Joe Burns rediscovers the fundamentals of opening ahead of David Warner's absence

He has put his lean run of scores down to being too eager to cash in on flat pitches, and has learnt form his mistake

Daniel Brettig
Daniel Brettig
It has been a tough start to the season for Joe Burns, South Australia v Queensland, Sheffield Shield, Glenelg, November 8, 2020

It has been a tough start to the season for Joe Burns  •  Getty Images

Going to the New South Wales north coast enclave of Byron Bay to find yourself is usually the preserve of musicians, or perhaps a few Superannuated early retirees. Joe Burns, though, may be the first Australian opening batsman to take this road by way of preparation for a Test series.
Following a decidedly underwhelming Adelaide block of early season Sheffield Shield games in which he tallied scores of 7, 29, 0, 10 and 11 for Queensland, Burns appeared exceedingly vulnerable to losing his place opposite David Warner to the burgeoning talent of Will Pucovski. But now Warner is likely to be sidelined for at least the first Test against India due to a groin strain, Burns' Byron Bay escape and return to the fundamentals of opening the batting have shored up his mindset for what is likely to be the commission as senior opener.
The Adelaide experience was not a happy one for Burns but it was also an informative one. Confident both in himself and the fact the games were being played with a Kookaburra ball rather than the more bowler-friendly Dukes, he now admits he went out searching for runs rather than simply concentrating on occupation of the crease. Pucovski, by contrast, was largely set on survival, and two double centuries flowed as a result.
"It's been a little bit frustrating for me personally. I think back to the back end of last season, the Shield games we played we were playing on green tops with Dukes balls and I felt like it was the best I've ever batted in my career," Burns said ahead of his warm-up match for Australia A against the Indians in Sydney. "I got to Adelaide and was licking my lips, seeing some flat wickets and hoping to make plenty of runs but just found ways to get out.
"I was probably just chasing the game a little bit too much after a lay-off during the winter. So the lesson from that is to be a little bit more patient, let the game come and go from there. I feel like my skills are in a good spot, it's just a decision-making thing and I'm looking forward to the challenge of playing against India."
In a usual season, Burns would have played as many as six Shield games by early December in a range of venues before the Tests began, but the unique nature of 2020-21 was such that he found himself with the chance for what was almost a second pre-season after commencing the summer proper.
"The last few weeks I actually got a chance to go away, I was just doing a lot of work by myself," Burns said. "Fortunately, I was training at some regional clubs and our batting coach from Queensland Adam Hollioake was coming down, we were just training all day. And the key thing I was working on was just patience. It's just probably when you see a flat wicket and feel like you're batting well, from the end of last season. you want to get out there and dominate, but as an opening batter sometimes dominating can be batting six, seven or eight hours and getting rewards at the back end of the day.
"So I've faced thousands of balls and just tried to face each ball like it's my first one. The real basics of the game - if you do the basics well, you can't go too far wrong."
Those basics will most probably need to be applied without Warner, although prior to his injury he was one of several key voices around the Australian team to vouch for Burns' value, and the contributions he had made at the top to blunt the new ball and make life easier for Marnus Labuschagne, Steven Smith and Travis Head to name three.
"Me and Davey, first of all we know our games really well and I think our games complement each other," Burns said. "When we are batting together I feel like we read the game really well, we know when there's opportunities to take it to bowling attacks but we also realise when there are key moments and we have to knuckle down. What we've always done really well and what we're proud of doing is winning a lot of key moments for the team
"Sometimes it's the first session of a Test match, sometimes the 20 minutes after a lunch break and identifying when key bowlers are on. At the same time I know when he is getting bogged down by a bowler and there's opportunity for me to score off them.
"Weeks like this, the training in the nets together, the Australia A game batting together, provides an opportunity to form those new relationships, especially with young guys who we haven't all had a great chance to bat a lot with to get to a point where me and Davey get to the crease and are so confident in each other's games that we can bounce off each other."
This is not to say Burns cannot function without Warner. On the contrary, one of his best innings arrived on the opening day of a Test match in Canberra against Sri Lanka in early 2019 during the 34-year-old's Newlands ban, when the fall of three early wickets left Burns to usher Head to his first century.
"Dave's such a world class player it's always a nice luxury to have him at the other end, but at the same time I've always said I try to take as much responsibility myself as possible as well," Burns said. "The game where Dave got out early, I really wanted to perform in those games, and now that he's out injured or potentially not playing, it's a great opportunity to play a senior role.
"But it's a huge role to fill if Dave's not available, and it's not only one person, but it's the responsibility of a few guys to step into that position. We'll make sure we are prepared for a really tough battle, in particular as opening batters; that first session, that first hour, it's going to be crucial to the game and crucial to keeping the momentum of their bowling attack out. If we can start well it's going to go a long way to winning the series."
Burns faced India in his first Test series back in 2014, but was quick to note a key contrast. This time he will be doing the hard work for others to benefit from, where six years ago it was the other way around. "It was a little bit different back then," he said. "I was batting at No. 6, I think one game we won the toss and batted and I didn't bat until day two."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig