number 50 in the first round of Indian Wells. Tiger Woods wouldn’t be who he is if wasn’t sinking clutch putts late on a Sunday at Augusta.
With greatness, as in batting, timing is crucial.
Like it or love it, Warner’s mammoth innings highlighted a greater problem in Australian cricket. In Adelaide, as Australia’s score rolled past 300 for the loss of one wicket, commentators of various channels of persuasion were telling us that this was “great cricket”, “exciting cricket”. It wasn’t.
It was ruthless, clinical and methodical batting. But it was an uneven contest and therefore it was the antithesis of great cricket.
Great cricket, the cricket that keeps you wide awake at 2am even though you have a 7am start the next day, relies on an even contest between bat and ball. A repeated, individual joust between bowler and batsman; in the sixth over or in the 60th over.
To give this the greatest chance of occurring, every ball delivered must have the chance to do one of three things: deviate left, deviate right or go straight on. Whether that is through spin, swing, seam or drift does not matter. That it occurs is down to four elements: conditions, bowlers’ skills, ball and pitch.
The first two we can rule out as we have no influence on them. But to consistently produce an entertaining, evenly contested product, Cricket Australia must firstly introduce the Dukes ball into the Test matches the host – or at least induce Kookaburra to steal Dukes’ magic sauce and start producing an identical ball.
Secondly, something needs to be done about our pitches. Great batting wickets are not great cricket wickets.
Meanwhile, congratulations to David Warner. 335 not out. Six more than Michael Clarke. One more than Mark Taylor and Donald Bradman. Second only to Matthew Hayden’s 380 against Zimbabwe.
Matthew Hayden and David Warner, two names that will be forever linked in the history of Australian batting.