It rather summed up David Warner‘s series to date that he spent much of Sunday speaking about the Australian captain Steven Smith’s freakish blow to the hand from a stray ball.
While Smith and the home side’s fast bowlers have been the main protagonists in this series, Warner’s has been an intriguing subplot, as he has dealt with England’s efforts to restrict his ability to score runs with damaging speed. A series ledger of 196 runs at 49.00 still makes Warner the fifth most prolific batsman in the series, but it is some way short of the pivotal influence he would like to have had.
Joe Root’s approach to Warner has mirrored that of South Africa in the preceding season, aiming to dry up his boundary count and prey on his patience. His dismissal in Perth, pushing out at a Craig Overton delivery that he might just as comfortably have left alone, was a sign that England’s tactics have been working, and Warner knew it. Another is his series strike rate – 54.44 as against an eye-popping career rate of 76.22.
“I was quite gutted with my dismissal in Perth – the wicket was nice and flat and I love batting in Perth,” Warner said in Melbourne. “They’re trying to get me out the way I got out in Perth. I’ve got to take my ego out of it and just try to keep hitting the ball.
“I’m not worried about that [England trying to restrict his scoring] – I feel like come the first Test I’d won the battle before they even started bowling. And in the back of your mind as an opening batter that’s a lot of respect.
“I look back to a guy like Virender Sehwag. Australia set the same fields to him, South Africa were the first team to do that. They had third man, two square legs and a deep point. They kept on bowling to his areas and strengths and he ended up getting out a couple of times but he worked it out himself. It’s upon me to keep backing my strengths and playing my game.”
Warner’s summer started with three Sheffield Shield games on challenging pitches for top order batsmen, and even in his top score he was fortunate to edge Chadd Sayers through the South Australian slips cordon early on. That hard graft prepared Warner nicely for the Ashes, but on flatter pitches and against more defensive field settings he has faced a different set of obstacles.
“I’m hitting the ball well. Sometimes you go into the nets, hitting the ball as well as you can, then you get into the middle and go searching for basically each delivery,” Warner said. “I feel like my preparation has been fantastic. I go back to Shield cricket – we’ve had to be patient, the wickets produced were conducive to fast bowling, we had to leave a lot of balls and bat time.
“I felt like I’ve done a lot of that in the middle. I’ve done a lot of batting in the nets, now it’s about staying out there and grinding it out and batting my way. I love batting everywhere in Australia, it’s about taking my ego out of it and playing each ball on its merits.”
As a sometime “attack dog” in the field for Australia, Warner reflected on the latest barbs flung across the Ashes battle line by James Anderson, who made a point of going after Smith verbally in Adelaide, had little to say in Perth and then ramped it up again in Melbourne by questioning the hosts’ depth of pace bowling.
“Conditions must have suited Jimmy there [in Adelaide], that’s generally what happens,” Warner said. “He talks about us being up all the time when we’re in front but different story there – he was firing shots at the captain apparently, then went very quiet as soon as he saw the wicket was quite flat at the WACA. That’s what happens in this form of the game, sometimes you can ride the coattails of being in front and what not, but it’s Test cricket, it’s hard-fought out there.
“Sometimes you pick your times when you want to go at people, sometimes you go into your shell like a turtle. We’ve probably shut them up a little bit at the moment, hopefully this gets them up and going and they fire some barbs at us, because I love that, I love whenever we’re in a contest and I feel like they were quite flat in WACA, that’s for sure.
“We don’t dwell on what he says at all. He can fire those barbs at us. When you do bowl 145kph plus, you tend to get a couple of injuries. Everyone has had their fair share of injuries. Our depth is fantastic, we know what Australian cricket has to offer. I just think England aren’t used to having or producing fast bowlers.”
As for Smith’s hand, which has been cleared of any structural damage by team medical staff, Warner said the ricochet blow from a Cameron Bancroft shot that bounced back off the nets had been as much a shock as a source of pain. “He’s fine. You’ve seen he’s a very fidgety character, he’s fine,” Warner said. “He said before ‘What’s the chance of him getting hit on my sore hand?’
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with him, he’s fine. He was confused how it actually got there. I think we all were. It hit the top of the rail and then just flicked up. I was a bit worried because Smudge [Smith] said ‘heads’ and it actually hit him. I was a bit dumbfounded.”
Warner, of course, has a history of dumbfounding opposing bowlers with big runs in Melbourne (144 against Pakistan last summer) and Sydney (centuries in each of his last three SCG Tests). Smith’s support act may be about to assume centre stage.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
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