Warner blends early substance with late style
"When you see a total of 160, you can be in two minds as a batting unit. You can either get off to a good start and have positive intent or you can try to get through the first six and set a platform to the end."
David Warner, after having successfully defended 162 in the Eliminator. What he meant to say was that under high pressure, defending 160 wasn't as difficult as it had been in the earlier parts of the tournament. Two nights later, on a harder pitch than the one they beat Kolkata Knight Riders on, Warner inserted Gujarat Lions and found himself chasing the same total that they had defended successfully. Unfortunately for Sunrisers Hyderabad they were neither able to show positive intent nor set a platform at the start, which is quite similar to what they themselves did to Knight Riders.
A left-arm wrist spinner in the mix, a couple of others bowling shrewd cutters, Lions were giving Sunrisers a taste of their own medicine. With not much firepower left in the tank once Yuvraj Singh became the third wicket to fall in the ninth over, it was clear Warner would have to win this game by himself. Well he would need a little help - which he got from Bipul Sharma in the end - but Warner would have to conceptualise this win all by himself and execute most of it.
Aaron Finch, Warner's opening partner in T20 internationals and his opponent on the night, summed the feeling up for Lions. "It was an amazing knock, wasn't it?" he said. "The way he controlled the innings, the whole way through, and then went right through and got them home. We have been at the receiving end of a couple of great knocks in this tournament. Just that one batsman. AB [de Villiers] last game, Davey tonight. We can hold our head up very high. We have played some great cricket throughout this tournament but unfortunately we couldn't get them world-class players out."
There will be the obvious comparisons with de Villiers in that they single-handedly foiled what could have been great comeback stories for them, but arguably Warner's effort was more difficult. Bangalore, for starters, is a six-hitting ground. Solo performances can work there. And de Villiers is a more versatile batsman; he can ruin yorker bowlers through sweeps and ramps and charges down the wicket. Warner, one of the best though he may be today, is not as complete as de Villiers. He had to be more workmanlike with this than de Villiers.
Warner didn't panic or pull the trigger too early. There was a calm to his innings although he did lose his cool during the second timeout, presumably at Naman Ojha for the shot he played to get out. Warner, with all his experience, knew if two specialist batsmen stayed there till the end this ground was going to be difficult to defend on. He blew off some steam with Tom Moody during the timeout, and once again you could tell he was confident that if he stayed there till the end, he was going to win this for his team.
The one time that he did look to play the manufactured shot was in the 15th over. You could sense this was the over. Ravindra Jadeja hadn't bowled all night. Finch said it was because they didn't get the matchups right. If they had a right-hand batsman on strike at the start of the over, they didn't have the end right. If they got the end right, a left-hand batsman would be on strike. So Suresh Raina and Dwayne Smith made up for Jadeja's overs. With 66 runs required from the last six, and the last recognised pair in the middle, Raina thought now was the time to get Smith's over out of the way.
After singles off the first two balls, Smith bowled a slower ball, short of length. It was not driveable because of the length, not pullable because of the lack of pace. The other night Warner said these were the balls, bowled into the pitch, "sort of skidding on bail-high", that were hard to play "release shots" off.
Warner knew, though, that with Dwayne Bravo and Praveen Kumar to come, he needed release shots right then. So he took Smith on. And for once he muscled his way out in an otherwise subtle innings. And how he muscled out. He went back to punch this down the ground, taking on the long-off fielder, trusting his big bat, clearing the man. This, right here, was the reason Warner never panicked. He knew he could call upon this brute strength in the end.
Warner was back to touch play next ball. Smith went back to trying a yorker, which turned out to be a low full toss. He opened the face of the bat at the last moment to beat the deep cover-point. Then he quietly knocked his glove on his thigh, and pumped himself up. The asking rate in control, Raina went to Bravo, who bowled a great 16th over. Ojha looked to hit out towards the end, and Warner was not happy with the outcome.
Luckily for Warner, he found an able ally in Bipul. After facing two yorkers from Praveen, when Bipul hoisted the error ball, a half-volley, for a big six over long-off, Warner was relieved and was back to focusing on taking the game to its bitter end. One of the fittest cricketers in the world, just like Kohli, Warner ran as fast as he did in the 19th over as he did in the first few. Two couples, a scythed boundary, and Sunrisers had eliminated Praveen's last over.
In the way that Warner chipped away at the target as opposed to bursting through it, he was more Kohli than de Villiers. Now to take on both of them in two nights' time.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo