Amidst century drought, Australia desperately seek David
When David Warner says he “lives by the sword and dies by the sword”, it is no empty statement. The left-handed opener often deflates rival bowlers, and a strike-rate of 72.86 and an average of 48.95 in 84 Tests underline his aggressive batting and consistency.
No wonder the hosts pin their hopes on Warner as the third Test of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy series nears, even when the explosive opener admits it is “highly doubtful” he will be fully fit after a groin injury kept him out of the first two Tests.
Australia are desperate. The batting in Warner’s absence has been mediocre as India have fought back to square the series 1-1. The Sydney Test starts on Thursday.
Since Steve Smith’s 111 in the Dharamsala Test of March 2017, the teams have played six Tests with no Australian batsman scoring a century. Among the 17 Australian batsmen to feature, Marcus Harris’ 79 is the highest individual score, his 36.85 the top average. He is in the squad but hasn’t played. In the same period, six centuries have been scored by Indian batsmen with Cheteshwar Pujara’s 193 on the 2018-19 tour the highest.
Credit should go the Indian bowling; its depth and variety has kept the Australian batsmen subdued, though other teams have fared better.
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Between April 2017 and December 2020, Sri Lanka had five centurions in six games against India, England three in five, South Africa two in six and West Indies one in four games. Only Bangladesh (2 Tests), New Zealand (2 Tests) and Afghanistan (1 Test) didn’t score a century against India in that phase.
According to Cricviz data, Australia’s run-rate after the first two Tests is 2.64, around the same as 2018-19 when India won the four-Test series 2-1. That series did not have Smith and Warner, both serving bans, while Marnus Labuschagne was yet to hit his peak. This time, Smith and Labuchagne have been kept quiet.
Australia want Warner to provide batting stability and show intent against the Indian bowlers.
“I have been talking to a few of the guys,” Warner said in a virtual media interaction on Saturday. “They’ve been saying they (India) are hitting nice lengths. It is the key on Australian wickets, whether to drive on the up or allow the ball to come on to the bat, drop and run and apply that pressure. There’s probably been a little bit of that missing - from both sides.
“In Test cricket you can’t allow great attacks to dictate to you as a batsman. It has its challenges by all means but sometimes you have to play outside the square and be a little bit brave. I’ve always said I would rather go down swinging than sitting there on the crease. If I am able to get up and get out there, I will have the intent I always have.
“My 84 Tests have always been about pre-meditated attacks and it doesn’t change; it’s about how the team looks at it. When I talk about intent, I mean by putting pressure back on the bowlers, not just by swinging the bat.”
Warner gave credit to the Indian bowlers, who have done brilliantly despite Ishant Sharma’s absence and injuries to Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav.
“If they are bowling well, you have to respect it… Both attacks have bowled so well it has dictated the run-rate,” he said. “You’re going to have to play the shots somewhere, whether or not you get out or you hit that for a boundary.
“I live by the sword, I die by the sword when I am out there with the bat.
In the two Tests, Australia’s opening stands read 16, 70, 10 and 4. With Joe Burns axed, Sydney will feature a new opening pair. Warner wants to wait two more days before deciding if he can play.
“I haven’t trained the last couple of days, but after today and tomorrow it will give me a better indication of where I am. Am I going to be hundred percent? Highly doubtful. But I will be doing everything to get on that park and play.
“If I feel like I can do my duties, whether it’s standing in the slip cordon, taking catches to my right and left… think that’s where it will determine whether I play or not. I can manage the running between wickets, the shot-making I have; it’s whether I have that capacity of catching the balls left and right. With Gazza (Nathan Lyon) bowling, am I going to field at first slip or leg slip?”
Warner suffered the groin tear during the second ODI against India in November. His rehabilitation has included cryotherapy (treatment using extreme cold).
“There will be some restrictions here and there,” he said. “When you get into a game, adrenaline takes over, you sort of don’t cast any doubts that you can’t play those shots. But at the moment, yeah, there are a few shots where if you are lunging... For me it’s about my speed between wickets, that’s all that matters, it doesn’t matter what shots I can and can’t play. It’s about the drop-and-run, helping the guy at the other end get off strike. They are the things I like to be 100% fit for.”