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Feature

No longer a hitting machine, David Warner is now the smart-cricket guy

It seems that whatever malaise had slowed Warner down, he's over it

Jarrod Kimber
Jarrod Kimber
12-Nov-2021
David Warner found the space to play a few good shots too, Australia vs Bangladesh, T20 World Cup, Group 1, Dubai, November 4, 2021

While Warner is the fourth-leading run-scorer at this tournament, with a strike rate just under 150, he has only hit seven sixes  •  Getty Images

David Warner was the most dominant batter in the IPL for years. And then he played a few bad games, and the team he had captained for an IPL victory not too long ago dropped him mid-year and sacked him from his leadership job.
When I said he was dominant, he had an average of 52 with a strike rate of 145 from 2014 until 2020. And half a bad year where he made runs, but far more slowly than anyone would have liked, was enough for Sunrisers Hyderabad to let him go. In the eight innings he played in IPL 2021, he was run-out twice. And they moved on from the most incredible batter they - or maybe anyone in the IPL - have ever had.
It was not the first time Warner had struggled. In 2018, when he was banned from the Australian team, he went on to play in Canada for the Global T20 league's Winnipeg Hawks. He averaged 13.6 with a strike rate of 114.7. He then turned up for the CPL with St Lucia Stars and made nine, 11 and seven in his first three games. Even as he started to make some more runs for the Stars, people began to wonder if this was some kind of irreversible decline in form.
Was Warner's effectiveness tied to being an Australian player? Had his mojo been sucked out with the sandpapergate scandal? These were the weird thoughts that seemed to float around.
Obviously not, as he then went straight back to the IPL and made 692 runs at a strike rate of 143.86 in 2019.
While he is no longer the kid with the double-sided bat slogging 90mph-plus into the crowd, he's been the Warner that Sunrisers had in this tournament. Not the one they dropped this year, but the one who dominated the IPL over six seasons
The Sunrisers' over-reaction might have had less to do with six bad games from Warner and more to do with their own poor roster construction. But it was a big decision to make on the back of such a small sample size. However, people took a few bad games and assumed that Warner was in an irreparable decline. At 35, hell, once you pass 32, people start looking for signs that you are done.
And there are plenty of signs that Warner isn't the same batter he once was, as he's clearly just not. He made his mark by flat-batting Dale Steyn into the MCG crowd when he was 22 games into a professional career and hadn't yet played a first-class match. In that game, he had a strike rate of 206, clearing the massive boundary six times.
In all, he has hit that many maximums or more ten times, but only once since 2012.
It is also really the period where he went from being a hitter to a batter. Or, more importantly, a Test player. Since being that kind of a batter, Warner has changed from a T20 hitting machine to a hard-running match-up guy who knows how to make very consistent runs. His body has changed too, and there is a reason he doesn't bowl legspin - or even medium pace - anymore as his shoulder will not allow it.
None of this means he can't hit sixes anymore, he still takes down a lot of spin, and if Warner can time the ball well, he will score them off quickly. But he isn't the beast who dumped Vinay Kumar a bunch of rows back in a Test at the WACA.
And that is why it is strange that people saw the IPL form and the slow start to this tournament against South Africa and assumed Warner was past it. Most of what Warner does now is just smart cricket. He knows how to make runs in T20s. Like any batter, Warner will go through a bad patch because T20s can be like that. If Warner wasn't the most consistent scorer in the modern T20 format, then KL Rahul was, and he went through a similar run not that long ago.
And it seems that whatever malaise had slowed Warner down, he's over it. This is already Warner's best-ever T20 World Cup, and it's not a tournament that he generally does that well in. In fact, part of Australia's problems can probably be traced back to the fact that they have Warner and Aaron Finch at the top. But despite them being big-name T20 stars, they haven't even always opened for Australia at this global tournament together.
So far, Finch has not really fired this time, but Warner has. He made 65 from 42 against Sri Lanka, had two failures against England and Bangladesh, but then bounced back by scoring 89* against West Indies from 56 balls. His Sri Lanka knock probably helped the team win the game, the West Indies one did too, but they were half on the plane while bowling in that innings.
This innings against Pakistan in the T20 World Cup semi-final was something else. This was a knockout match against an incredible bowling line-up that goes deep. Warner survived Shaheen Shah Afridi early on and took on his good match-up against legspin with Shadab Khan. And when Mohammad Hafeez bowled a double bouncer, he was so quick to work out that it was a no-ball and get to it so he could swing it over the ropes. That was again proof of how smart he is.
This innings helped set up Matthew Wade and Marcus Stoinis at the end. And had he just reviewed his caught behind, he might well have been able to navigate Australia through their collapse much easier.
Warner has changed. While he is the fourth leading run-scorer at this tournament, with a strike rate just under 150, he has only hit seven sixes. But while he is no longer the kid with the double-sided bat slogging 90mph-plus into the crowd, he's been the Warner that the Sunrisers had in this tournament.
Not the one they dropped this year, but the one who dominated the IPL over six seasons.

Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber