The Australian lead up to the Ashes was more of a chaos due to the hullabaloo that was created around the final squad selection. Two players who were discussed a lot among a few others were Matt Renshaw and Cameron Bancroft. The 21-year-old Renshaw was axed from the side for his poor string of scores in Sheffield Shield, while Bancroft was in the limelight, courtesy of his unbeaten double century for Western Australia that earned him his maiden Test call. He became one of those few players who made his Test debut in the crucial Ashes.
Bancroft’s inclusion meant he would become David Warner’s fourth partner in four series and overall, 10th partner in Test cricket. Either of Shaun Marsh or Joe Burns opened with Warner in Australia’s series against Sri Lanka and South Africa (first two Tests) in 2016, before Renshaw’s surprise call-up for the third Test against South Africa in Adelaide. From there on, he went on to open for Australia in subsequent series against Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. In all the three series, Renshaw stuck to his old-fashioned approach to his game and was among the few with sound technique. SinceWarner was the more aggressive one, that allowed Renshaw to play his natural game.
With Bancroft, Warner’s role would be the same as his partner’s game was quite similar to Renshaw. The Western Australian also took time to settle down and was never in a hurry to get the scoreboard ticking. The tricky situation would come when the opening men have to decide who would take the first ball of the innings. Ever since Warner has established himself as a regular top-order guy in the Australian Test team, he has come up with a democratic rule for the younger member of the opening pair. He has always given them a choice of either facing or watching.
Being well aware of how nervous Bancroft would be, Australian Vice-Captain Warner said, “I generally used to make Bucky (Rogers) face the first ball back in the day, but we usually change it from first innings to second innings. Or when we’re walking out there, one of us will say ‘I’ll take it’. I’ll ask him (Bancroft) if he wants to take the first ball of the series. If he wants, he can have it. If not, I’ll take it.”
However, Warner might have missed the fact that in Shield matches, Bancroft has faced the first delivery on most of the occasions. There has been a tradition in Australian cricket that openers switched from one innings to the other in facing the first ball but going against it in the first Ashes Test in Brisbane, the debutant boldly faced the first delivery in both the innings. That spoke volumes about his character, how he likes to get going immediately.
Bancroft, although, had a forgettable start to his Test career. He lasted at the crease for only 19 balls as he poked an outside off delivery from Stuart Broad that went straight into the gloves of Jonny Bairstow behind the stumps. But, he fought back to turn tables around in the second innings. Warner and Bancroft came out to bat again when half of the fourth day was finished and England had set the hosts a mere target of 170. Cricket is never an easy sport and such easy opportunities never come in hand quite often. It was on these two to capitalise on it; it was a golden chance for Bancroft to take his Test career off to a flyer, while Warner could have the luxury to play his natural game as the target was less and they had more than a day in hand.
However, the vice-captain showing immense maturity chose the high road, for both his side and his new young partner. Two years ago, coming off three full days of rains, Warner managed to smash a century leaving the West Indian bowlers absolutely clueless in Sydney. At the same ground, last year, he gobbled a century before the day’s first lunch break. Such is the talent of the explosive opener who is an epitome of scoring those junk-time centuries. With Warner off to a decent start and the bowling attack not at their mental and physical best, chasing down 170 on a single day was not a difficult task at all for Warner.
Had he finished the Test on the fourth day, the English bowlers would have got a day extra apart from the four-day break for the Adelaide Test. Hence, he ensured the English legs were used thoroughly on the fifth day two. He ended day four on 60. Meanwhile, Bancroft had already impressed with his temperament and calculated shots and more importantly, the way he had absorbed pressure and produced a great innings so far for a debutant, was incredible.
Australia resumed play on the final day, as they were 56 runs away from a fantastic victory in the first 2017-18 Ashes Test. The stadium was not its usual full; the crowd was about 6,154, and that went without saying that they all just waited to watch Warner perform England’s last rites in style. It was a perfect platform for him to go all blazing and cruise Australia to a victory in half an hour. When Warner came at the crease, he was prepared to bag three runs first. Warner went off the strike with a backfoot punch for three runs, that took him to 63. It was his close friend and Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes’ third death anniversary and 63 was the late cricketer’s last score. Warner quietly looked at the heavens to remember Hughes for a moment.
— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) November 27, 2017
From there on, the spectators and England team witnessed a different Warner; he never went after the bowlers and kept taking singles. For a total of five times, Warner took a single off the first ball, four times from the second ball and three times from the third. It was quite evident what was happening; the senior man allowed Bancroft to soak up as many overs as possible.
With four Tests left ahead in the series, it was crucial for Bancroft to spend as much time as possible at the crease. In the first innings, he faced only 19 deliveries which certainly was half-cooked Bancroft and he would be no good for the side in Adelaide. By the time the second innings was done, he had survived 182 balls and had an excellent score of 82. He had conquered a couple of best bowlers in current arena and he successfully had carried the momentum from the fourth day into the fifth and yet that had not affected his batting.
On the other hand, despite Warner had restricted himself to singles, on 79 he suddenly eyed a possible hundred. He hit a four followed by a two and immediately went back to his initial tactic and Bancroft finished off things from there. He smashed three boundaries off Woakes over to take Australia on the other side.
Warner and Bancroft’s 173-run stand for the opening wicket now is the highest unbeaten opening partnership in a successful Test run chase. Warner walked off the field with 87 not out, a milestone was so near, yet so far. But, for someone who has 20-odd Test tons, now is in the perfect position to judge if a century at times is not the priority. Bancroft has found a mentor and more of an understanding and considerate partner in Warner. If these two click in the upcoming Tests, the duo as a team will surely flourish for Australia in the future.