June 11, 2009

The weight on Warner's shoulders

How well can Australia's latest prodigy do? Depends on how well he tackles the doubt, fear and expectation that accompany him when he walks out to bat

When the ball is hurtling at you even the bowler fades to black. There is just the ball and your thoughts. What stops a man from trying to hit every ball for four or six? Doubt and fear: doubt that he is good enough to do it, fear that he will lose his wicket.

Doubt and fear afflict every batsman with a pulse. Doubt, fear and a third companion - expectation - crowd in on David Warner whenever he bats. People expect Warner to slam each ball to the rope or beyond. They expect it the way they expected it of Gilbert Jessop and Viv Richards. What stops a batsman under a strain like that from overcomplicating his task and going slightly mad?

Warner is young. Standing shoulder to shoulder with his team-mates for the singing of the anthem, he looks smaller than his five feet and seven inches. The first ball he ever faced for Australia angled in at his hips, and he paddled it behind square for a single in the manner recommended by a thousand coaching manuals. Was that a peace offering to the traditionalists? The second ball was straighter, and although it went zooming over mid-on's head, it would be wrong to say Warner drove it. He'd pulled it.

Baseball's textbooks, not cricket's, were his preference for the rest of that opening night. Warner's ninth and 10th deliveries disappeared over the leg-side boundary. After 11 balls he was 28 not out. He was 52 after 19. The next morning parents Howard and Lorraine were posing for happy snaps on the couch in Matraville, while the boy David was on a nation's back pages, and some front pages too, beside sepia photographs of Babe Ruth, and my phone was beeping.

"Cameron," announced one text message, "is pull-slogging me in the driveway! Keeps saying he's Warner!" Cameron recently turned six.

By the end of that week reporters old enough to have witnessed a couple of cricketing revolutions were boldly claiming another: "It is conceivable historians, sports scientists and academics will look back on this past week as one of the most significant in cricket's evolution … One senses the game is never going to be quite the same again."

Batting is a perplexing business. That much has stayed constant throughout all of cricket's evolutionary twists. In the weeks that followed, Warner played with the same free swing and, seemingly, the same clear head. But fours and sixes proved hard to come by. That 89 on debut is still his best score. "That's how I play," Warner has said, "and that's how I got here, so if I keep continuing the way I'm going about it, then who knows, I might have a bright future. If not I may have to go to a Plan B."

Plan A and Plan B - attack or defend; it makes it all sound so simple. It isn't really. At some stage planning gets chucked out the window and instinct takes over. Relegated to the state side for a match, Warner was at his stonewalling sternest. He cruised at a mere run a ball, not a boundary per ball. Then the spinner came on. Warner took one step backwards, launched into a harebrained reverse-heave, and was bowled.

At The Oval on Saturday one ball he slugged made the Babe Ruth comparisons ring true. His feet did not move. The back-swing tumbled down smooth and voluminous. His wrists stayed hard and still. His gaze followed the ball out of the old ground and onto the road outside

Now when he bats there is an added complication: he knows that a struggling Australian team's fortunes depend increasingly on his own fours and sixes. At The Oval on Saturday one ball he slugged made the Babe Ruth comparisons ring true. His feet did not move. The back-swing tumbled down smooth and voluminous. His wrists stayed hard and still. His gaze followed the ball out of the old ground and onto the road outside.

Even as he swung, lodged somewhere in Warner's subconscious was yet another thought: that he was playing for his spot. Moments after that giant blow the fielding restrictions ended. Warner had a choice. He could safely bunt ones and twos to far-flung West Indian fieldsmen. Or he could keep shooting for fours and sixes. Warner took the safe option. That didn't feel like a significant turning point in the game's evolution. It felt a lot like the boring middle overs of a 50-over international, the ones Twenty20 cricket is supposed to have eradicated.

Australia, we now know, made too few runs against West Indies. Something similar happened against Sri Lanka on Tuesday. Warner carved his first ball along the ground to gully. No run. He bludgeoned his second ball to the man at cover. Still nothing. And his eyes crinkled a little in mild exasperation.

Two balls. Not a firework to be seen. This wasn't the Warner that fans, peers and sponsors expected. So when the third ball came at him he didn't bother trying to keep it down. He simply hit through the line with those hard, still wrists - and holed out in the deep.

Three loads - doubt, fear and expectation - is a heavy weight in a batsman's head. Whether Warner can cope with it, it is still too soon to say. Maybe he really will revolutionise cricket, a bit like another fair-haired Australian, recently retired. Warner is an R away from Warne, and a couple of zeroes away from obscurity.

