January 15, 2012

Warner's Twenty20 Test ininngs

The Australian opener has shown he isn't afraid to play his natural game, no matter what the format

So much for all the talk about David Warner being a Test player. He proved at the WACA that he's a 20-over specialist.

It's what he does. He has made back-to-back centuries in the Champions League and a hundred in the Big Bash League, both Twenty20 competitions. His latest century also took him 20 overs, but this time it was in a Test match and against the new-ball bowlers of a team that was recently ranked No. 1 in the world. Now that really is some 20-over specialist.

Warner's batting is attuned to T20 cricket but it translates into the Test match arena because he has the skill to compete at that level and the nerve to play his natural game. His innings at the WACA was like something out of a movie - a Warner Brothers flick.

The irony of his knock was that it was played against Virender Sehwag, a man who told Warner he'd be a better player in Test cricket because the close fielding positions would suit his aggressive style. Warner's belligerent century not only demoralised an already flustered Indian side, he also remastered a few thrills from other memorable knocks at the WACA.

The diminutive Warner reminded me of the flamboyant West Indies opener Roy Fredericks, who thrashed a hundred in 1975-76 in just 71 balls of mayhem. Warner beat that incredible performance by two balls.

Another West Indies opener, this one more burly, Chris Gayle, bludgeoned a hundred off just 70 balls at the WACA. Gayle hit a monstrous six that travelled 104 metres, but he did it off a spinner. Warner, the muscled marauder, beat Gayle to the century by a ball and managed to hit one of the Indian fast bowlers a massive 98 metres into the stands.

These blistering centuries stand out because the batsmen concerned were openers facing international new-ball attacks. That takes as much nerve as skill.

Another such innings, 37 years on, remains etched in Australian cricket folklore. Dashing Doug Walters hit a six off the last ball at the WACA in 1974-75 to complete a century in a session in an Ashes Test. It wasn't the last ball of the day but Warner reproduced that drama when he clouted Vinay Kumar for six to bring up his electrifying century.

The reception Warner received when the ball landed over the ropes was one reserved for batsmen who play with entertainment uppermost in their mind, no matter the form of the game. Many cricketers have received standing ovations but Warner is one of the rare ones who experienced an outpouring of unbridled joy at the pleasure of witnessing something extra special. His response to the applause was full of emotion and fuelled by the adrenaline required to play an innings of such adventurous audacity.

That Warner is mentioned in the same breath as Walters, Fredericks, Gayle, and also Adam Gilchrist, who scored the second-fastest century ever in a Test at the WACA, is not an exaggeration. And yet his greatest achievement is to have played an innings of such daring in a Test match.

Two centuries in five Tests is an incredibly good start to an international career. Warner will have other days where things are not so good, and there'll be occasions when he questions his method of playing. I just hope that on those occasions he recalls this century at the WACA, and that the memory also remains vivid in the selectors' minds. That innings was Test cricket as you rarely see it - a long knock played in a short time.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator and columnist