Is David Warner's transition from T20 to Tests a model for the future?

(From left to right) Shane Watson, David Warner, Ravi Ashwin and Virat Kohli all used the IPL T20 stage to transit into Test cricket © Getty Images

 

By Madan Mohan

 

David Warner debuted against New Zealand in Brisbane in 2011 and already has two centuries from four Tests. He described the Perth ‘wackathon’ as not like Test cricket, but something else as he clouted Vinay Kumar & Co with some slog shots on his way to a thunderous 180. His 123 not out on debut against New Zealand was more ‘classical’, scored in tougher conditions against a better bowling attack. How did the man widely regarded to be a Twenty20 specialist succeed as a Test opener?

 

Warner is not the only one. Several players have launched or resurrected their career with Twenty20 performances to eventually move to the longest form of the game with varying results. Virat Kohli was first noticed as skipper of a triumphant Under-19 Indian team. He was drafted into the Royal Challengers Bangalore side and after some impressive performances in the first edition of the IPL, made the ODI squad. On Sunday, he stood tall among the ruins of yet another Indian batting collapse in the ongoing Test series in Australia with a composed and organised 75.

 

Ravichandran Ashwin also used Twenty20 as a launching pad for his career while Shane Watson and Suresh Raina resurrected their careers with the IPL. Shane Watson has since then become a mainstay of Australia’s Test line-up. Ashwin and Raina are probably already ODI regulars, but in Tests, they still have a long way to go. Were critics wrong to scoff at the Twenty20 format and conclude that players ‘raised’ on Twenty20 cannot make the cut for Test cricket?

 

First of all, the term Twenty20 specialist is misleading. I wonder if there is any such thing as that. A player who succeeds in Twenty20s has a good chance of performing well in ODIs as well. This applies to the above cases as well. Warner and Kohli already had some good ODI performances under their belt before they moved onto Tests. The same holds good for Ashwin as well. So if Warner’s success is to be used to make a case for fast-tracking a player from Twenty20 to Tests, bypassing ODIs, his performance is not necessarily proof that it is a feasible approach. These are just players who appeared more ODI oriented but have done well in Tests.

 

And that is an old conundrum in cricket, at least as old as the 80s. Can a successful ODI player also succeed in Tests? Recall that Adam Gilchrist also started out as a limited-overs player and moved on to the Test set up, where also he enjoyed tremendous success.  For every Gilchrist, you also have a Michael Bevan or an Ajay Jadeja, ODI specialists who could not produce similar results in Test cricket. Virender Sehwag also debuted first in ODIs and had already struck his first international hundred when he debuted in Tests. The flipside of Sehwag is a player like Yuvraj Singh, who for all his flair has generally been unimpressive in Tests.

 

To date, it remains a fairly subjective call and depends more on the selectors’ sense of judgment. It is very difficult to gauge whether a limited-overs player can make the transition to Test cricket.  As the above examples show, it is not a question of favouring players with more orthodox techniques as a rule in this matter. Sehwag is about as unorthodox as Yuvraj and yet their Test careers are a study in contrast. There was scepticism when Sehwag was selected for the Test team in 2001 just as there was for Warner but in both cases, the selectors probably saw something that we the viewers cannot.

 

The next question is: Is it a valid approach to disregard performances in domestic cricket and select players based on IPL or Twenty 20 international performances? That depends on the strength of the domestic competition. If the argument is that Twenty20 does not test the defensive technique of a batsman, so too Ranji Trophy as it is does not tell us much about a player’s ability to adapt to conditions abroad.  

 

In both cases, the players should sent abroad as part of Emerging Players programmes and tested in alien conditions before being selected for the international team. But domestic record by itself is not necessarily always a sounder indicator of whether a batsman has the pedigree, so to speak. After all, a cricketer playing in the IPL may have to face Dale Steyn, which, even on Indian pitches, is more challenging than having to face Vinay Kumar in Ranji Trophy!

 

At any rate, Warner’s initial success in Tests suggests that the matter of discerning which prospects are Test class is not so straightforward. Instinct can guide experienced selectors in directions that may not appear very logical to viewers. We should of course be cautious on this subject for now and not jump the gun. Warner, Kohli & Co have a long way to go.  But both cases may well turn out to be examples of imaginative selection.

 

(Madan Mohan is a 26 year old chartered accountant from Mumbai. The writing bug bit him when he was eight and to date, he has not been cured of it. He loves music, cricket, tennis and cinema and writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake. He also writes a blog if he is not feeling too lazy at http://rothrocks.wordpress.com/)