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In praise of David Warner and his home Test record

david_warner

When David Warner won the Allan Border Medal for best annual Australian male player earlier this year, it led to bemusement and mocking from certain quarters as he won despite a disastrous Ashes tour of England. It just seemed to be rewarding him for being a home-track Test bully while everyone ignored his record overseas.

It is certainly easy to write Warner off as a Test home-track bully; indeed, personally speaking I largely thought of him as this in recent years. Certainly overall stats and recent performances highlighted this. He averages over 30 runs more per innings at home in Tests in comparison with his away record. Apart from Bangladesh, he hasn’t scored a Test century outside Australia since 2014. He has failed to score a Test century in England after 13 Tests. One could go on and on with such examples.

But that is ignoring too easily how good a player Warner has been in home Tests. Not only does he have an enormously impressive statistical record, but it has achieved with great consistency over a long period of time.

From 43 home Tests Warner averages 65.94 with 18 centuries and 12 half-centuries. As impressive as these numbers are, they’re even more impressive when broken down. In 14 separate Test series the lowest Warner has averaged is 39.33 (actually higher than his overall away Test batting average). In 10 out of the 13 Test series he has averaged over 50.

As well, in 8 home Test seasons Warner has scored at least 2 Test centuries in all of them bar one (2017/18 Ashes series). It’s fair to say that Warner has never had a poor series or season in home Tests. In almost a decade of play that’s a highly commendable record.

As well, his home record stands up very well with other high-class aggressive Australian openers in recent decades. Michael Slater played 33 home tests for Australia from 1993 to 2001 and averaged an excellent 52.62 with 9 centuries and 12 fifties. While an excellent record with many notable innings, not only is his average significantly lower than Warner but he twice averaged under 30 in series (Pakistan 1995/96, India 1999/00), something Warner has never done despite playing more series.

Then there is the more recent example of Matthew Hayden, one of Australia’s premier batsmen of the 2000s. However despite his incredible highs as a Test batsman in Australia (including the highest ever Australian Test score of 380), his overall home average from 56 Tests is 57.88, well below Warner’s home average. More significantly, Hayden’s record has notable lulls at the start of his career (averaging 35 & 29 in his first two series), in the middle (only 3 half-centuries from 5 Tests in the 2004/05 summer) and at the end (averaging just 16.56 in his final home summer in 2008/09).

What makes Warner such a dominant force in home Tests? Australian pitches of his era have suited his strengths in that they generally have had good pace and bounce, which he expertly utilizes for his speedy run-scoring. While he has a reputation of being ultra-aggressive in his technique in Tests at least he’s relatively economical and pragmatic in his playing style, using the pace of the ball to score runs all round the wicket. His efficient punching of good length balls through the cover and point regions has been a particular trademark.

As well, while Warner has sometimes struggled against spin outside Australia, in home Tests he has almost always been at ease and regularly dominated them. Perhaps the difference is that Warner knows that Australian pitches are often difficult for overseas spinners to adjust to and therefore has the self-belief to play with confidence and flair whereas in Asia he has sometimes looked sketchy and unsure of himself. That the likes of Yasir Shah and Moeen Ali have never dismissed him in Australia from 5 Tests each is testament to this.

Warner’s excellence in running between wickets has always been a strength in all conditions and all formats but it becomes particularly prevalent in home Tests for a few reasons. His expert ability to procure sharp singles and turn twos into threes is particularly valuable in wearing down sides on a hot day on the big Australian grounds. It’s the base from which Warner is able to plunder opposition attacks for huge scores.

As well, it’s not just the amount of home Test runs in obtained, but the proportion of them that have occurred in pivotal pressurized situations. To be sure he has cashed in regularly in dead rubber matches at the SCG but there have been regular occurrences of him standing up when his side needed him most.

A famous early example of this was in just his 2nd Test against New Zealand in Hobart in the 2011/12 season. In a match dominated by the bowlers, Warner almost single-handedly brought Australia home as he carried his bat for 123 out of a total of 233 as he single-handedly brought the side within 7 runs of victory. To put this innings in context, the next highest individual match score was 56. And he didn’t achieve this by reigning in his natural attacking game; his strike rate of 72.35 was well above the overall match average. It was the innings that highlighted he was more than just a limited-overs slogger.

Another example of him playing a pivotal innings was against Pakistan in the 2016 Boxing Day Test. In a heavily rain-affected match, Pakistan batted well into day 3 to compile 443 and the only course of action for Australia was to bat conservatively and ensure a draw. But Warner responded with a marvelous counter-attacking innings of 144 at better than a run-a-ball that completely changed the momentum of the match and set the base for Australia’s remarkable final day victory by an innings.

But probably the best illustration of Warner’s effectiveness was how Australia played when he wasn’t available due to suspension for the 2018/19 home series. Limited-overs specialist Aaron Finch was tried as the aggressive opener but never looked convincing and was dropped by the final Test. Marcus Harris had moderate success but failed to score a century. Their options were so limited they used Usman Khawaja as a makeshift opener for the final Test. There’s no doubt that Warner’s absence was one of the prime reasons Australia lost to India at home in a Test series for the first time ever.

David Warner turns 34 in October and presumably won’t be around as a Test player for that much longer. When that day arrives his absence will be greatly missed by the Australian team.

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