Cowan, Warner indicate their worth
Amid everything else that happened in Hobart last week, one statistic went largely unnoticed. Ed Cowan and David Warner produced their longest opening partnership. Not their biggest stand - that was their 214-run effort in Perth last summer when Warner went ballistic against India - but their most sustained. Together, they occupied the crease for 41.1 overs. At the WACA last summer they had spent 38.5 overs in the middle. None of their other partnerships have been even half as long.
It is now 12 months since Cowan made his Test debut, on Boxing Day against India, and it has been a year of solid gains for him. He has made five half-centuries and one hundred, his 136 against South Africa at the Gabba last month, while in the same period Warner has also played a number of impressive innings. Naturally, there have been failures. Facing the new ball in Test cricket is difficult. But six months from an Ashes tour, they are heading in the right direction.
The one lingering issue had been a lack of long-lasting opening stands, for it had tended to be that either Cowan or Warner moved beyond a start, but not together. Few of their partnerships had survived much longer than an hour. But in the second innings in Hobart, they batted together for 174 minutes, both playing their natural games. There will be times when Warner achieves the extraordinary, but they look at their most settled when both men are scoring steadily.
"I think we're getting the hang of it. It's not easy just walking in and trying to bat with someone as consistently as you do as an opening partnership," Cowan said in Melbourne on Sunday, ahead of the Boxing Day Test. "It takes a while to get to know each other's cues and that general relationship that is needed to open the batting. We're getting the hang of it.
"The coach said the other day that we've been the most successful opening partnership in the world in the last 12 months. If you asked us how we think we're going we'd probably say we're doing okay. It feels like there's lots of upside there. Hopefully if we both keep improving the way that we are, it can be a long-term thing."
There is no reason that it can't be. At 30 and 26 respectively, Cowan and Warner have many years of Test cricket ahead of them, provided the runs keep coming. And Mickey Arthur is right: over the past year, Cowan and Warner have been the most successful opening duo in Tests. During that time, they have put on 850 runs together at an average of 44.73 per partnership, well ahead of the other four combinations with at least ten stands: Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss, Graeme Smith and Alviro Petersen, Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag, and Mohammad Hafeez and Taufeeq Umar.
Not surprisingly, they have also scored their runs at a quicker rate than most of those pairings, with the exception of Sehwag and Gambhir. Much of that is down to Warner, whose approach to Test cricket has been to play his naturally aggressive way, sometimes to mesmerising effect and at other times to the detriment of the team cause. Warner is learning about first-class cricket on the run, having played much more of the shorter formats, and Cowan said while there were times when his partner could go too hard, that was to be expected of a batsman with his gifts.
"We're learning to bat with each other," Cowan said. "That's part of it, just understanding when he's going and when to feed him strike or when to try to keep him away from strike if he's getting a little bit too excited, all those little cues that you do learn. I'd like to think that it doesn't change my tempo, but there are certain aspects to it that you need to grow into.
"Cricket isn't about how many runs I get or how many runs he gets ... it's about the partnership. If he's 60 and I'm 5, and we've had a 65-run partnership, we're doing a fantastic job. It's not relative as to how many's Ed, how many's Dave. It doesn't really matter.
"I'm a thinking player, he's a feel player. You just let him go and bat. There's no point me coming down [and talking to him]. He's analytical in his own way. One of his strengths is when he's playing well, he's very clear in how he plays well. There's no point in me trying to change that. He's good enough."
The different approaches have the potential to make Cowan and Warner a very effective opening combination. Rarely have two dashers made a long-lasting contribution together at the top of a Test order, but having one quick-scoring opener can put opponents on the back foot early. Cowan is keen to continue his trend this summer of playing in a more attacking fashion than he had during his initial Tests, and he said such a style was not at odds with his rational nature.
"For all the analytical side of things, once I step onto the ground I'm very clear," Cowan said. "I feel as though the last couple of years that's been a really big strength, regardless of what's going on off the field, preparation or whatever, as soon as I step on the field it feels like my own routines can provide good clarity.
"The analytical nature can kick in occasionally if you need it, if there's a change of tactics out there and you've got to think on your feet and be flexible in what guard you take or how they're trying to get you out. It holds you in good stead if you're willing to clear your mind once you're out there."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here