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August 24, 2012
David Warner happily admits he struggled at times against the bevy of Australian spinners lined up on turning Darwin pitches in order to prepare him for the trip to the UAE. "The selectors have picked our best spinners over here to do the job," he said in Dubai. "And I know they can definitely do the job because when I face them in the nets I have a bit of trouble as well."
Though the admission was made primarily as a way of supporting the slow bowlers chosen for the tour, it said as much about the greatest blind-spot in Warner's batting as it did about the skills of Xavier Doherty, Glenn Maxwell and Steven Smith.
Ten months into Warner's time as an Australia opening batsman in all three formats, his development of a cogent plan of attack against quality spin bowlers remains a work in progress. Given a few of the challenges ahead of Warner and Australia, time is running short for him to settle on one.
The most immediate task is that of finding a way to confound Pakistan's considerable spin battery, featuring Saeed Ajmal, Abdur Rehman, Shahid Afridi and Mohammad Hafeez. All have different approaches and weaponry, all have experience of defeating the best batsmen, and all will look upon Warner as a potential weak spot should the pace bowlers fail to pluck an early wicket.
Warner's notional weakness against spin is something that has emerged over time on the international scene. In Australia, Warner has enjoyed his encounters with local slow bowlers more often than not, using hard local pitches - and his own self-confidence in familiar surrounds - to strike them brazenly through the line, without too many considerations for the spin.
Even as a New South Wales Second XI batsman Warner's methods to spinners were clear, his early days as a middle order batsman as speckled with sixes off the slow bowlers as it was with impetuous, middling scores that played as much part in his delayed entry to first-class ranks as any preconceived ideas that he was more a Twenty20 slogger than a batsman.
However the longer he has played around the world, and against spin bowlers of greater guile and experience than may often be found in Australia, Warner has shown evidence of a struggle. He has appeared happiest to take a hyper-aggressive approach to spin in T20 matches, favouring the audacity of the switch-hit to upset a slow bowler's rhythm and line, but in the longer forms has been unable to consistently find the right gears.
Over the course of this year's West Indies tour, Warner did make some progress, advancing from the leaden-footed drive that had him snicking Shane Shillingford to slip in Trinidad to a more varied method in Dominica, where he essayed the sweep shot with some success on a surface that spun. However he stumbled badly when confronted at Old Trafford with the only turning surface of the ODI tour of England in July.
Warner was holding a faltering innings together until James Tredwell pitched full and straight, finding a way past the batsman's wretchedly half-hearted attempt to sweep. It was a sight to make any batsman wince, and any spin bowler grin. Expect Rehman in particular to try to whir his zippy left-arm orthodox in the direction of Warner's front pad.
Australia's assistant coach, Justin Langer, had his own torments against spin when batting in the Test top order of course, floundering through a tour of Sri Lanka of 1999 when Muttiah Muralitharan routinely made him look ponderous. Langer would improve his methods enough to make a century on the team's next visit to Sri Lanka in 2004, but the lessons were sure to have informed his suggestion that spinning pitches and slow bowlers be provided in ample quantities during the Darwin camp.
Strike rotation is one area that Langer has pushed, particularly to Warner, but it will also be critical that the opener shows commitment to his chosen methods, whether it be to play from the crease and off the pitch or to follow his captain Michael Clarke's example of dancing feet. The sweep remains a very useful option - Matthew Hayden's 2001 tour of India still stands as proof of what strong use of the shot can do to improve the spin defusing skills of a batsman seldom considered nimble - so long as Warner learns from Old Trafford and uses it decisively.
"Everyone says that some of us struggle against spin bowling, we know they're going to have a lot of spin bowlers as well," Warner said of Pakistan. "As we've said, we've practised very hard the last couple of weeks against spin bowling, so we know that over here we're going to have to be at our best and keep rotating the strike through the middle period or the tough periods."
Should Warner succeed against spin over the next two weeks he will have added a critical element to his batting, particularly given that the ICC World Twenty20 is to be held in Sri Lanka, and a tour of India will follow the home summer.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Pataudi Jr caught a young English fan's fancy for his princely ways and his heroic batting