The fall of an early wicket did not matter much for Australia as David Warner stabilised the situation along with Steve Smith. He was steady but fluent as on the first day he was among the runs with authority.
Ball 1: Vernon Philander to David Warner – ball on middle and off – defended
Balls 2 – 5: Repeat…..
Ball 6: Slightly fuller, Warner drives with disdain down the ground for four.
It’s business as usual for David Warner in South Africa. Everybody talks of David Warner and his outrageous record at home in Australia in Test cricket. The belligerent southpaw, armed with the license to go hammer and tongs at the beginning of a Test innings is one of the two most scary prospects in the Australian batting line-up (We all know who the other is!).
Yet, his record in the Rainbow Nation transcends the boundaries of ordinary. In seven innings’ in South Africa, Warner has six fifty-plus scores. Take a moment to absorb that in. In a country where Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada and countless other seamers have stormed about authoritatively, Warner has been disdainfully, abnormally, jaw-droppingly consistent.
In his very first innings here in the country, way back in 2014, Warner made 12. Since then he hasn’t had to look back as he racked up 115, 70, 66, 135 and 145 before today.
At Durban on Thursday, Warner was more composed, batting in a box and not trying to dominate a South African bowling attack looking to exploit the early movement on a dry Durban surface. First innings advantage is too huge in Durban that Australia knew they had to get a big total to put pressure on South Africa. Warner wasn’t going to let that opportunity slip by. He could always catch up with the scoring rate later.
Yet, even as it seemed Warner was struggling to score off Philander, the southpaw raced to 18 in 27 balls when Keshav Maharaj was introduced into the attack and nearly had him lbw with prodigious turn off a foot mark.
He wasn’t the flamboyant Warner the World knew of. Rabada steamed in and Philander tied him down. Yet in the company of Smith, runs came thick and fast. In one Rabada over, Warner milked 10 runs which included just one boundary. The gameplan was pretty clear. He would run hard to maintain his strike rate of 88 in the country but wouldn’t risk getting out.
Yet, soon after his half-century, Warner fell to Vernon Philander’s shrewd planning. The relentless South African seamer constantly tested Warner’s middle stump with balls coming back into him before finally tempting him to waft outside the off-stump off the final ball to edge to the cordon.
South Africa had escaped. On an average, Warner makes 90.5 runs when coming out to bat in South Africa in Tests. To get him back in the hut for 51 was a huge, understated bonus. He was the hero for the Aussies in 2014 when he made 543 runs to go home with the Man of the Series award.
The 51 here means little compared to the runs he has stacked up here. Yet, there is this overpowering feeling that David Warner is back to haunt the Proteas. A day before the Test match, Nathan Lyon and coach, Darren Lehmann, had spoken about how hungry Warner was to take a dig at the menacing South African bowling attack.
“He’s come in and he is like an Energizer bunny, it’s great to see,” Lyon told reporters in Durban. “He is running around with plenty of volume. We need Davey to be up and about like that. We all know he’s world class, he’s an x-factor. He’s hitting the ball extremely well in the nets. I was just bowling to him half an hour ago and he was whacking me. It’s great signs for Davey. I’m very excited to see Davey up and about – really exciting times ahead and hopefully a massive series for Davey.”
Lehmann was equally excited about the prospect of Warner taking the dominant Proteas attack on.
“I think you’ll find David Warner will probably take them on a bit, which would be exciting. The guys have had a great Test series against England, so they’re full of confidence and they started the tour game well. As a batting group we know we have to make bigger runs than we did when we played them last time (2016). But someone like Warner coming off, he had a great series four years ago, if he does that again that puts you on the road to big scores”, Lehmann had said.
While Philander setting up Warner stands as one of the highlights of the opening day’s play one cannot help but wonder if Warner is already into 2014-mode given his resilient start, exquisite pull shots and ominous presence at the crease.