Warner learns to trust his instinct
Instinct is important to David Warner, if occasionally dangerous. Instinct drove him to an outrageous international Twenty20 debut against South Africa at the MCG in 2009. Instinct pushed him to equally stunning centuries against India in Perth and the South Africans in Adelaide three years later.
Instinct overtook him when he punched Joe Root in a Birmingham bar in June and almost cost him his international career. And instinct swayed him to hook Stuart Broad's first ball of the Ashes series to the backward square leg boundary.
Two days later, Warner allowed his instinct to flourish gloriously into a hundred that took full advantage of the opportunity afforded him by the dramatic bowling of Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Lyon and Ryan Harris.
Warner's first Ashes century was a masterwork of channelled aggression, not allowing England's bowlers any respite but likewise not granting them any easy avenues for his wicket. It looked exactly the way that Warner should play every innings, on every surface, backing up Brad Haddin's pre-Test observation that "rascals win you comps".
But Warner's path to reaching the zone he has occupied in Brisbane this week has not been as straightforward as it might have been. There have been pitfalls and pratfalls, on the pitch, in the dressing room, in the nets and in the bars and clubs of India and England. Away from the game, Warner is still learning to curb his natural instinct when it can be inclined to get him into trouble. On the field he has returned to trusting it after being advised for some time to do otherwise.
The decision to aim a hook at Broad's first ball was particularly significant, for there was a time when Warner would have been rebuked for doing so. Under the former coach Mickey Arthur, Australia's batsmen had been pressed to adhere to a certain conservatism on their arrival at the crease, based on the notion that the first 20 balls were always those most likely to dismiss them. Such theories can be useful, disciplining the mind while a batsman is still getting his bearings in the middle, but for Warner they clouded an approach that has generally been more productive when as uncluttered as possible.
So it was that Warner made a mottled contribution to the Ashes in England once his penance for swinging at Root had been served. A shuffle down and then back up the batting order added to the confusion. Only one innings in six, a bold start to Australia's quest for an unlikely target at Chester-le-Street, was entirely convincing. Even then, Warner perished right at the moment he had started to raise thoughts of an Australian victory, snicking an admittedly fine delivery from Tim Bresnan. Instead of ushering a win, Warner became the first crack in a spectacular collapse. He resolved to carry on with the job next time he had the chance, but remained muddled in how he might do so.
The process of batting transformation began at the start of the domestic season. Dropped by Australia's selectors from the ODI and Twenty20 teams, Warner had the chance to settle into a rhythm at home, training with New South Wales and preparing for the domestic limited-overs tournament now to be played as a carnival in Sydney. His physical readiness for the task was not in question, following a diet and exercise regime begun earlier in the year that has made Warner more lithe than at any other time in his career.
Prepared as he was, Warner still looked conflicted at the start of an innings. His first appearance for the Blues was an ugly one on a poor Bankstown pitch, his second not much better. Caught between trying to score and survive, Warner was doing neither. Elsewhere he continued to court the displeasure of authority by skipping a grade game, earning a suspended sentence from the NSW chief executive Andrew Jones. Early rumblings began to emerge about his place in the Test team for Brisbane.
Around this time, Warner re-established contact with Trent Woodhill, his batting coach at various times. Together they discussed where he had struggled and why. Problems were traced back to the earlier directives to be secure early in an innings then attack later on, a mind-set deemed too mixed for Warner's instinct to follow. Instead it was decided that Warner must think always of attack, of scoring runs and placing pressure on the bowler to defeat him. Defence became not the first resort but the last, and boundaries were to be hit when offered by the bowler, no matter whether the ball was his first or 50th.
As Warner described it before the match: "If I just concentrate on looking to score, my defence takes care of itself. I was too worried about trying to be so defensive and then attacking. We talk about intent - if you're not looking to score, I feel that person who's bowling to you has already got the upper hand, because you're looking to defend. I'm at my most vulnerable when I'm looking to defend. If I look to score and I nick off, so be it, but I've got to be looking to score and have that intent because if I'm not looking to score I have no intent at all."
Results from such meetings are not always immediate, sometimes taking weeks, months or even seasons to take hold. But this time, Warner's improvement was near enough instant. Domestic teams were soon sent running for cover at North Sydney Oval, as he reeled off three centuries of escalating venom to drive NSW to the tournament final. In the Sheffield Shield, Warner cracked a fourth hundred against Victoria at the MCG, spending a mere 87 balls over his 104.
At the Gabba, Warner's first innings ended with the sort of dismissal he had foreshadowed, a somewhat presumptuous back foot slap landing in the hands of cover. Undeterred, he played with plenty of freedom but plenty of good sense too when batting again, negotiating an awkward period with Chris Rogers on the second evening when England might have kept up the destruction wrought by Australia with a few wickets of their own under overcast skies.
Building the lead the following morning, Warner looked entirely at ease with himself and his batting, choosing the right balls to smite but also those to defend. He was compelling in all he did, and helped his captain Michael Clarke to grow in fluency after an ugly day one exit. England's bowlers were treated sensibly but not courteously, poor balls dispatched and some good ones too. There was a minor stutter as Warner closed on his hundred, James Anderson finding a modicum of reverse swing. But a positive outlook helped ensure he survived, and he punched firmly through cover to bring up the milestone.
As he ran the 100th run, Warner could not help miming another punch. This was not a drunken shot at Root, but a jubilant thrust at the air. Instinct had again taken over.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here