Aggressive Warner won't back down
David Warner has vowed to attack South Africa's powerful pace line-up when the first Test begins at the Gabba on Friday. Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander are the No.1 and No.2 Test bowlers in the world, according to the ICC rankings, and Morne Morkel is also in the top ten, but Warner is looking forward to taking them on over the next few weeks at venues such as the Gabba and the WACA, where the ball comes on to the bat.
Warner has not faced the South Africans in Test cricket but he has met them in the shorter formats, notably in January 2009 when he burst on to the international scene with 89 from 43 balls in a Twenty20 international at the MCG. However, he hasn't had quite the same impact against them in more recent encounters, and his only half-century in last year's limited-overs matches in South Africa was a slow 74 in a Port Elizabeth ODI as Australia struggled in a big chase.
Since then, Warner has made his mark in Test cricket with two contrasting centuries last summer, a patient and subdued 123 not out against New Zealand on a very difficult Hobart pitch, and a pyrotechnic 180 from 159 balls against India at the WACA. He believes his best option against Steyn and Co will be closer to that Perth performance than his stonewalling Bellerive innings.
"On grounds like this and the WACA I think it can be [the best approach], because if you play your shots the ball can go anywhere," Warner said in Brisbane ahead of the first Test. "If you hit them, you hit them. If you don't, they're going to be flying all over the place. The thing for me is being positive in the intent that I show out there - no half-hearted shots, be committed to what I want to do, have my game-plan structured and make sure I stick to it."
Although Warner has the potential to give Australia a flying start, he will also need to be aware of the dangers of the moving ball at the Gabba, a venue at which his only previous first-class experience was his Test debut against New Zealand last year. However, Jacques Kallis is the only member of South Africa's attack who has played first-class cricket at the Gabba - a pair of tour games in the 1990s - and Warner said even an attack like South Africa's was not infallible.
"They've got to turn up and bowl, don't they? You can say they've got three of the best bowlers in the world, even Jacques makes it four of the best bowlers in the world. They've still got to be able to bowl," Warner said. "On the day they've got to be ready and they've got to be going. Our batsmen, for ourselves, we could be red-hot out there. They could be bowling to red-hot batsmen on the day. You just don't know, that's how fickle this game is. But definitely they're three of the best bowlers in the world and we're up for the challenge and can't wait."
Warner will enter the match with little first-class cricket behind him over the past few months, having had only one Sheffield Shield game since the third Test in the West Indies in April. In that Shield game, against Queensland over the past week, Warner made 2 and 39, but his captain Michael Clarke was confident that an abundance of short-form cricket, including the recent Champions League Twenty20 in South Africa, would not be a major problem for Warner.
"He's batted a lot in the nets, whether it be in South Africa or Australia," Clarke said. "At least he's faced plenty of bowling in conditions similar to what he's going to face. Game time is something that all of us want ... he hit the ball really sweet in the second innings for New South Wales. Again it's important Davey continues to work on his game and doesn't get caught up in the opposition, like all of us."
And although a combative cricketer like Warner cannot help but focus on his opponents, he has also been attending to his own game since joining the Test side. He is confident that his work with his personal batting coach, Trent Woodhill, and Australia's batting mentor, Justin Langer, has helped him focus his attention on the right aspects of his game.
"I'm getting such good support. I'm getting the right advice everywhere," Warner said. "Last year I think I probably listened a lot to too many different people and I was hearing voices in my head. Now I'm just taking in the advice and being selective with what advice I've been given.
"I think the last 12 months for me has been thinking out how I play the game, how can I keep playing this game and keep being successful at this level, in all three forms. That's what I've got to learn, to be a bit more consistent, make sure when I'm scoring runs we're doing well as a team as well."
At the Gabba over the coming week, Warner and Ed Cowan will renew their partnership as Australia's opening pair and while most of the pressure is on Cowan, who was not given a Cricket Australia contract and needs a big score to lock in his place in the side, Warner also wants to continue to show the doubters that he is a Test batsman. And a strong showing against the world's No.1 side would also confirm in his own mind that he belongs in the baggy green.
"This shows me where I am at this level," Warner said. "If I can get on top of these guys and score some runs and do well for our team, I know personally that I'm capable of playing at this level. Team-wise we can see where we are on the world scale."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here