David Warner, patient? In Sri Lanka, he knows he needs to be. Almost two years since his last Test hundred overseas, Warner is emphasising long innings and strike rotation as the keys to Australia's success in Sri Lanka, and also in India next year.

Not since a century in the first Test against Pakistan in Dubai in October 2014 has Warner topped three figures away from home ports, scoring minimally in the West Indies last year and then squandering plenty of starts in the Ashes as he tried to adapt his game. While conscious of not losing his natural attacking instincts, Warner said there would need to be more nuance to the way the Australia's top order confronts Sri Lanka's spin bowlers in particular.

"The challenge for us is about batting long periods of time," Warner said in Pallekele. "We know that's what wins games in these conditions. You've got to be able to bat well into the next day and that's the focus for us. It's about adapting to these conditions, adapting to the things that are thrown at us and we have to take those challenges. It's not about challenging specific bowlers. There are times in games when you might need to apply some pressure.

"You've got to be patient enough. You've got to rotate the strike. Your patience comes with hitting your four-balls, your boundary balls. They're the ones you've got to really wait on. That's what we're talking about with patience in this game, especially over here. You've got to bite the bullet.

"[Rotating the strike] is the key, especially with a right-hand, left-hand combination, to try to mix it up a bit with the bowlers. These days a lot of teams either have a left-arm orthodox [spinner] or a right-arm offie. You've always got to try to rotate the strike and that's the most important thing when it comes to playing spin or playing fast bowlers as well. Try to put the bowlers off a little bit."

Asked about his lack of hundreds away from home in recent times, Warner said he would be trying to balance attack and defence. "I always try my best," he said. "If I have to bat for a day or a day-and-a-half, I go out there and I try to do that. But the element of my game is to try to score runs. I try to apply pressure on the bowlers and that has always been my game plan. That's what I always set out to do and I probably won't change that. It has been a while since I've scored a hundred outside the country. We've got to start well, bat long periods of time."

Tactically, Warner is expecting the series to be fought on an attritional basis at times, as the Australians try to adapt to a slower Asian Test match tempo while Sri Lanka set defensive fields and seek to prey on the visitors' patience. "You're going to have to be prepared for some boring fields. Both teams are going to use that," he said. "You're going to have your sweepers out there, especially for the spinners. You are going to have your fielders in the deep, so you have to be prepared to get your runs in ones and twos.

"Whoever is the fittest team will probably win the games. It can be like that in these conditions. Unless you're going to blast them out of the park with the bat or your quicks somehow manage to go through them on low tracks, it is going to be a big grind. It is going to be a big grind. That's where the spinners play a big role."

Warner excelled as a captain earlier this year when he led Sunrisers Hyderabad to their first IPL title. As deputy to Steven Smith for Australia, he is looking to provide an example to players further down the order, making use of the Indian experience he has gleaned over the past decade. Tellingly, he said that practice pitches were often more useful than the strips used for matches.

"Times have changed. It's a bit different," Warner said of how his methods against spin had evolved. "That's the fortunate thing for us to go over and play IPL. I've been over for eight years, nine years in a row now. It's the experience you gain from training on the wickets there, you can actually use that to your advantage. Yes it's a white ball, but still the conditions and the surfaces, once they deteriorate, get quite challenging.

"In that form of the game, you have to try to score. So it gives you a bit of an advantage to actually, one, look to score but then improvise as well when you play Test cricket. The game's about moving forward and we try to get on with the game and try to score. It gives you an advantage to look for those scoring options rather than just trying to survive. But then again, it does suit you in certain areas to get back in your crease and use your feet to survive as well."

Nathan Lyon and Steve O'Keefe have trained with near-new balls in the nets at Pallakele, and Warner said there would be times when both sides throw the ball to the spinners early on. "A lot of teams have done that in the past in subcontinent conditions - we also saw that with Pakistan in the UAE," he said.

"I think the harder the ball, the more inconsistency with spin and variation and that's probably the main thing that skippers like to use. Plus the bounce. I think you'll see that more in the second innings of the game; in the first innings, you probably won't see it too much unless we're trying to dry up one end for both teams."

Warner is entering the series with a fractured finger in the final stages of healing after he broke it during the ODI series in the West Indies. This is added to the thumb he has broken more than once, meaning he needs special reinforcement in his gloves and can expect to be dealing with pain when he bats and also, at times, in the field. Usman Khawaja has been practising to field in the slips, but Warner will be closer to the bat for the spinners, either at leg slip or second slip.

"It's going well at the moment. A couple of times when I've hit on the toe [of the bat] it's been a bit painful," Warner said. "I've experienced that before with the thumb but just with the game moving forward I'll do the same thing I did with the thumb - put a guard over the top that's underneath the glove and has a bit of silicon feel to it and stops a bit of vibration. But I should be ready to go."