David Warner on batting with Shaun Marsh: “When SOS [Marsh] doesn’t say much to me I think I am in a great position.” © AFP
In the surest sign yet of his cricketing evolution, Australia’s vice-captain David Warner has done something once unthinkable for him and swayed out of the way of a verbal bouncer from South Africa’s spearhead Dale Steyn.
Tossed a recitation of Steyn’s words about “cutting off the head” of the Australian team by targeting their leadership, Warner refused to take a swat at it. This very notion would have seemed ridiculous little more than 18 months ago: just ask Jonathan “scared eyes” Trott or Rohit “speak English” Sharma.
But two days out from the start of a Test match that may well dictate the course of the summer for an Australian side still establishing a fresh identity under the leadership of Steven Smith and his deputy, Warner chose discretion to be the better part of valour. He even invited South Africa’s pacemen to get angry in the hope it would result in poor bowling.
“There are 11 players in the team and if Dale wants to start playing that game I’ll let him do that,” Warner said on Tuesday. “For us it’s about going out and doing our best, and if he feels that cutting the head off the snake then everyone else falls apart, I don’t see that happening at all.
“That’s the fast-bowler talk, we’re not going to entertain those thoughts or scenarios, we’re just going to go out there, back ourselves and what we do best. That is [to] play positive cricket. We know the conditions we’re going to face out here, so hopefully they do get carried away and start bowling short and fast, because at the end of the day you’ve got to bowl at the stumps to get wickets.”
Warner has taken to a nickname of “the reverend”, coined by team-mates for the way he has abstained from sledging and other inflammatory tactics in search of a more serene approach. Perhaps the most fascinating element of all this is it takes him away from the confrontational streak that has seemingly informed a lot of his best innings, notably his dominant tour of South Africa in 2014.
“I feel that it’s come more with maturity, that I’ve started to let my bat do the talking,” Warner said. “That’s what happens when you evolve as a player and you get to a point where you understand the game well enough. [Kagiso] Rabada spoke the other day about banter out there and you know he’s a young guy coming through and that’s something he gains confidence through.
“I know he said a few words when we were in South Africa, but you love that as a batsman. I feel now that I let my bat do the talking and that’s all I have to worry about when I’m out there. With the new [ICC] laws and the demerit points they go for two years, so I can’t afford to sit out a game.”
Intriguingly, Warner reflected that his dominance in South Africa two years ago stemmed as much from good fortune as a combative attitude, noting how many dropped catches allowed him to make a century at Centurion, another pair of substantial scores in Port Elizabeth and then twin hundreds at Newlands.
“There was a lot of luck. Think I got dropped every game,” Warner said. “I think that we had a great bowling attack there, we had the intimidation factor. We had players who verbally got together and really showed presence out there. I think that’s what we really needed to get over the South Africans. They had a fantastic line-up, batting and bowling.
“We felt we really had to have that presence in their own backyard as we always have to have in our own backyard…. But over there I think there was just something different about the Australian cricket team. We knew we had to fight together to beat them on their home turf and we managed to do that.
“But as we know, Test cricket, the best ones go down to that last hour [in Cape Town] and it was a fantastic effort from the bowlers predominantly to grind out that day because I think we had Adelaide in the back of our minds when we played there. For myself looking back at that, [I’ve] got to try and look at what worked for me then to try and make it work this summer.”
To that end, Warner will be working alongside Shaun Marsh, another century-maker on that tour, who will open the batting at home for Australia for the first time. Though he has batted all the way up and down the order for Western Australia, it is actually as an opener that Marsh has been most successful, averaging 49.54 from 27 first-class innings as an opener down under.
“When SOS [Marsh] doesn’t say much to me I think I am in a great position,” Warner said. “Because we all know SOS is a man of few words. He’s an intense player, the feedback we get when we’re out there together is we try and rotate strike a fair bit, that’s one thing we really work on as a partnership, and he likes to leave a lot of balls early on in his innings. I’m a bit different, I like to feel bat on ball.
“But we work very well together, we’ve batted together in one-dayers, Test matches, we know each other very well and that’s the good thing about coming into a Test series. When you know your partner at the other end, and I was fortunate that the selectors have gone that way as well, instead of picking someone who was fresh and new.”
Warner’s other partner this summer is his captain. Recent insights offered by Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin have sharpened focus on the role of the vice-captain, and Warner is wise to the need to operate well in concert with Smith for the sake of the team. “For me it’s about making his job easier,” he said.
“Doing the little things around the group to make sure his job is just solely based on out on the field being tactical, bowling changes, etc. And away from the field just making sure the troops are upbeat and ready to go. If anyone needs anything I ask the guys come to me and just let Smudge think about what he has to do for the Test match coming up.
“You guys know Steven, he’s a very simple, down-to-earth guy, he’s very cruisy, so he actually likes being a bit more hands-on, likes getting feedback from the guys which is great. I just try and make his life a little bit easier if I can.”
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo