Smallish targets can be tricky. Especially when the conditions are not tailor-made for quick runs.
At the Gabba, run making never looked an easy proposition. England’s first innings total of 302 came at just 2.58 runs per over, well within the bounds of snail’s pace in modern cricket. Australia’s response, in spite of the best batsman of the world hitting a magnificent 141 not out, was even slower, at the rate of 2.51 per over.
And when the rate improved to 2.72 during the second England innings, they collapsed to 195 all out.
In such circumstances, the path of 170 for victory can often be riddled with pitfalls. Early wickets can queer the pitch and send panic waves down the batting order. And an over-cautious approach, quite a natural ploy under such circumstances, can put the bowlers into their grooves, and help them settle down and utilise the conditions to the fullest.
It is under these circumstances that a man like David Warner in the line up is a remarkable asset. Especially in his modern, mature avatar.
Of course, anyone with the slightest initiation into the world of cricket will be sure to know that this is one man who will never push and prod tentatively, irrespective of the situation. His whole game is based on the sound principles of getting on with things.
Yet, it was not hammer and tongs from the word go. In fact, it was the junior partner Cameron Bancroft who took the initiative. Warner did not reach double figures till the 29th ball he faced and did not hit his first boundary till the 30th. By then, Bancroft had hogged the strike and moved to 20, which included a six over long-off against Moeen Ali.
But what Warner had done was to see off the initial menace of Stuart Broad and James Anderson, and set the platform for the take off. He had settled down and had not really demonstrated any nervousness for the bowlers to smell blood. And then he did get going. He started stroking the ball around the wicket with that enormous bat of his, composed yet aggressive, reaching 50 in 74 balls. The scoring rate had pushed past 3, and the match was running away from England. In the 29th over, Australia reached 100, still without loss, and Warner was on 56 from 76.
It did rub off on Bancroft as well, and the young man from Western Australia did play an excellent innings. With both batsmen looking extremely positive, by the end of the day, England were faced with a scoreboard registering 114 for 0. Warner had moved to 60.
There was no tearing hurry to get the runs. No unnecessary haste to get them all on the fourth evening itself. But the game was wrenched away from the English hands with controlled aggression, underlining that cricket was all about scoring runs.
In quite an incredible contrast, some ten thousand kilometres away, India had started the third day at 312 for 2 in response to Sri Lanka’s 205. Cheteshwar Pujara had resumed his innings at 121 not out and crawled along for 22 more runs from 78 balls. It did not matter in the context of the match because of the spineless show by the Sri Lankan batting, but the difference in attitude and approach of top-order batsmen do guide the fortunes of sides in the long run.
On the final morning at Brisbane, there was little hope for the tourists. The combination of rain, uncovered wickets and a left-arm spinner who needed to be shoved under the shower to sober up could have turned the tables in 1894-95, not in the modern times.
But Warner was the ultimate professional once again. No undue haste, only two boundaries in contrast to Bancroft’s flurry of fours towards the end which brought the match to a quick closure. Yet, it was Warner who made sure there was not even a remote glimpse of hope for the English bowlers. He added 27 to his overnight score, in 33 balls, making most of the early runs before the finishing burst of his youthful comrade.
An unbeaten 87 off 119, enterprising and, but for one impetuous attempted flat batted stroke, almost risk-free.
When one is chasing a small target in a crucial encounter like the first Test of an Ashes series, and the conditions are not exactly easy, David Warner is the man to go out and take strike.
A man who came up through the ranks of T20 cricket’s slam-bang methods currently has 5818 runs in 67 Tests with an average of 48.48 and a terrific strike rate of 77.12. When he bats in the fourth innings, neither his batting average nor his strike rate show much deviation. That is the modern cricketer, a superb asset.