Short pitch: batting for the draw
I have played very little cricket where getting a result, any result is all important; and when I have, rarely has the balance of the game been tilted decisively at the half-way point.
“Just bat. Just don’t get out.”
That was the gist of the skipper’s instruction as I padded up, getting ready to open our innings after tea on Sunday. 270 was the target, but not one that I was being aimed at. 40 overs was my objective.
Whenever a Test team starts its second innings with nothing but crease occupation at stake, I pause for a moment to imagine being asked to bat and bat and carry on batting. Would it be liberating, to be freed from the pressure of scoring runs? Would you attain a focus and rhythm, with pulse suppressed and consciousness narrowed? Or would the fear of making a mistake cramp and sully what could be a pure exercise in staying at the crease, over after over?
I recall being involved in a rearguard for my club in the Kent League in the early 1990s. My partner and I were doing our honest best to suffocate the game. I have never been subjected to such foul abuse on the sporting field, or anywhere else, as I was by the fielding team that afternoon. I scoffed when I next came across that club, 20 years later, on an ECB sponsored video looking all prim and proper setting an example for involving volunteers in running junior cricket.
I may have conflated two matches, but I think I was eventually run out. I hit the ball to the pavilion boundary, where our players signalled a four. I was talking mid-pitch to my partner when the fielder returned the ball, the bails were removed and I was given out. I didn’t skrike like Ian Bell at Edgbaston. I was in the wrong: the umpire hadn’t signalled the boundary.
The invitation – the instruction – to bat as long as possible is then very rare. It’s a luxury to be revelled in; not an opportunity to spurn. But, not far below the surface, it feels self-indulgent. It’s the all you can eat buffet of the batting world, but with the risk, not of indigestion, but dismissal, unfulfilled, wondering how many runs you passed up.
All this talk is cheaper than a first-baller. How did I do?
I edged the first ball wide of second slip for four. I recorded eleven more scoring shots: ten singles and a two. Wickets fell regularly at the other end and the bowling was testing, particularly the young opening bowler. I managed to calm my instinct to have a dash at anything pitched up on or outside off-stump. There was one exception: the ball after I fended a bouncer away from my throat, that instinct rose and I swung and missed by some margin a ball wide of off. Thereafter, for the final third of my innings, my shot-shyness was assisted by only being able to hold the bat with one and a half hands (see reason here). The rest of the time, I was content to stretch out into a forward defensive, watch the ball pass wide of the stumps, or deflect the ball off my legs. It was a challenge of concentration and technique.
There was plenty of chirping from the fielding team – all of which felt justified given my aim was simply to spoil their afternoon with my virtual inactivity. And they did seem happy, when with momentary carelessness I played across a straight, short-pitched leg break, was struck in front and sent packing. It was the end of the 17th over, I had scored 16 and hadn’t completed half of my assignment.
Our lower order held on for the draw – in doing so, playing some attractive cricket. I would be daft to deny there is great pleasure in that, but there’s also something to cherish in taking up the invitation to “just bat.”
Short pitch: Battle scar?
I’m not in the mood for much typing tonight. I returned from cricket with a sore thumb.
The question for you is, did I sustain this minor injury:
A: hitting my thumb with a mallet when setting up the stumps before the match;
B: fending off a bouncer;
C: shutting the car door on it when hurrying back to the house for my son’s spikes that he had left behind;
D: rolling the pitch covers over it when positioning them after the match.
Quick single: Family friendly cricket
Just like the Birmingham Bears, I was delayed by the traffic.
“Ten minutes and we’re leaving,” I announced on returning to the family home.
“Why can’t I have a phone?” demanded the 1&only daughter.
“By tram. No. Why can’t we go in the car?” complained no. 1 son.
“Can I have a coke?” nagged no. 2 son.
Were Chopra and Brown’s team as moany and discontented as Mrs DG’s and my lot?
A sprinkling of rain fell as we got off the tram at Old Trafford.
“How much longer until they call if off?” queried no.1 son gloomily.
Finding dry seats in C stand, we heard the announcement that the game would start 30 minutes late owing to traffic delays on Daddy’s commute home (or similar).
“Now, we’ve got to sit here for 40 minutes,” muttered no.1 son, who in another Manchester sporting venue is anxious if we aren’t at our seats that length of time before kick-off.
Time well-invested back at the concourse behind the pavilion, buying treats. An ice cream to distract the 1&onlyD from the ignominy of being a year 6 pupil without a mobile phone; and another chosen in a split-second defection from coke by no. 2 son.
I try to explain to Mrs DG the prominence of Brendon McCullum in world cricket. I feel emotional as I summarise how his significance goes beyond New Zealand and can be credited with invigorating the English game this summer.
“So he’s the best T20 player in the world?” questions no.1 son, comfortable with definitive judgements, not the weighing of strengths and weaknesses, the application of context to performance and the sheer ambiguity of the game. “Is he good?” he asks as each new bowler is brought into the attack – frequently, as Lancashire bowl most of the innings in one over spells.
McCullum doesn’t live up to my encomium – although that’s been true of his whole trip to the UK as a batsman. The Bears’ captain, Chopra, and their other international captain, Porterfield, accumulate, but the innings doesn’t ignite.
As each bowler starts their mini-spell, I confirm to no.1 son that, “Yes”, they are good – as well as providing some context. The exception is Steven Croft, about whom for the sake of variety rather than a genuine assessment, I state, “No.” Despite me, Croft bowls well, as do the other spinners, Parry and Lilley, which suggests why the Birmingham innings falters. No.1 son and I comment on the variation in pace and flight of the slow bowlers, but most respect is accorded James Faulkner.
His run-up is pitched like a man trying to progress into the teeth of a gale. But what we appreciate is the accuracy of his back-of-the hand slower ball. He uses it as his default, rather than surprise, delivery and lands it on a length on off-stump repeatedly.
Before the game began, asked how many sixes we would see, I plumped for eleven. The first comes in the Bears’ twentieth over, when Gordon, who the big screen tells us has zero T20 career runs, hoists his first ball over the mid-wicket boundary. If my prediction is to come true, the Lancashire reply will be short and successful.
Mrs DG pronounces it ridiculous that a county is playing a city. I think about asking her views of a team known as ‘England’ playing another titled, ‘West Indies’.
She also detects flatulence innuendo: the Blast, which starts with a Blast-Off and the flaming jets and hot air expelled in front of C stand that signal boundary hits. I enter into the spirit with a plate of lamb rogan-josh, pint of ale and bag of Bombay mix.
We move upstairs for the Lancashire reply. The rows of seats are steeply inclined. No.2 son asks us to sit still as he is anxious about toppling off. The view of the ground, its hinterland and the setting sun is uplifting.
A couple of early sixes shorten odds on my pre-match prediction. But in back garden cricket fashion, each is followed by an out. Mostly Lancashire batsmen mistime the ball or middle it straight at boundary fielders, to no.1 son’s frustration and increasing disdain. Don’t worry, Faulkner’s coming, I reassure.
Mrs DG and the 1&onlyD are focused on the big screen. Tracking the required rate? Checking career records? Studying the umpire referrals of two run out decisions? No. Waiting to see if their selfie tweeted with #summerlive makes the cut. It doesn’t and they feel short-changed. Note to county grounds: make sure you display every photo submitted.
Faulkner does come and some of the time does strike the ball a bit more cleanly than his teammates, but keeps taking singles to bring Jordan Clark or Alex Davies to face – the latter plays a short innings comprising, almost exclusively, attempted ramps. When Faulkner does connect well the ball whistles to the upper tier of the stand at mid-wicket. The chase is on! Then off again when the expected rattle of boundaries doesn’t come and he falls to a good low catch at long-off.
Faulkner is replaced by Liam Livingstone, a cricketer in the odd situation of being more famous for an exploit at club level than in the professional game. Could he alter that tonight? 17 runs to win off the final over would do it.
A straight drive hit so hard that Brendon McCullum at long-on can’t even get close enough to essay a dive, raises hopes. Livingstone runs hard, losing and regaining the strike with byes run to the keeper. Nine needed from the final two balls and the Nantwich player swings Hannon-Dalby into the legside and just over the boundary.
It has come down to the final ball: family friendly cricket. Excitement more memorable than an ice cream and flake, a ride on a busy tram and fear of tumbling from a high stand; and at least on a par with seeing flames shot into the air in front of you. Whether it matches the thrill of seeing your photo on the big screen, we’ll have to wait for another visit to find out.
Quick single: an evening without Boycott and Aggers
Geoffrey Boycott and Jonathan Agnew brought their cricket anecdote and banter show to one of my favourite venues, the Bridgewater Hall, last night.
Agnew’s smooth and precise commentary has accompanied almost all of England’s ups and downs of the last 20 years. For someone so familiar and so ever-present he is rare for developing no particular idiosyncrasies that irritate. When it’s Agnew’s turn at the microphone, I sense myself become calm. He has control and a proportionate response to whatever the action brings. His words can be trusted and he delivers no shocks or alarms.
When Boycott came to commentary, he fulfilled the American term for the summariser: ‘colour commentator’. He was sharp – in both senses of the word: acutely observant of technical matters and cutting in his description of cricket that was mediocre or worse. Boycott, oddly given his approach to batting, also had a sense that he was in the entertainment industry. Strong opinion and contrarian attitude could make for a more interesting programme. After the blandness and ignorance of the late Bailey and Trueman years, Boycott entertained and informed.
I didn’t go to the Bridgewater Hall last night.
As well as being the BBC’s lead commentator, Jonathan Agnew is the corporation’s cricket correspondent, with responsibility for reporting on the game’s news. As England’s governing body has led the game down several blind alleys, Agnew has been slow to recognise the rot and dilatory in calling for change. I have no doubt he’s commented and written criticism (for example, he has long warned of the dangers of the heavy international schedule on the wellbeing of the top players), but recall he’s urged England cricket fans to forget their complaints and get behind the team.
When news of the ICC palace coup broke in early 2014 on Cricinfo, the BBC website failed to cover the story for several days. It was, after all, unconfirmed. When confirmation did come, the cricket correspondent made no telling move, offered no deep analysis and, to my knowledge, asked no uncomfortable questions of those who awarded themselves power. From time to time, Agnew, in sharp contrast to his calm commentary style, was sulky and vituperative towards those on social media who dared to criticise him – often with the charge of being too cosy with the establishment.
Boycott’s instinct for strong opinion has over time become an addiction; a fulfilment of what he must imagine the audience wants from him. Much of cricket isn’t played at the extremes, but Boycott now lacks the subtlety to convey that. He isn’t interested in helping the listener develop an appreciation of the game but in forcing his interpretation onto us.
And somehow these two figures have developed a ‘partnership’. It’s a pairing that is contrived and inelegant. Neither character enhances the other; merely drags the other one towards parody. It derives from some crude concept that we need to have a Saint & Greavsie, Saturday night light entertainment double act explain cricket to us. I detect no special chemistry between those two chums, just a bad recipe mixed by an organisation seeking a device that will make its coverage of cricket have a broader appeal.
Short pitch: Girl Guides cricket
While England were taking another step towards limited overs rehabilitation in the Twenty20 international at Old Trafford on Tuesday night, two tram stops to the south, there was another potential breakthrough taking place.
Recreational cricket in the UK is suffering a decline in participation. A priority action to address and reverse that decline has to be the encouragement of greater involvement of girls and women. At my local club, we had well-founded hopes that this could be the year that girls cricket takes off. A university women’s player has been running weekly training sessions; our club development officer is working in the borough’s junior schools; co-operation has been agreed between clubs in the area who are trying to establish girls cricket sections to enter joint teams in the county league; and we have the dedication of one of the club’s most experienced volunteer coaches.
Despite those good intentions and better actions, the girls membership has not increased. Raising teams for the competitive fixtures – for ourselves and the opposition – has become no easier. Murmurs that it’s a doomed enterprise, have been heard.
The challenge, I felt, was how to get a large group of girls to experience cricket in a friendly, unpressurised environment. From that large group, there may be a proportion who want to return to play again. A possible solution came to me recently when dining with friends, one of whom is a girl guide leader. With the help of my guiding friend and her colleague, we arranged for the whole group to come to the club for an evening of cricket activities.
So, on Tuesday night, three volunteer coaches, our development officer and an under 15 girls cricketer, who has completed a cricket activator course at school, gathered to greet the guides. The weather, on mid-summer’s eve, was warm and bright; the ground looked in peak condition.
The guides started arriving and the noise level increased. The guide leader raised her arm and there was quiet. We took over. Thirty girls, divided into three groups, took turns at a bowling activity, a fielding game and a batting contest. When one activity ended, the guides ran to the next station, where they peppered us with questions, before throwing themselves with a great sense of fun into whichever task was set.
After an hour and a quarter, parents arrived and we realised we had run out of time for what would have been the evening’s climax: a continuous cricket match. That we agreed, could happen next time. The guides were given details about joining the club and we will see if any take up the offer. Even if none do, then we have forged a relationship with another group in our community, who can help us in the future make girls cricket a thriving activity.
At Old Trafford on Tuesday evening, England nearly set a record for their margin of victory in a T20 international. Several miles south, we may have had records set for quantity of laughter and number of handstands on a cricket field.
Some of the girls said to us, “my brother plays here,” which shows they came thinking of cricket as a ‘boy’s game’. We may have moved them onto considering it to be a ‘girl’s game’. One day, we want cricket to be just ‘a game’.
Quick single: Australia touch down at Gatwick
In the 1990s, it used to be said that English optimism for an upcoming home Ashes series would last all the way until the Australian team climbed down the steps of their Qantas plane at Heathrow.
Some things have, of course, changed. Australia have not won a series on their last three visits to the UK. The team’s arrival this week barely made a mark on the news – even the sports news. And within hours of them climbing down those steps from their Jumbo jet on Wednesday morning, English cricket experienced a surge of optimism from completing their highest ever successful run chase in an ODI – against the World Cup finalists, too. The Australia team doesn’t even arrive at Heathrow any more.
Other things, however, seem more in tune with the recent past. In 1993, the Austalian bowling attack comprised: Merv Hughes, Craig McDermott, Brendon Julian, Paul Reiffel, Shane Warne and Tim May. Four years later Julian and Warne returned and were joined by Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Michael Kasprowicz, and Andy Bichel. This year’s crop of Australian bowlers potentially has more menace, if a little less guile (although Ryan Harris has that aplenty), than those predecessors of 17 and 21 years ago. Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon and Fawad Ahmed.
It’s for the best that England cricket fans are kept occupied this week, rediscovering an affection for limited overs cricket, rather than brooding on what these new arrivals to the country may do to their Test team.
Quick single: 700 runs in the day
700 runs in the day
McCullum: coiled and ready to spring, but again not quite launching. Receiving more plaudits from a local crowd than anyone visiting here since a young Brian Lara. Admired for what he’s done for New Zealand and now drawing out of England.
Guptill: drumming everything over-pitched back past the bowler. The same clean, straight swing lifting the ball aimed at his pads high over the legside.
Williamson: Speed of hands and control of angle produce crisp, neat shots around the wicket. Working the scoreboard harder than he seems to work himself. No hint of a preference of where to score, until Stokes over-pitches and an off-drive of perfect shape and proportion, and just a little flourish, sends the ball skittering away. Three times.
