David, a Goliath among batsmen

David Warner, quick to decimate the best of bowlers, has been in prime form. Scores of 163, 116 and 253 in the current home Test series against New Zealand reveal a willow-wielder at the top of his game and at his marauding best.

David Warner, who scored a double century, leaves the field at the end of the first day of the second Test against New Zealand in Perth.   -  REUTERS

In the good old days, the dour opener, who embraced classical defence and negated fast first spells, was revered. But the winds of change were always evident — in Gordon Greenidge’s fiery bat in the 1970s and 1980s, and closer home, we had our own K. Srikkanth and later Virender Sehwag.

Even Sunil Gavaskar once shredded the West Indies pace battery led by Malcolm Marshall in Delhi in 1983, though the overwhelming image associated with him is that of an astounding batsman largely known for his impregnable defence and steady run-accumulation.

The fresh re-defined avatar of the opener, who is the quintessential destroyer of bowling attacks, got another round of poster boys thanks to the big-built West Indian, Chris Gayle, and the Aussie influx over the last decade and a half. Matthew Hayden in Tests, Adam Gilchrist in ODIs and David Warner, across formats, re-defined the art of batting. Hayden and Gilchrist have retired and their reference points are YouTube clips or All Stars’ matches in New York.

Warner, though, remains a clear and present danger. The southpaw, quick to decimate the best of bowlers, has been in prime form, and scores of 163, 116 and 253 in the current home Test series against New Zealand reveal a willow-wielder at the top of his game and at his marauding best. The double century, a sizeable portion of which was notched on the opening day at Perth’s WACA, was the perfect mirror to the kind of chutzpah and blitzkrieg that Warner fuses at the crease.

The monumental knock was charted over 409 minutes and that may hint at patience. But when it comes to the bare basics, you get stunned by the rapid statistics — 286 balls, 24 fours, two sixes and a strike-rate of 88.46! It also put in the shade Usman Khawaja’s elegant 121 besides setting Australia on a nice pedestal in a series that they lead 1-0.

Like all aggressive batsmen, Warner is blessed with a fine hand-eye co-ordination and his short but muscular frame packs a punch. He is harsh on anything pitched short and even if he lacks the aesthetic grace associated with left-handers, he is very effective as most bruised bowlers and harried rival captains would agree.

Warner has melded aggression with long tenures and it augurs well for Australia in the post Michael Clarke era. Along with skipper Steven Smith, Warner constitutes the lone pocket of significant experience in the batting line-up and, at 29, he still has plenty to offer. It is a nice position to be in but things were not always this rosy and assured for the opener.

When he first came into the Australian squad, he was seen as an outlandish Twenty20-doting individual. When he made money in the Indian Premier League auction, there were veiled disparaging remarks against him from the likes of Hayden. Warner eventually proved that he is cut from a different cloth and showed he could hold his own end up in Tests too.

Soon the critics ate humble pie and yet the much-awaited further flowering of his batting failed to surface. His ability was overshadowed by his caustic tongue, nasty sledging and, to make it worse, a drunken night that ended with him roughing up England’s Joe Root, an incident that almost made him an outcast. It didn’t help that he also got embroiled in a Twitter spat with a few journalists.

Just as he was being compared with his Trans-Tasman counterpart, Jesse Ryder, who lost his way in a haze of alcohol and temper tantrums, Warner sprung back with added vigour and discipline. The turnaround was remarkable, and teams ranging from India to South Africa felt the heat of his bat and now it is New Zealand’s turn. The vice-captaincy conferred on him is another reiteration that the Australian selectors see in him a reformed and remarkable player with leadership attributes.

With a Test average hovering close to 50 (49.10) at the time of writing this, and the added heft of promising numbers in ODIs and T20s, Warner, for now, is here to stay. Like a cowboy chewing gum and demolishing rivals with a twirl of the revolver in those Wild Westerns.