Australia v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Hobart December 13, 2012

Slater's cautionary tale for Warner


In October 1996, Mark Taylor and Michael Slater walked to the middle of the Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi for the second innings of a one-off Test match against India. They faced a deficit of 179. Within minutes, Slater was making his way back to the ground's then rickety pavilion, having swung at a ball he could barely reach from the modest medium fast of David Johnson and been acrobatically held at slip by Mohammad Azharuddin.

That heedless stroke hastened the tourists' heavy defeat, cost Slater his Test place - he would not return until 1998 - and remains one of the great cautionary tales for imprudent opening batsmen. At the time, Slater was averaging 48 in Tests, and was only three matches removed from his highest score, 219 against Sri Lanka in Perth. Whether the "lesson" of his dumping was ever truly learned remains a matter for debate, and there was to be collateral damage. Without his regular opening partner, Taylor would slide into the slump that very nearly cost him the captaincy.

Australia's captain Michael Clarke had Slater's poster on his wall back then, and his admiration for the former opening batsman's derring-do shone through again in his defence of David Warner. In Perth against South Africa, Warner was out to a stroke almost as inappropriate to the match scenario as Slater, an angled bat swish at Dale Steyn's first ball of the second morning the catalyst for Australia's tumble from a strong first-day position to a fourth-day defeat. While Slater paid dearly for his error, Clarke has avoided criticising Warner for his indiscretion, reasoning that hesitance is an even greater enemy of the left-hander than impulsiveness.

"The one thing we need to understand with Davey is the same ball he got out on in Perth, we're all standing and clapping in Adelaide when it went over cover or went over slips for four," Clarke said. "That's the way he plays. The only thing I continue to say to Davey is make sure you've got that good intent, and by that good intent I mean more in his mind than the actual shot. Because when Davey's intent's right, his defence is better, his attacking shots are better. He plays his best when he's looking to score runs, there's no doubt about it.

"Yes we all have to work on shot selection at certain times in your innings, but I think Davey for the start of his Test career, three hundreds he's scored now, he's doing pretty well. Like all of us, we'd love to be more consistent and score runs every time we walk out to bat. Sometimes he doesn't look great when he gets out, but the other side is he's got that x-factor. He can take a game away from any team in the first session of a Test match really. Not too many players in the world have that talent. At the moment I'm really happy with how he's going, he was disappointed with the way he got out. But more than 'don't play the shot', it's about working in the nets to execute that shot better."

Warner's development has become all the more critical now that Ricky Ponting has exited Australia's dressing room. He is an aggressor on the field and a livewire off it, striving to be liked by team-mates even as his motor-mouth and customary brio have preceded him. In the middle, Warner is known to be a far more nervous character than he lets on, muttering incessantly about his technique and the opposition in between deliveries. He seems at his surest when in the act of hitting the ball, something he does with startling power, if imperfect judgement.

When Clarke was presented with the view that no batsman can be at liberty to play the same strokes on the pacy WACA ground as he had been on the more docile Adelaide surface, he cited a meritorious century against New Zealand at Bellerive a year ago to outline the balance of aggression and thoughtfulness he expected from Warner's batting.

"That's what you learn as a young player don't you," Clarke said. "The conditions in Perth are different to Adelaide, and what we're going to see here. I think one of Davey's greatest innings was the hundred we saw here in really tough batting conditions, but he still had that great intent. On a wicket that was doing a lot he was looking to score runs, but his shot selection was spot on and perfect that innings. In a perfect world you'd love to bottle that and say play like that every time, but there's got to be a bit of give and take with Davey."

So long as Clarke is captain and selector, there is likely to be more give than take for Warner, as his destructive potential and natural spark are highly valued. But he would not want to charge too hard, too early at the likes of Nuwan Kulasekara in this series, lest he find himself emulating Slater's harsh lesson.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on December 14, 2012, 10:30 GMT

    Warner will make it, too all you doubters, he has a very sound defense, and as he matures, his batting in the longer forms of the game will improve. His 57 today off 90 balls, on a difficult surface, was a good job, only an insane run-out, resulted in his wicket. You who doubt him, need too remember he has only played a handful of First Class games. We have 3 problem batsmen, Cowan, Hughes, and Watson, Cowan has the ability, but not sure about his shot selection. Hughes has changed his technique, and really did look good today, and now for Watson, he is a front foot lunger, who plays with his bat way out in front of his pad, candidate for LBW, or caught behind the wicket.To be honest, we have better batsmen in our shield Cricket, than `Watto`, and Cowan, for the longer forms of the game. Warner, and Hughes should open, Khawaja at 3, Clarke 4, Hussey 5, and Watson/Henriques, and another 6 candidates for 6.

  • Andrew on December 14, 2012, 2:28 GMT

    @Skott on (December 13 2012, 09:28 AM GMT) - so what are you saying? Slater > Hayden? @ pissflaps on (December 13 2012, 12:04 PM GMT) - LMFAO! How did your name get past moderation???????

  • Hamish on December 14, 2012, 2:27 GMT

    As far as the Hayden/Slater comparison goes the big difference is that Hayden kept learning and improving while Slater started out with a bang and probably got worse (while contributed to by progressive back problems and falling apart when his marriage broke down he do the work required) After 10 & 20 tests Slats averaged 50, after 30 46, after 40 45, after 50, 60 & 70 43, after 60. After his recall to the team he averaged 39. As far as 96/97 Hayden played against the 2 best pace attacks in the world and his 47 in the second dig in Perth was a top innings (when an Ambrose bouncer becomes a shooter the pitch is not exactly ideal). He didn't do well in RSA but he was a tad unlucky in that he was often running with Elliott as Taylor was a walking wicket and fired lbw when hit on the top of the knee roll being a long way forwards by an RSA umpire who had been turning down absolutely plumb lbws in the previous innings. As well Taylor not wanting him there and being blatent about it.

  • clint on December 14, 2012, 2:16 GMT

    Ok Meety you are making me feel old now. Slater and Mark Waugh brought my interest back to cricket again in the 90s. Watching those two bat either for Aus or NSW was as you said - cricket viewing heaven!

  • Hamish on December 14, 2012, 2:14 GMT

    Nick Potter, Cowan got out first ball in the first innings playing defensively at a ball that was just outside off-stump. Dangerous to try and leave that one early on considering that Steyn can swing the ball back in. The shot in the second dig wasn't the greatest but it was a lot less crap that Warner's shot in the first and by the time Australia started their second innings all the damage had pretty much been done.

  • Christopher on December 14, 2012, 1:50 GMT

    Agreed @Meety. I recall a Mark Waugh cover drive that was all timing, almost one handed and raced to the bound of an off spinner.I also remember Slater having a stellar first season for NSW and being picked. I dont recollect anyone getting further forward to drive. I think the great value to be taken from Clarke's words are that the hesitancy, doubt and counter-productive observations made in the media and elsewhere are far more damaging than the oppositions bowling. I can't imagine what Hughes has had to deal with, given this campaign began when he was 20 and averaging 58 in Test cricket and 62 at first class level. It's been one of the more toxic campaigns I can ever remember against any player and could only lead Langer, Hayden had an extended period where he wasn't the attacking player that was seen in Shield. Both Langer and Hayden nearly didnt make it. It almost came down to one innings for each of them. Fortunately, the eulogy comes after the entire life

  • John on December 13, 2012, 23:29 GMT

    @Reececonrad - while I think you're technically right that most of those quality bowlers stayed around until the early 2000s I just don't think Hayden had to vs them a lot. He was definitely struggling when originally picked. I think even though Hayden had superior stats on paper he was more of a flat track bully eg getting 380 vs Zimbabwe on a flat track doesn't really rate that well as a 'great' innings. I rate Slater more than Hayden.

  • Peter on December 13, 2012, 21:10 GMT

    Warner can't go down to 6, as he struggles when the ball isn't coming on to him. Remember how Ashwin got him in Adelaide last year when he opened the bowling?

  • Colin on December 13, 2012, 21:02 GMT

    The difference between 1996 and 2012 is that in 1996, Australia had an almighty amount of batting depth; now they have an alarming lack of depth. He will slap a ton or two here and there but a Test match opener has to contend with a variety of match situations, bowlers and pitches. Warner's one dimensional hit and giggle approach will just continue to put pressure on an already fragile middle order. Batting him at 6 might be the answer but Test match opener? Nah.

  • Nigel on December 13, 2012, 20:30 GMT

    @Beertjie - I think you just defeated your own point with your last sentence. Warner may well find himself out of the side at some point, but as Hayden's career shows, it is not just the batsman himself who needs to persist......

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