Taylor: beginning, I sense, to revel in the shade of his teammates’ growing reputations. Feeding singles to keep Williamson stretching England all around the ground. The stoop and bottom hand controlled drive convinces me there’s a resemblance to a player I never saw bat: Cowdrey.
Elliott: out of touch, dot balls, a thrashed six and a few singles, putting first 400, then 350 out of reach. Transferring pressure to Williamson, who finally plays and pays for a couple of inelegant shots. Elliott stays put and at last applying muscle and a good eye kicks the innings back on track.
Santner: edging and bunting the ball as the innings comes towards its close would serve his team best back in the shed. Rashid returns and bowls a ball from the front of his hand to the left-handed Santner who detonates with the first of five middled shots in the over. Huge, flat-batted sixes over the long leg-side boundary, bring 350 back into view.
Roy: ten balls and still on nought. I can’t look to see what it’s doing to the required run rate. Roy decides it’s time to advance and crunches a four and lofts a six. The tailwind from Hales, pulls him smoothly through the powerplay. Roy’s tactic is to charge. Henry drops it short and Roy batters it through mid-wicket, like you know who, but without kicking up his right foot behind him. Another skip forward next ball and Roy buries it in Williamson, just 20 metres away. Fortunately, given the damage it would have caused, finding his hands.
Hales: unlike his partner, he hangs back in the crease, pulling and hooking over and past the fielders behind square. The culmination of his powerplay assault is ball lifted from his pads with a full swing from the shoulders that soars into the deep midwicket stand.
Root: just like Wiliamson earlier in the day, he takes runs with ease wherever they come, at a pace that suits him. Scorching straight drives and a cover drive, with right knee on the turf, adorn deflections to third man, and straighter balls punched out of reach of the legside fielders. There are cuts that send the ball screaming square and glances too fine for the boundary rider to reach. Not a single shot played that I’d caution a young cricketer not to imitate.
Morgan: still, even serene, at the crease. UnMorgan like as the bowler approaches and in his run-scoring too. Barely a paddle or reverse. Straight driving with high elbow and strong top hand. Backfoot defence equally orthodox. McCullum leaves long-off empty for almost the whole of Morgan’s innings. He saves a fielder neck ache as Morgan lofts sixes over that vacant channel. Before the half-way point, in partnership with Root, Morgan brings the required rate below one run per ball, and that’s the rate of progress for a few overs. But Morgan won’t win it the risk-free way and makes room to pan the ball off-side. When he returns to hitting high and straight, Henry claws at his own head after a full delivery is driven in a shallow parabola and into the long-off stands. A few balls later and a towering hit to our stand at mid-wicket takes Morgan beyond 100.
700 runs in the day
Short pitch: behind the bowler’s arm
In the debates about over-rates in the professional game, there is one cause of delays to play that everyone seems to decry: movement behind the bowler’s arm. Television cameras pick out the culprits who have strayed into the (periphery) of the batsman’s eyesight while commentators give supercilious tuts. At matches held at Lord’s or the Oval, there’s an additional edge to criticism of those the umpires wave at to shoo off to the side. It’s the members, the supposed elite, pampered, yet too ignorant to know where they can sit to watch the match.
In club cricket there’s a similar annoyance expressed towards folk straying behind the bowler’s arm. This, though, is true only of club cricket of a certain level. Sightscreens have value and significance beyond their ostensible purpose of assisting the batsman (and wicketkeeper) sight ball from the bowlers’ hand. In club cricket they are status symbols. Clubs wishing to compete in county leagues are required to provide sightscreens. A large chunk of club cricket is played without screens.
But within those higher echelon clubs, the targets of the players’ and umpires annoyance are usually: tennis players making their way to and from the courts on the far side of the ground; kids having a kickabout; young lads taking a short-cut across the park or the vice-captain’s new girlfriend and her pals. Several decades of observing these rituals of chastisement and chasing away have led me to a conclusion. Only very rarely are the people being shouted at actually in front of the sightscreens. Most usually, they are making their way around the ground behind the sightscreens.
What harm is done to the game by people beside or behind the sightscreens?
I strongly suspect that the players are fulfilling a convention of what they believe cricketers should do, rather than responding to a real threat to the ball being clearly sighted or to the players’ concentration. Tennis players, kids kicking balls and girl friends (non-cricket playing) are all inferior beings to the men in whites. Telling those people where they can and cannot stand, walk or play is an authority that is assumed once per week and is damn well going to be exercised. The tone of their shouted admonishment – a sort of bored ire – is of a kind with that used by dog walkers instructing their hounds away from brambles, streams and other natural attractions.
My suggestion for players is to keep their eyes on the ball. The sightscreen will help; a few people wandering behind them will have negligible impact.
I have one other query about sightscreens – what happened to those coloured duck-egg blue?
Short pitch: a first run
I’m being shouted at; by the grown-ups watching the game, by the people playing the game and now by my team – one of them is waving a bat. They want me to bat now. It’s my turn.
Someone’s Daddy helps me put my hands into gloves. My fingers don’t reach the ends and they feel sticky inside. I walk out to the middle of the field with the boy I’m batting with. He’s bigger than me. He has a loud voice. I don’t want him to shout at me. He points at one of the wickets and says ‘that’s your end’.
I stand in front of the wicket. The umpire moves me to the side. I think it will be hard to hit the ball and stop it bowling me from there. He says it’s not my turn to bat. So I watch.
The bowler runs from behind me and bowls. The ball reaches the boy I’m batting with, who swings his bat, but misses it. That happens again and again. I turn to ask the umpire when it will be my go and then hear the bat hit the ball. I wasn’t expecting that. Then the boy I’m batting with shouts and runs towards me. He stops and I remember I should do some running. He shouts ‘stop, go back’. I do, but I don’t like him shouting at me. I don’t know where the ball is, but suddenly the bowler has it again and he’s running in again.
Then everyone is moving around and there’s an umpire standing at the other wickets facing me. “Are you ready?” he asks me. I nod. He tells me to move – it’s back to where I stood when I first came out, until the other umpire moved me. That umpire is now behind me. He’s also telling me where to stand – closer to the bowler. He wants the white line to go between my feet. I do it, but would feel happier standing close to the wicket.
A different bowler bowls, everything has moved around. He bowls it past me. I can’t reach it, so I let it go. When I look around, there are the other players all around me. They don’t look friendly, apart from the boy laughing at the seagull, which is funny. The umpire shouts, ‘Are you ready?’ and another ball goes past me. I can’t hit it unless he bowls it at me.
One ball comes closer. I push at it, but don’t like the way it bounces up at me. It misses and everyone goes ‘ooh, nearly’. Do they mean I nearly hit it? Now it’s time to switch around again.
This time the boy I’m batting with does hit the ball. It goes past the seagull, which flies away. I’m watching to see how far it goes, when the boy who hit it runs up to me. ‘Run,’ he shouts, right in front of me. My teammates are shouting, too. I drop my bat to run faster and run all the way to the other wicket, making sure I stop just in front of it in case I knock it down and am out.
The umpire picks up my bat and brings it to me. ‘Remember what we practiced last week?’ I don’t know what he means by ‘last week’.
‘Remember how to grip the bat.’
‘It’s an axe,’ I say which makes me laugh and he laughs too. Then he says something about ‘V’s’ which I don’t understand, but I like pretending it’s an axe. I’m going to chop the ball.
The next ball isn’t at me, but I try to chop it, but I can’t reach. It’s still my turn to bat and another ball comes. It’s right in front of me and I chop it and it rolls quickly to one of their players who looks unfriendly. The boy I’m batting with shouts and starts running, but I like this wicket so I stay and he has to run back to his wicket. The umpire makes a thumbs up sign and is smiling.
There’s two more balls I can’t reach. Then there’s one that bounces up and could hit me on the tummy, but I chop it hard. The ball rolls between two of the unfriendly boys. Actually one might be a girl. I like watching it roll away, getting smaller, although it’s quite small to begin with. Then I notice shouting again, at me again. “Run! Run!” The boy I’m batting with is next to me, so I run to the other wicket, holding onto my axe this time.
When I get down there, the umpire holds his hand out in front of me. Have I done something wrong? He seems happy. ‘Great shot. High five,’ he’s saying. My teammates are still making noise, but they’re not shouting at me. Some are clapping. And my Mummy is standing up, so I wave at her.
With thanks and respect to all the youngsters I have coached and seen score their first runs.
Quick single: On Warner
Fifteen overs into Australia’s second innings in the 2nd Test at Kingston, David Warner was on ten, scored off 39 balls, with a single boundary – and that from a false shot, edged through the slips. Warner was struggling with his timing, scratchy and jumpy. Three low scores in the series behind him, the opener’s high-paced start to an innings was in check.
Warner should not have become a very successful Test cricketer. He probably shouldn’t have even become a Test cricketer, picked as a selectors’ hunch. So much of a limited overs specialist, that Warner made his T20 and ODI debut for Australia two months before playing in the Sheffield Shield for New South Wales in 2011.
Yet Warner is compelling viewing on a Test field. He’s nimbler at point, or elsewhere in the in-field, than his stocky frame would suggest, making full length diving stops and whipping off-balance throws over the stumps. Batting, there’s no more exciting prospect than Warner taking strike on a pristine wicket against fresh fast bowlers on the first morning of a Test. Four times he has lit up the opening phase of a match with a run-a-ball (or thereabouts) hundred.
- Australia v South Africa, Adelaide, 22 November 2012. Warner 50 off 47 balls; dismissed mid-afternoon for 119 with 16 fours and 4 6s.
- Australia v South Africa, Cape Town, 1 March 2014. Warner 50 off 50 balls and 100 off 104 balls.
- Australia v India, Adelaide, 9 December 2014, Warner 50 off 45 balls (nine 4s) and 100 off 106 balls
- Australia v India, Sydney, 6 January 2015, Warner 50 off 45 balls and 100 off 108 balls.
Since Warner’s debut, I have found myself staying up for the result of the toss in a Test in Australia and delaying bed further if the home team are to bat first.
This short-form specialist now has a better Test than ODI record. He has been converted into a Test cricketer and I’m a convert, too. Partly it’s his evident embrace of Test cricket. More though, it’s how Warner puts to use his simple, orthodox batting technique. His record – average 47, strike rate 75 – compares well to that of Virender Sehwag, the top right dot on the graph below (taken from my post, What is an opening batsman?). But where Sehwag stood and waved his bat like a heavy duty wand at the ball, Warner plays forward and back, near enough in line with the ball – unless he’s giving himself a bit of extra space to flex his forearms. His footwork is sharp and his bat swing uninhibited by the situation or opponents’ reputation. He shouldn’t have played Test cricket and shouldn’t be playing it like that. But it’s wonderful that he does.
Three years ago, Toby of Reverse Swept Radio interviewed me. He asked what I thought would be remembered in ten years time of the Ashes summer that was soon due to start. I said I thought David Warner would, in a single session, take control of a game for Australia. Within days, Warner had been sent away from the touring team as punishment for the incident involving Joe Root. Although he was back in England for the 3rd Test, he didn’t fulfil my prediction. This year, I think he will.
At Sabina Park, Warner has battled into the 16th over. Permaul flights a ball outside Warner’s off-stump. With a confident chassé, Warner is within reach of the pitch of the ball and drives it along the ground between cover and mid-off and out to the boundary. His timing returns and he bats smoothly until misjudging a pull on 62. It’s not a crushing hundred today, but there’s one on its way.