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Match Analysis

Uncertain Warner cuts contrasting figure to calm Khawaja

Clouded and untrusting of his methods, Warner now has the lowest average of any opener to have batted at least 15 times in India

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
17-Feb-2023
David Warner sat in the rooms in the fading light at the Arun Jaitley Stadium. The heavy Delhi smog surrounding the ground was perhaps matching some fog in his mind. He didn't field during the nine overs the India batted, feeling unwell after copping several nasty blows while batting.
Warner was peppered by Mohammed Siraj, hit once on the elbow and once on the helmet. Oddly, he received more medical attention on the elbow than the head. He looked like a shadow of the man who had taken on Anrich Nortje's 150kph thunderbolts six weeks back at the MCG on his way to a knock of 200.
He looked tired, slow, and late on the ball. The typical Warner sharpness, the intent to score was not there. He laboured again as he had done in the second innings in Nagpur. He took 21 balls to get off the mark, and when he did, that came via an outside edge. He made just 15 off 44, with two of his three boundaries coming while fending at the ball.
Warner had fallen in similar fashion to the first innings in Nagpur: Mohammed Shami angled one in from around the wicket, and Warner was caught on the crease. Except this time he played inside the line and edged behind, having played outside the line and lost his off stump last week.
It is interesting comparing Usman Khawaja and Warner's batting methods and mindsets. Two men of the same age - 36 - who grew up together in Sydney playing in the same junior teams. One looks calm, content and clear with his plans and his process, and is playing accordingly. The other looks clouded, uncertain and untrusting of his methods.
Khawaja top-scored with 81 in Australia's seemingly under-par total of 263, and showcased the clearest example in the series so far of the proactivity and bravery Australia's batters have been seeking. The visitors have talked a lot - both publicly and privately - about each batter owning an individual method and mindset in India, in terms of both training on it and then implementing it in the Tests.
Khawaja is very rarely the last player in the nets at training, but he was on Wednesday at Australia's main session. Right at the end of the session, he asked coach Andrew McDonald to throw a spinning ball at him in such a way so he could work on skipping down and hitting inside out over wide mid-off. He then did that to R Ashwin in the first hour in Delhi, charging out of his crease and lofting him gloriously into the stands for six.
He also unfurled a stack of sweeps and reverse sweeps to find the rope as he scored with freedom against both the quicks and the spinners. Khawaja did have some luck: he was dropped at short leg, where the ball was dipping on Shreyas Iyer, and had numerous inside edges miss the stumps. But his luck ran out when he fell to a stunning catch from KL Rahul. However, his positivity and proactivity was rewarded with more loose balls than what his opening partner Warner was offered. Khawaja spoke after play about the clarity of mind that he has right now.
"I just play by feel," he said. "I play by what I think is right for the wicket. I don't go out there thinking I want to play a certain way. I just feel how the bowlers are trying to bowl to me and then I read the game from there. So it's as simple as that. And that's pretty much what I did today."
Warner, on the other hand, spent all of the Nagpur centre-wicket practice on Monday shoring up his defence to spin. He was working on getting a bigger stride in to smother the turn. But unlike in the lead-up to Nagpur, he hit very few balls ahead of the second Test. He had a short hit on Wednesday and did not train Thursday, having hit for longer than any Australian on the last training day before the first Test. Warner has been anything but consistent in his preparation on this tour, as he continues to search for answers for his Test malaise in India.
Warner now has the lowest average of any opener to have batted at least 15 times in India. He tried to trust his defence for 44 balls on Friday. But Warner hasn't made his name on his defence. His defence has always gone hand in glove when he has been positive with his footwork, strokeplay and mindset. He has 25 Test hundreds, and has been one of the best Test openers of his generation by being positive and proactive.
"Three innings is not enough. There's still a long way to go in this Test series. I'm looking forward to what may happen."
Usman Khawaja is backing David Warner to hit back on the India tour
And Khawaja disagreed that Warner had gone into his shell on this tour.
"He hit two fours of Ashwin last game before he got out lbw, so he was showing some aggression," Khawaja said. "It's never easy out there, especially starting out, even if you're opening. So I was lucky today. I got a couple to get me going. Sometimes you don't get that, and it can be very hard.
"Three innings is not enough for me. I think there's still a long way to go in this Test series. I'm looking forward to what may happen. Dave has been such a terrific player for such a long time. Every time his back is against the wall, he produces something. So we'll see."
And there is no word yet on Warner's health following his stint off the ground.
"I think the medical staff will have to assess tomorrow," Khawaja said. "He is a little bit weary at the moment. He obviously got a knock to the arm and then to the head, and the head has made him a little bit weary at the moment and hence why he didn't come out to field. I think the medical staff will have to figure out what happens from here on in."
The last time Warner was weary in a Test was when he walked off the MCG with full-body cramps after a back-to-the-wall double-century. He is weary in body and mind right now in the Delhi gloom too, but with only 26 runs in three innings on the India tour.

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo