Cautious Warner escapes thumb scare
A scare circulated around Adelaide Oval on Tuesday afternoon. David Warner, who had been struck on the left hand during fielding practice, reeled away in obvious pain, and disappeared into the Australian dressing room accompanied by Peter Brukner, the team doctor.
As cameramen circled, journalists placed or received calls from editors and urgent snap stories were pulled together, it seemed Australia had a major injury problem on their hands. Warner, of course, had entered the season with a still healing left thumb, fractured during the ODIs in England that followed the Ashes. A re-break would require serious recovery work, and a long time out of the game. Live television news services speculated as such.
But just as quickly as it happened, the Warner thumb "story" slipped away. The team media manager walked into the rooms to check on his injury and found him striding back the other way, padded up for the nets. Observers who saw Warner face mainly throw-downs needed to be reminded that this was not uncommon for the opener. Call backs were made, updates posted, stories spiked.
All this spoke volumes for the goldfish-like attention span of the news cycle these days, but it was equally powerful as a reminder of Warner's value. Were he to be injured, Australia's batting strength would be severely affected, while the captain Steven Smith would be shorn of his deputy and most destructive player. Warner is growing increasingly aware of his own responsibilities too, if his unusually careful responses to questions before training were any indication.
While most eyes are on the pink ball and the new concept of day-night Tests, Warner's memory was filled with hurtful memories of 2011, when Australia gave up a 1-0 series lead over New Zealand in a low-scoring Hobart encounter. That day, Warner's unbeaten hundred in the second innings was not enough to stave off defeat, and he is adamant that will not be happening a second time on what promises to be a more lively Adelaide pitch than those of Brisbane or Perth.
"Going back to when we last played New Zealand here, to sit in the change rooms and listen to the Kiwis celebrate was quite tough," Warner said. "We were expected to win that game down in Hobart, only chasing 240 on a seemingly deteriorating wicket where Doug Bracewell bowled fantastic and won New Zealand the game. We take those memories into this game.
"We definitely want to win every game we can, but it would mean a lot to us if we can get up here in Adelaide. A drawn series, I think, we would consider that as a loss because we've played so well. And then for New Zealand to fight back in the last game, to bat the game into a draw was a credit to them. So now we've got to be on our guard to try and do what we can the best and that's to try and get early wickets and put runs on the board again, and put pressure on them."
Something Warner has convinced himself about is that there will be minimal difference between facing a pink ball under lights and its white equivalent. He would not be lured into anything but the most rudimentary discussion of the concept, and flirted with the absurd when saying the verdant green square and pitch - devised to preserve the pink ball - was no different to that of the Gabba.
The prominent grass on the surface is expected to be shaved back by the curator Damian Hough before Friday afternoon, but it is still likely to be the most lively wicket of the series. Warner counselled that an Australian batting line-up used to dictating terms over the first two Tests will need to leave their egos at the dressing room door this time around, and adopt some of the more painful lessons learned in England earlier this year.
"The last two [Adelaide] wickets have been very batter friendly. It's going to be a different story playing here and I think you'll see the ball move around a bit off the wicket," he said. "It did so during that Shield game, but it was a very good cricket wicket. That's one thing: us as batters are going to have to take our ego out of it and say to ourselves: 'we've had two very good wickets, now it's about knuckling down and finding that respect again'.
"There is going to be the new-ball factor with this wicket, we know that. I don't know what millimetres they're going to cut the grass to, but I'm pretty sure it's not going to be anything like the last two wickets. We've got to be prepared to see out that first session, work out if it's going to move off the wicket or swing, then go from there.
"We know early on their key is swing bowling and if it happens to be swinging around here you've got to see that spell of bowling out like we have done in the last two Tests. I think that's what we have done well as a top six batting unit. We've put on the runs that we have, we've actually been able to see through that spell and wait for the bad balls. That's something Steve wanted us to do as a top six unit, to score all the runs, and at the moment we've been doing that and I think a lot of that has to do with the way we played in England as well."
Warner has struck another note of cautiousness in recent times, declining consistently to take first strike after a pair of cheap dismissals when doing so in the West Indies before the Ashes. In England, it was Chris Rogers facing up to the opening over, and so far here, Joe Burns has done likewise. Commonly referred to as the aggressor and the provocateur, Warner is evolving into something else: the pragmatist.
"I think statistically something came up the other day about me facing only a certain amount of first balls so that hasn't even come into my mind actually, I might have to think about that," he said. "But nah, it's just what I do. I just go out there and I think I have learnt from a lot of other experienced opening batters around the world, to just give the other person the first ball."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig