December 24, 2011

'I respect my wicket a hundred times more now'

No more just the T20 biffer, David Warner has made it to the big leagues, and he has made sure the mental and technical aspects of his game have kept pace

A little less than three years after his Twenty20 debut against South Africa, David Warner is back at the MCG, this time to play a Test match. Warner has learned a lot abut himself in the intervening period, and finds himself playing against one of his heroes, Virender Sehwag. Warner spoke to ESPNcricinfo about Sehwag, his new opening partner Ed Cowan, and a jack-in-the-box personality that veers from combative on the field to sentimental off it.

Your new opening partner at the top of the order is Ed Cowan, and when you batted together against New Zealand it looked like a very good, very natural combination.
The type of player Ed is, he definitely does see the ball off. He's the type of player who works the ball around, and when the ball is there he hits it for four, but he is definitely one of the players who will see off the new ball and do his job for the team and then capitalise after. We know as an opposition that we have to try to get him out early. [It's fantastic] he's playing here to open the batting on Boxing Day. I see Ed as a great partner to open with. He can do his role and I'll do mine - not to score as fast as I can but keep the run-rate going as well.

It is a bit like batting with Shane [Watson] in T20s and one-dayers. He always says because we know how each other work, it's a good combination, and over this Test there is a great opportunity to show that Ed and I are a good combination.

Your backgrounds are somewhat different. How do you get along?
Ed grew up going to a private school, I went to a public school. He played at my junior club and then went on to Sydney University and I stayed at Eastern Suburbs and am still there now. We're two totally different people. I'm, I wouldn't say the prankster but I do certain things in different ways to how Ed would. Then, I'm not saying I'm dumb, but he's very smart, he's got a degree and he's one guy who loves reading books. I'd prefer to watch movies, he loves writing - certain things like that. But he's one of the nicest guys I've met in cricket.

Some of your batting partners have commented that you talk a lot in the middle and can be a bit edgy. It seems a contrast to the confident person we see from the boundary.
When you're out there, you try to keep as relaxed as you can. Some guys like to talk in the middle, some don't like to talk, and just listen to what you say and don't have much to say. One of the things I like to do is talk about what's going on, where we can look to get off strike… Certain things if we've got bogged down - how we can get through the tough periods, little things like scoring options, whether a fielder is left- or right-handed in each position. I like to be very observant with what I'm doing and how I'm going about my business, and it is something that has helped me. If I can help the other person at the other end, it is fantastic, but if it doesn't the boys are more than welcome to say they don't want to hear it if they don't want to. It is good to get communication going in the middle.

Descriptions of you as a tough, combative, cheeky character are common. You're never short of a word on the field. Where do you think that stems from?
When I'm out there, I'm there to do the business, to score runs, to help my team and to play hard. Any time you put on a team shirt or you're out there for your country, it is pride. You've worked so hard to get to it and you don't want anyone to stop you. You want to stamp your authority and say, "Mate, you know what? Stuff you, you're going to have to get me out, and if you want to get into a verbal war as well, you're not going to beat me verbally, because I thrive on that and love it when someone comes at me." Some people are aware of that and try to play on the player's ego.

"I used to just go in there, have a hit and say, 'I'm satisfied with that', but I look at that now and say, 'What was I thinking? That was a load of crap'

I'm definitely the kind of player who would chirp back a lot at the bowlers when I'm in a battle, because I like a bit of banter when you're out there. But obviously when it is quiet it is perfect as well, because you know you're knuckling down and there's no energy or presence coming from them out in the field, so you've almost won a battle as well.

You've often referred to Shane Warne as your hero, and you bowl legspin yourself. Was there much chatter going on between you at the MCG the other night?
There was a little bit but not much. I've got a lot of respect for Shane, and he's the type of guy who I don't think I'd ever sledge in a game.

You just let your bat do the talking. It was a good night. I felt all right to take the strike, because as a left-hander it is easier for me to face a legspinner. There was more provocation with Jade Dernbach more than anyone, because he's an Englishman, and everyone knows I like a little bit of banter, and he gave me a bit of cheek and I bit back at him as well. At the end of the day I won that battle, so maybe next time I play him he might get me.

Those are the sorts of things you try to create when you're out there, because I think it is good for the game and I actually like it. When you play Shield cricket, everyone knows each other and everyone's mates, but you're playing for your state and you've got to go out there and put it all on the line, and I reckon if you get into a verbal contest it's excellent. You mean business, you want to get under their skin, and make them hate you for that day. But at the end of the day you come off, and you're mates again.

Now we come to another hero of yours, Virender Sehwag, who has been quite influential in encouraging you to strive for Test cricket. How do you feel about lining up against him on Boxing Day?
It is going to be fantastic. I spent a couple of years now with him over in Delhi, and he's helped me a fair bit as well, not just in my T20 stuff but with my Test stuff as well. He's always had faith in me and told me, "I reckon you've got the game for Test cricket." He's one guy I look up to as well because we're similar players. I don't think I go as hard as him, but definitely what he was saying to me made sense - there's a lot more scoring options in Test cricket. But then the ball's moving a lot, swings and seams, so you've still got to adjust. A lot of his dismissals are caught in the slips or caught behind, because he's playing that line and going for his shots. That is one thing I've got to be cautious of when I'm out there. I tend to like to leave a lot of balls out there, but sometimes we all make mistakes.

