Sunday, December 11, 2011

David Warner scores a century - time for some humble pie

The following piece was written on David Warner's selection for Australia before the first Test against New Zealand.

Why I hate David Warner

"Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to the Dark Side" Yoda

The news that Shane Watson may miss Australia's two Test series against New Zealand comes with the added revelation that David Warner is likely to be called up in his stead. In Warner's defence, his most recent First Class match he scored 148 and boasts a recent double century for Australia A against coughZimbabwecough. The prosecution suggests he has a dominating batting mindset suited best for T20, a minimum of technique (how's that working, Phil Hughes?) and due to this combination, probably a limited lifespan at the top of Australia's Test order.

Let's calm the anti-Warner sentiment a little. I don't so much hate the New South Welshman, but obey Yoda. I fear him, because I fear for the consequences of Australian cricket should he be given a call-up to the national team. I've gone on record many times in the past taking pot-shots and making underhanded gibes. Eschewing players with more compact techniques, and thus greater abilities to survive against the moving ball, for a power-hitter at the top of the order beggars long-term logic.

While Warner, if selected, could have a field day against Chris Martin and Doug Bracewell, could the same be said if he were to face up against Steyn and Morkel, Anderson and Tremlett or Ishant and his new-ball partner of the week?

I stand by my past remarks, if not the snideness with which they were delivered. Warner, whose technique is very much based on opening his shoulders so as to swing across the line, has evolved into a formidable First Class batsman. Actually, that's not a fair statement: rather than evolving, which implies a lack of intent, he has worked himself into a guy who averages 59.7 at a strike-rate of 71 at Shield level.

Unfortunately, it's highly dubious that this batsman is ready to play for the Australian Test team. Never mind his (admittedly great) average is based on ten games; more telling is his strike-rate. 71 runs per hundred balls doesn't suggest reformation but an insistence on belligerence. In context, that scoring rate is superior to most, if not all of his current Australian brethren. Phil Hughes, thought of as a lively scorer, has a strike rate of only 59.

As well as the remaining question marks about his technqiue, historical precedent decries his chances.

With the advent of Romesh Kaluwitharana's elevation to opener in 1995-96, One Day cricket changed forever. No longer was a total of 50 runs after fifteen overs sufficient, or desirable. It was when Kalu started flaying McGrath and McDermott to all corners of Australian grounds that it became apparent both formats of the game needed vastly different shaped teams in order to flourish.

Of course such changes had been dabbled in before: Mark Waugh played the pyjama game for three years before his Test debut, and England began to send players to/from alien lands depending on their forty-over credentials. It was after the World Cup in '96 though, that the game changed forever.

Since that time, rarely - if ever - has a player who made their name as a short format specialist for Australia succeeded in the Test team. Where serving an apprenticeship in the ODI squad was common enough, since the separation of church and state after the '96 World Cup, very few batsmen designated as One Day specialists have made the breakthrough to the longer format and include Darren Lehmann, Cameron White and Brad Haddin. And we're being generous with definitions.

Form that time, only Mike Hussey has established himself as a Test batsman after an ODI-based apprenticeship and a special inclusion can be made for him given the extreme number of First Class games he had played on both sides of the world. When he entered the Test team and made himself unexpellable, he had played for Western Australia, Glamorgan, Durham and Northamptonshire for a decade.

Andrew Symonds also managed to (mostly) cement a role in the Big Boy team, mostly based on all-round skills rather than batting acumen. He also played at no. 6, a role more suited to cavalier attitude and techniques than facing the opposition's best flingers with the new ball.

Ponting, Langer, Hayden, Hussey. Watson, Clarke et al all established themselves as Test batsmen by virtue of their First Class form over a number of years. Even when Australia last reached for talent during the Dark Times of the mid-'80s, Dean Jones had been playing First Class cricket for five years, as had Geoff Marsh, Boonie and even Rob Kerr. Only Steve Waugh, perhaps the most talented Australian of his generation, was the bolter from the pack.

The rubbishing of David Warner will cease. In fact, it's now probably easier to laud him for his work ethic, desire and a probable spot in the Test team. However, the prosecution suggests that New Zealand is hardly a fair test of his Test mettle. They haven't had a quality fast man since Shane Bond; the tougher test will arrive when Ishant and co. turn up on Southern shores in December.

It's been proven that fly-by-night batsmen don't succeed at Test level and that a solid First Class education is necessary to compete at the top. Due in no small part to unclear selection trends, Australia delved into the cricketing depths and came up with ... David Warner? The man could end up being a quality Test player - but it's unlikely to be now. Following the form is appropriate, but it must be a like-for-like comparison, otherwise it is inherently flawed.

What a David Warner selection will mean for Australia is more woolly thinking. That's why I fear his presence in the Baggy Green. Australian cricket has come through such a time of upheaval and have, with the appointment of John Inverarity and Mickey Arthur, that new vision and hope had arrived. I fear for that development. And fear leads to anger.

Originally published on The Sight Screen.

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