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Match Analysis

David Warner rides high again to quieten talks of his rut

"Everyone was talking about my form, which I reiterated was not a thing I was worried about"

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
David Warner's scores - 0, 2, 0, 1, 14 - in the month leading into the T20 World Cup and in Australia's opening Super 12s game against South Africa made for grim reading - not that the man himself admitted to any concern.
"I actually think people talking about my form is quite funny. I laugh at the matter," he said on Wednesday. "I've played hardly any cricket. I had two games in the IPL and then warm-up games are warm-up games for a reason."
If Warner's comments were bullish, he had a point: since the end of April, he had faced 29 balls at five different venues. In the spring, six innings had been enough for his IPL franchise, Sunrisers Hyderabad, to decide it was time to axe him as captain. Warner turned 35 the night before Australia's second game at this tournament and the general consensus - despite a limited base of evidence - seemed to be that he was on the decline.
Warner was clearly aware of the outside noise around his shortage of runs but has not let it affect it game - that much was clear from the third ball he faced in Australia's cruise towards their 155-run target against Sri Lanka in Dubai. Rather than looking to play himself into form by soaking up balls, Warner recognised that the Powerplay was the best time to attack and seized upon his chance: he got down low to reverse-sweep Maheesh Theekshana, Sri Lanka's fit-again mystery spinner, over short third, the first of ten boundaries in his innings of 65 off 42 balls.
"I got criticised when I got out to Ashwin in the practice game playing the same shot," Warner said afterwards. "We know which bowlers are bowling what, we know where the fields are and we know how to try and apply pressure. If it comes off, it comes off.
"When they're coming over the wicket, they've obviously got their carrom ball to come straight down the line. For me, it's actually a low-risk shot to go with the spin and because you've only got two [fielders] out to protect, you've got to back yourself. It's a shot that I favour. You've got to apply pressure and that's how I start my innings against spin."
Warner enjoyed several early strokes of luck - the sort that may spark his tournament into life after a long run without playing many games. At the end of Theekshana's first over, he survived a brief mix-up running between the wickets with Aaron Finch; a leading edge off Dushmantha Chameera skewed up and over short cover; an inside-edge off Lahiru Kumara flew past short fine leg.
But the moment that really made it seem as though Warner's fortunes had turned came in the fifth over. Chameera dug a short ball in down the leg side and Warner mistimed his pull, getting glove through to Kusal Perera behind the stumps. The umpire was already raising his finger by the time the ball was on the floor, after a lapse in concentration and an inexplicable drop. "How did you miss that, Kusal Perera?" Russel Arnold sighed on commentary.
From there, Warner was in his groove, pulling disdainfully through midwicket and running hard between the wickets when faced with a bigger leg-side boundary. Theekshana struggled with his lengths - his spell featured several drag-downs, evoking that of Varun Chakravarthy, a similar type of bowler, against Pakistan on Sunday night - and was punished accordingly, while Sri Lanka's seamers were oddly reluctant to crank the pace up and found their slower balls crunched away disdainfully through the leg side.
"Tonight, I had to obviously start fresh," Warner said. "Everyone was talking about my form, which I reiterated was not a thing I was worried about. It was about going out there and starting well. That's all we're trying to do, apply pressure to the bowlers."
Crucially, Warner - alongside Aaron Finch, who raced to 37 off 23 balls - was able to get Australia off to a fast start in their chase. While Dasun Shanaka, Sri Lanka's captain, would later reflect that they had been 20-25 runs short of par given the dew factor in a floodlit game, Australia knew that they would face a stern test against spin in the middle overs if they had started slowly. As a result - and partly thanks to the safety net of the extra batter they have brought into their line-up for this tournament - they attacked early, racing to 63 for 0 after the Powerplay and immediately removing any scoring pressure."
"It was great to get out there in the middle and spend some time there, running between the wickets," Warner said. "Little things like that just keep your mind ticking. Obviously in the last six to 12 months we haven't played that much cricket so I haven't been in those situations too often. It's not so much about getting runs for myself, it's about getting us off to a good start and we managed to do that.
"Shutting the critics down? No, never. That's the world of sport. When you ride the highs, you've got to ride the lows and you've got to stay confident, keep a smile on your face, and never let it get to you."
Warner had practised on polished concrete in the build-up to this game, reasoning that "when you're practising on low wickets that aren't great, it gets you into sticky positions in the games when you are on better wickets". On a relatively flat Dubai pitch, there were glimpses of the power and timing that made him one of the world's most destructive T20 batters for so many years.
"It was shattering to see someone who did so much for a team be spat out like he was," Shane Watson, his long-time team-mate, said on commentary, "but I'm so thrilled for him personally and for the Aussies as well." If this turns out to have been the night he clicked back into gear, the rest of the country will echo those sentiments.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98