One of Sehwag's great innings was his 195 on Boxing Day in 2003. A lot of the Indian batsmen have had some great days in Australia over the past couple of tours. Were you watching that day?
I didn't watch that. I was in year 11 at school, I think, and was making the most of Christmas. But you look at all those guys who've played here - people talk about how Sachin averages high 80s at the SCG. These guys are world class players. You look at their line-up and you can think, "Oh, how are we going to get these guys out?" but we know when they're in Australia, the wickets are different, we think their mental approach is a bit different to when they're in India. We think they automatically know they're going to win series in India because the wickets turn and it is all in their favour. And it is probably similar to when they come out here - we think they might not be able to adapt to the bouncy wickets. They're one of the best line-ups in the world, and capable of scoring big runs on the wickets we're producing here. We've got to be spot-on with our lines and lengths with our quicks, and when we're batting we need to put on as many runs as we can… I reckon we're in for a good series.

So your end of the bargain will be to keep India in the field as long as possible, tire them out and post those big totals?
I definitely think the longer we keep them out there [in the field] the harder it'll be for them, mentally as well. We know a couple of their players don't like being out in the field for too long, and their fast bowlers are under injury clouds as well, so the more overs we can get out of them, the better for us going into the second innings and also the upcoming Tests. If we can do our damage early in the series, it'll hold us in good stead.

The MCG has been good to you. You made your startling international T20 debut there. A 99 there was your first Sheffield Shield score of note, and there was another century for the Sydney Thunder the other night. How much do you enjoy the ground?
Anytime you walk out onto the MCG it is an amazing feeling. I still remember when I walked out there on debut [in the T20 against South Africa in 2009]. I didn't know what to expect, but now it is one of my favourite grounds to play on. I just think the stadium itself sets the bar. You look up at the stands from the middle of the pitch and just say "Wow". Where else would you want to be? On Boxing Day you're playing for your country, there's going to be thousands of people there, and you'll be there with a big smile on your face.

That first match turned you into a one-man circus for a time, and the hype seemed to affect how you batted. What lessons have you learned from that now that you're playing Test cricket?
I've learned a lot in the last two years. When I first came onto the scene I felt rushed. It felt like I had to go in T20 mode all the time, I had to hit every ball out of the park. Now in South Africa it put me in a good frame of mind playing over there, and it is going to help me. The four-day stuff I played for NSW helped me as well, as with the one-day stuff - building an innings and knowing that you can capitalise at the back end. I've showed with the T20 innings in India [Champions League] and the other night that I'm starting to get myself in and then finishing it off.

It seems you're thinking a lot more deeply, maturely about the game.
My mental side of the game has changed massively. Sometimes in the past I might've gone out there and just lost my head or just thrown my wicket away. Now I respect my wicket a hundred times more. Even in the nets it is the same thing. I used to just go in there, have a hit and say, "I'm satisfied with that", but I look at that now and say, "What was I thinking? That was a load of crap." Now I'm in there, focused, switched on, and it is like a game to me now when I'm in there. When I get out I really kick myself because you only get one chance in the middle.

"You want to stamp your authority and say, "Mate, you know what? Stuff you, you're going to have to get me out, and if you want to get into a verbal war as well, you're not going to beat me"

You carried your bat in Hobart in a fairly traumatic defeat. You were helped by a little bit of a technical tweak from Mickey Arthur?
In the second innings I changed my stance. Mickey just said to me the way to get my weight and balance to move forward and go forward was to close up my stance a little bit. I did feel like I was too wide in my stance, and every time I went to drive I was collapsing my back leg, so he just said to me to adjust my stance, come a bit closer and make sure we're all about moving forward, and that's what I did. It felt really good, and good again the other night as well, in the T20. I was so balanced and still and capable of hitting any ball in my zone over the fence or in the gaps. It is a massive thing, like changing your run-up - something that doesn't happen overnight - but it just felt right.

What about the emptiness of scoring a century in a defeat, and a bad one at that?
That's the second time I've scored a hundred and been on the losing side. It doesn't happen too often, but it is gut-wrenching to get so close. Credit to Nathan [Lyon] because he hung in there at the end as well. I backed him 100% and we got down to eight runs. We look back now and people ask "Why didn't you take the strike?" We needed 42 runs to win when he came in, so if I'm going to war and there's two of us, we need each other. He felt like he let the team down, but it wasn't his job to be out there at the end. It was a milestone for me, but we lost, and we have to move on from there.

As a T20 batsman you've now shown the ability to do a lot of damage with "switch-hitting". What chance is there of seeing that in a Test match?
It is more of a pressure release and something you would do at the appropriate time - if I'm a hundred or if we're 300 for 2 or something. Sometimes you have to back yourself to do it. It's like a forward defence. If I'm practising that in the nets and doing it to perfection, you can do it out in the middle. But if you play a shot like that and you get out, people will start saying things. You have to pick the right time to do it. In Test cricket you've got to score runs, but you've got so much time to do it, you don't need to play those shots, unless you're at the back-end of your innings and you want to start firing. Eventually it will come in if I'm settled, but definitely not early in my innings.

Cricket can be a very visually striking game. Is there an image or picture that you remember vividly or recall as a favourite of yours?
The one that always stands out for me is the Steve Waugh picture when he raises his bat when he's on the ground after he'd done his calf. You look at that and people who wouldn't know cricket would go, "Well, he scored a hundred." But he did it with a torn calf, so it just shows you how courageous he was to go on and score that. That's one image that sits in our change room at NSW Cricket. We have that under "courage", and that always comes to mind when I look at that image.

Lastly, I was intrigued to read that your favourite film is I Am Sam, the tale of an intellectually disabled man's fight for the custody of his child. Can we detect from that a more emotional, sentimental side to you?
Everyone's got a soft spot. That's one little movie, but it builds from there. A lot of my mates say, "You've got a soft spot in you", and we all do. At the end of the day it is a thing I like to do, to sit down and spend some time by myself watching some movies here and there. I always like to watch my favourite ones, and a couple are sad ones. A lot of the other guys are more inclined to like comedy movies and like to recite one-liners and stuff, but I like ones that sometimes touch your heart.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo