“Attack’s the best form of defence.”
India and England, be warned. Ahead of the final chapter of his glistening Test career, David Warner has vowed to implement the simple philosophy that worked wonders during his golden era with the bat.
After making his Test debut in 2011, Warner quickly developed a reputation as an aggressor at the top of the order, unafraid to play his shots and putting the opposition on the back foot within the first few overs of an innings.
In his first 74 Test matches, Warner boasted a career strike rate of 74.50 – the only opener in Test history who has scored at a faster pace was Indian legend Virender Sehwag.
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But after returning from his 12-month suspension in 2019, Warner was considerably more disciplined in the five-day format. Test pitches had started catering more towards seam bowling across the globe, forcing Warner to focus on adjusting to conditions before playing his natural game.
During a three-year period between the 2019 Boxing Day Test and last week’s Gabba Test against South Africa, Warner’s strike rate dipped to 58.78 – still considerably faster than the traditional Test opener but uncharacteristically slow for the left-hander.
After an underwhelming couple of years in Australian whites, where he failed reach triple figures in 27 consecutive innings, Warner decided to throw caution to the wind ahead of his 100th Test, promising to scrap his defensive mentality and play like his old self on Boxing Day.
“When I’m at my best, I’m taking the bowlers on,” he told reporters last week.
“I can probably be a bit more aggressive and go back to the older me, take them on a little bit more.
“This might be a wicket where I can go out and play like the old me.”
And that’s exactly what he did.
The 36-year-old celebrated his centenary Test with a blistering double century against the Proteas, reaching the milestone in 254 deliveries. He feasted on anything short or wide, with the bulk of his runs coming square of the wicket.
According to the CricViz boffins, Warner attacked just under 50 per cent of the deliveries he faced at the MCG this week, meaning nearly three balls of every over he looked to score a boundary.
“My attack’s the best form of defence, so I was able to do that this game,” he told reporters after Australia’s innings victory.
“I was just thinking to myself, so be it. If I’m going to go down swinging, I might as well go out playing a cover drive and nick off rather than defending and getting caught at third slip.
“It’s one of those things that I’ve always had in the back of my mind. Just go out there and play that way, and I’ve always done it in Australia.
“Tentative’s the wrong word, but I think I’ve allowed myself to go a bit defensive instead of actually looking to score because of the wickets.”
Warner drew inspiration from teammate Travis Head, who has dominated on Australian soil since the start of last summer, plundering 812 runs at 73.81 in eight Tests, including three centuries that came at close to a run per ball.
During this year’s Ashes Test in Hobart, Head walked to the crease with Australia in dire straits at 3-12, but rather than look to defend, he switched to one-day mode and smacked a century in just 112 balls against the swinging pink Kookaburra.
“You look at the way Travis Head’s come out and play this natural game, and he managed to do that last year in Hobart. He’s done it continuously now through this summer as well,” Warner said.
“It’s about just having that comfort of backing yourself, and I always do that, but I felt a sense of responsibility to actually adapt to the wicket and conditions that were in front of me, but now it’s just going back to looking to score and then my defence will take care of itself.”
Despite recent speculation about his future in the Test side, Warner is firmly focused on upcoming Test tours of India and England, two nations where he has previously struggled, averaging 24.25 and 26.04 respectively.
He’s never won a Test series in either country, failing on five attempts.
The veteran opener rubbished suggestions we would retire this summer, confirming that national selectors wanted him available for both of next year’s Test tours.
Returning home with the Border-Gavaskar Trophy or an Ashes urn, or both, was all the motivation he needed.
“I don’t feel 36. I’m running faster than a lot of the youngsters in here. When they catch up to me, I might think about pulling the pin,” Warner laughed.
“The extra motivation for me is winning in India and completely winning a series in England. I’ve been told by the coach and the selectors they would like me to be there.
“I’ve still got that hunger and determination, because every time I rock up to training, I’ve got it. And people keep telling me, you’ll know when it’s time. I haven’t really felt that at all yet. I’m still enjoying it, I still know what energy I can bring to the team.
“I think once I start losing that spark and energy around training, taking the mickey out of people, playing some jokes here and there and pranks, I think that’s when I‘ll probably know it’s time.”
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