Christian Ryan is a writer based in Melbourne. He is the author of Golden Boy: Kim Hughes and the Bad Old Days of Australian Cricket, published in March 2009

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Aditya on June 12, 2009, 20:04 GMT

    How is a player like Warner developed? The question is fascinating, because it has no answer. Many people will look at different aspects to his development, and make different conclusions. My favorite non Indian batsman, is a very unusual batsman. He is Dinesh Ramdin. He is unusual, because his batting reminds me of the best West Indian batsman. He reminds me of Sobers. This is a very controversial, and some would say, unreasonable comment. I have not watched Sobers bat, but if I had, he would have batted somewhat like Ramdin. My eyes wanted to see more, when I saw him bat some years ago, against India. He has not scored many runs, since then, but watching him is a great pleasure. He is the quintessential West Indian batsman. Perhaps, he may be seen later, as a great West Indian batsman-keeper.

  • Warks on June 12, 2009, 10:49 GMT

    Warner is truly a sign of the times - a player who may be remembered as the first T20 specialist. For him to make his T20 debut for Australia (and later ODI debut) without playing a first class game suggests that CA IS willing to take a risk (not many though!) He did finally make his first class debut late last season and it's only there he will fully develop a game for all situations. Maybe he'll always be a T20 specialist but I bet he still dreams of the baggy green. In Australia (unlike the West Indies, Chris Gayle) it is still the highest honour.

  • Shahid on June 12, 2009, 2:53 GMT

    I think it is best when Warner just tries and hit for 6 without thinking about getting out, especially in t20I's where the power play 6 overs are vital for getting 54+. Anyways, Warner is here for his talent to send top bowlers (e.g. Dale Steyn) for a 6 (or 2). However his style is very risky as ducks are very likely.

  • Cameron on June 12, 2009, 1:58 GMT

    This is actually a GREAT article because i've been thinking of the exact same thing since Warner burst onto the stage early this year. No cricketer in Australia is under as much pressure as David Warner. After the amazing 89(40) against South Africa the press went absolutely crazy, never have I seen anything like it for a debut player, and you could see the pressure he was under the next game trying to replicate the performance. Now, every time he bats, he is under pressure. A few low scores in the 50 over game and suddenly he is second guessing his natural game, people in high places are possibly telling him to change his game slightly, or maybe he is trying to change his game slightly as well. He was dropped from the 50 over format, and now is seen as a t/20 specialist, the last few games he has seemed slightly withdrawn in his approach, and it's because of pressure. If he fails, he's going to be dropped, even though we don't have any matchwinners without him or Symonds.

  • Richard on June 11, 2009, 23:59 GMT

    I watched Warner live at an IPL match and I think he is nothing more than a filthy slogger. He will smash the bowlers if they pitch short (hooks, pulls, cuts well), doesn't go forward and I didn't see a straight batted shot so is susceptible to yorker length balls and battles against spin. He hit a few balls straight but those were with a cross bat with his front leg nearer square leg than towards the pitch of the ball. I think the jury is still out on him as his limitations will be exploited at International level and feel that he has to make a few adjustments technically. He's not in the same league and Hayden, Gillcrist, Sehwag, Morkel, Gayle etc.

  • Anagha on June 11, 2009, 20:08 GMT

    First Shane Watson, Dave Hussey & Shaun Marsh. Then Warner. Maybe the selectors of CA should retire and leave it to the IPL talenthunters to decide who are going to make it to Australia's T20 team. CA has got it all wrong.They allowed talents like Hayden & Gilly to retire. Now they are well on the way to showing Symmo the door. What are they up to? For that matter how does the likes of Ricky Ponting & Micheal Clarke make the T20 team? Everyone knows Ponting requires atleast five overs to get into the groove! For that matter even the choice of Ponting as captain (in any form of the game) is suspect. A captain should be judged on the basis of how he performs under pressure. As long as the team Ponting got from the Great Steve Waugh was performing he looked good. But now that this is no longer the case Ponting appears to be totally at sea. In fact why he was chosen as captain in the first place with the likes of Gilly & Warne around is another big Cricket Australian mystery.

  • Chintan on June 11, 2009, 19:13 GMT

    i think he is more of an afridi type of batsman...one who can have one big innings out of ten...he has not shown any consistency as yet to be compared to the likes of viv richards et al..

  • Khem on June 11, 2009, 15:04 GMT

    I doubt. He will turn out to be another Afridi. There is been only one prodigy in this era and thats Sachin IMO

  • ali on June 11, 2009, 15:00 GMT

    I think chris have exagerated the things, if you think that warner is gonna revolutionize the cricket (may be he need to revolutionize australian, as the lack gill etc) u r wrong, he is another shahid afridi (who is a bowler too). truth is jayasuriya revolutionize, afridi played its part and gilli along with sehwag and the likes a gayle, gilli stamped (no doubt afridi had a little share only). yes u need to revolutionize australian cricket as they need natural players (may be warner is one of them), but please dont write him with likes of viv. remebr afridi's first knock, wasnt that better than this, but where he stands now? a bowling allrounder (let warner learn some bowling too,,lol)

  • arjun on June 11, 2009, 7:53 GMT

    i think he has got great talent and he needs someone like gilly as his mentor . if someone like gilly gives him some advice as to how to approach the game then u could see warner could actually be more destructive than gilly himself .

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