By Sidhanta Patnaik
Take out the auxiliary wrappings out of cricket and at the centre lays the matter of victory and defeat. But those are eventualities set up by the plentifully available moments at the beginning of an innings, in every delivery, between every set of six balls, during every session and on each day. It is in these seconds that the paradise of cricket opens up for its talented custodians to relish the tranquility and innocently express themselves. As a result wholesomeness and purity comes to the fore. While majority exhibit conventionalism, a rare breed of species raise the bar with a sense of matchlessness and unlock new possibilities. Australia’s David Warner is one of those rarities.
Adjectives will flow like a river stream on a rainy day if his innings against India in the Perth Test match of the ongoing series has to be described, but murderous rage can topple other phrases to head the queue. The discretion was his, whether to play the ball or leave it, whether to hit it over the top or caress it through the carpet, whether to play off his legs or through the off side, whether to hit it straight or on the square of the wicket, whether to make romance with the ball or to exert brutality on it. For every single moment, except for those 20-odd deliveries from Zaheer Khan when the bowler seemed to have an advantage, he was in his zone. And the results it produced will be reminisced even after he stops breathing. Even the ball which consumed his wicket had nearly found the middle of his bat. Ironically the day’s best bowler, who did not concede a single six to him, had to play the role of catcher. However, the innings will be remembered for other things in history.
The first sighting of Vinay Kumar must have given him a sniff of the potentiality on offer and the acknowledgement came straightaway when the debutant was lofted over long on for the first six in just the 34th ball of the innings. It was further vindicated when the same bowler was hit out of the park to celebrate the century shot. That his rampant mood was lubricated by some mediocre bowling is not his fault. His job was to deliver and mark his individuality. The classical manner in which he transported his skills supposedly acquired from the shortest version of the game to the time-tested format on the biggest platform that cricket could offer him on this day showed every doubting Thomas that with true capacity and sincere effort conditions need not be partial for a superlative performance.
Fastest-ever hundred by an opener in 135 years of Test cricket
Indeed, his journey as a Test cricketer has just started and credentials will be up for scrutiny when he visits Asia, Africa and Europe. But to wait till then to recognise his speciality is unreasonable. His near victorious maiden century against New Zealand in the Hobart Test match of December 2011 was calculative and a sheer display of steel but his bludgeoning second ton has elevated him to an altitude from where his averages can only fall. Not every day does a batsman walk out and reach the three figure mark in 69 balls, inside a session’s play. In fact, his century is now the fastest ever by an opener in the 135 years of Test cricket. By the time his fire was doused, he had lasted for 159 balls and produced 180 runs and had ensured that the demoralised opponents were debarred from having any further say in the match. In fact, after his dismissal when the Australian innings collapsed in a matter of 79 runs, the impact of this pugnacious innings shone much brighter.
For all his excellence through his two centuries he can never be heralded as the first generation representative of unconventional openers in Test cricket. When the theory of ‘first hour to the bowler’ was still the thumb rule it was the likes of Krishnamachari Srikkanth and Mark Greatbatch who challenged the notion and Sanath Jayasuriya picked it up. With the beginning of the new millennium Chris Gayle and Virender Sehwag showed the world how out of the box management of a new cricket ball with a piece of willow can be effective and decisive. But Srikkanth took 23 innings to score his first Test century and Greatbatch, Jayasuriya, Gayle and Sehwag were converted openers. Warner’s gale and sense of madness as an opener is original. It has set a new benchmark and is also a reflection of this particular clan’s evolution. Therefore he can be rightfully be acclaimed as the new heir of his tribe.
It is a surety that with time he will look uglier as bowlers get to understand him better. His technique and temperament will be criticised and it is for him to work on them. But certainly the 426th holder of the prestigious Baggy Green cap has arrived to entertain his audience from the confines of a 22 yard strip. That is an adequate enough reason to appreciate and celebrate David Warner.
(Sidhanta Patnaik is a sport marketing professional, public speaker and writes for Cricketcountry. His Twitter ID is @sidhpat)