Whatever the letter of David Warner‘s lifetime ban from leadership positions in Australian cricket, he was never going to be left out of the team’s tactical thinking.
Apart from the fact it is nigh on impossible to picture Warner sitting quietly in the corner minding his own business while the national team’s campaign for next year’s T20 World Cup is constructed, he is one of the squad’s most agile minds in the shortest format. After all, only one current Australian cricketer can boast of captaining a winning IPL team, and that is Warner with Sunrisers Hyderabad in 2016. His thoughts on Australia’s build up are many.
To that end Warner has taken a central role in discussing the many and varied permutations for the team led by captain Aaron Finch and coach Justin Langer. As one of several members of the team to play all three formats consistently, he has ample opportunities to do so.
The reality of the higgledy piggledy international schedule is such that planning for one format must often take place while playing another, meaning that Warner’s rich source of experience and ideas has been useful to Australia’s’ T20 planners for quite some time before the squad assembled in Adelaide last week.
“It’s massive for us all these games for us leading into the World Cup,” Warner said after his first T20I hundred. “The thing we can take out of this is sticking to our game plans and we’re going to be playing at all those venues. So you’ve got to work out where you’re going to hit the ball, the boundaries, what gaps you’re going to hit, what bowlers you’re going to take on in the first six overs. Those are the things you got to think about when you’re out there.
“Same with our bowlers, with how they structure. There’s going to be a lot of off-pace into the wicket, and a lot of short balls into the wicket, and it’s about us as batters work out and learning off our bowlers as well about how they’re trying to bowl at the opposition because we’re going to get that as well.”
Among the most intriguing elements of the T20 scenario confronting Australia and the rest next year is that by its nature, the type of cricket required to succeed at home will contrast markedly to that of the IPL, even if it is the world’s pre-eminent tournament in the format. Warner summed this up by noting how much more critical it was to maintain a high fitness level in Australia, where bigger grounds and slower outfields mean that strong running between the wickets, particularly in search of twos, is vital.
“As a batter, it’s pretty simple. You have to have at the back of your mind a plan when you’re going out there. For me, it’s targeting straight, the sightscreen, not try and play too many cross-batted shots and being positive running between wickets,” he said. “That’s the element to our game here in Australia if you want to win the World Cup next year, you’ve got to run really hard between the wickets. We’ve got big boundaries here. It’s not like in the IPL where if you don’t want to run, you can stand and deliver. But in my game I have a strong emphasis on running between wickets and rotating the strike. I think that’s very important.”
The flip side of this need for fitness and running is how, given a good start, it is relatively simple in Australia to get into a rhythm on true pitches and hit with something approaching impunity, big boundaries or not. The ease with which the hosts entered “beast mode” against Sri Lanka’s bowlers at Adelaide Oval, pummelling their way to the highest ever T20I score for Australia at home, was pointed out by Warner as an example of how a steady build with wickets in hand would generally work well.
“I think you saw it out there first-hand if you are 0 for 60 then you can post a big total without taking too many risks. You saw the ease with which Maxi came in and used the pace of the wicket. There’re going to be very good wickets so as batters you don’t need to over-hit the ball here in Australia.”
At the same time, Warner acknowledged the balance he strikes each innings with Finch, who at a career strike rate of 156.58 has proven himself some 15 runs per 100 balls more effective at taking the bowlers on than his longtime opening partner. Not getting too caught up in catching up, in a manner of speaking, is vital to Warner’s method.
“It’s not a conscious effort. But if he gets three or four away, and I get only one ball at the other end, then I’ve only faced only a couple of balls,” Warner said. “It’s very hard to get rhythm. If I get the ball there that I can put away, I can obviously do that. But you’ve got to play that situation. If he’s hit two or three boundaries and gets off strike, you’ve already won the over.
“There’s no need for me to go hammer and tongs. I can just play the way I do and get him on strike and that’s how it pans out. That’s the natural game plan if I get out, he bats deep. If he gets out, I’ll try and bat deep. That’s how the top-order always thinks.”
Of course, should the quick and wickets-in-hand start not eventuate, Warner had an apt descriptor for Steven Smith, who on Sunday spent most of his time shuffling down the batting order while bigger hitters took precedence.
“I call him the fixer. He can just sit there and do what he wants. If anything goes wrong then he comes in,” Warner said. “Everyone’s got their roles and he knows his role very well. It’s a bit similar to Rooty [Joe Root] in the one-dayers for England. You’ve obviously got to have someone to come in and steer the ship.”
Warner, it is clear, is not permitted to captain Australia again. But that edict does not preclude him from the ability to lead.