Big hit Down Under prepares to go global
David Warner's spectacular strokeplay is key to Australia's hopes of finally succeeding at World Twenty20
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Wednesday 28 April 2010
Viv Richards used to empty bars when he batted, David Warner can clear streets when he comes to the middle. Residents of Rodney Bay are advised to keep a wary eye on the skies over St Lucia in the next couple of weeks while one of the world's biggest hitters is in town.
When he was in his teens, Warner once hit a century for his club that just about brought Manly to a standstill. "Balls were landing on roofs, car alarms were going off, people walking to the shops were getting injured. They had to chase balls down the road almost to the beach," recalled Alan Campbell, the high-performance manager at New South Wales, Warner's state side. He has continued in much the same vein ever since, hitting the ball hard and a long way. He struck his first 19 balls in international cricket for 50, finished the recent IPL with a strike rate of 148 and will open for Australia in the World Twenty20, which begins in the Caribbean on Friday.
Twenty20 is the glaring gap on Australia's CV. They were uncharacteristically slow to come round to the appeal of the shortest form of the game – there is a view among senior former players, Steve Waugh prominent among them, that Twenty20 should not be an international event, instead that it should be enclosed at domestic level. But following their failure at last year's World Twenty20 – like England, they didn't make it out of the group stages – Cricket Australia has had a rethink and the squad that arrived in the Caribbean earlier this week has a new captain in Michael Clarke, new players in the likes of Daniel Christian and Steve Smith, and "new ideas" according to coach Tim Nielsen (one of which could be fielding four out-and-out fast bowlers – Lee, Nannes, Johnson and Tait).
Warner is not a new idea, but he is without doubt a round peg for a round hole, a Twenty20 specialist – short, quick and compact, he is an outstanding fielder as well – who was recently overlooked for a central contract. Since making the most spectacular international debut last January – the first man to take the field for Australia before playing first-class cricket since 1877, he hit 89 from 43 balls against a South African attack of Ntini, Steyn and Kallis – Warner has won over India but not his own country, or more particularly his own selectors, either at state or national level. The 23-year-old has only played four first-class games for New South Wales and made the last of his seven one-day international appearances in Edinburgh last summer with his average stuck on 15.
IPL scouts spotted his potential as long ago as July 2008 and he was recruited by the Delhi Daredevils. His time in India could well prove the making of a player who was once sent home from the Australian academy for being untidy. He has lapped up the experience of living and playing alongside such diverse talents as A B de Villiers, Daniel Vettori and Paul Collingwood, with the England Twenty20 captain impressing the young man from Paddington with his application. Kevin Pietersen has made the point that one of the benefits of playing in the IPL is the chance to mix with, and learn from, leading players from across the globe – an opportunity that few England players have grasped. Alongside Warner in the Daredevils squad alone were three compatriots in Dirk Nannes, Andrew McDonald and Moises Henriques.
But there is one man in particular who has had a growing influence. A young Virender Sehwag is the player Warner most resembles for runscoring brutality – the Australian actually has a faster scoring rate in Twenty20 internationals (155 to 153) – and, prior to the injury that will keep him away from the Caribbean, Sehwag had become something of a mentor.
"He said, 'You will be playing Test cricket in the next two years and you will be taking over my record of most runs in a day'," said Warner. "He has scored 284 runs in a day and said he wanted me to get 300. It put a smile on my face and it's a challenge for myself."
Australia's selection panel remains to be convinced and his first task will be to hold down a place in the New South Wales side. In June he will play for Middlesex in the domestic Twenty20 – lining up alongside Adam Gilchrist – in another lucrative deal. In some ways he has the life that Andrew Flintoff has quit Test cricket to cash in on. Globetrotting around Twenty20 tournaments (back home he is one of the stars of the "Big Bash") has made him one of the better remunerated performers Down Under – he has just bought his parents a new apartment – but he desires what Flintoff had. "I want to play Test cricket," he said.
His game is a simple one – hitting freely around his front leg – but that does not necessarily mean it is a limited one. Like most smaller players – he is 5ft 7in – Warner is strong off the back foot. As a Twenty20 specialist he is an inventive shot-maker – switch-hitting is a speciality – but also drives well. His 66-ball 100 for Delhi this season was sprinkled with on and off drives straight out of the coaching manual. He will provide a potentially devastating opening partnership with Shane Watson, another who has prospered in the IPL this season and a player whose belated transformation into a Test match opener offers further hope to Warner.
Australia's struggle in England last year – they claim they were distracted by the Ashes – means they are ranked only ninth behind Bangladesh, who are also in their group along with Pakistan. This time, though, says Brad Haddin, they will "respect" the Twenty20 game.
"The way it is at the moment, it's taking over the world so you've got to show the game the respect it deserves," said Haddin before the squad departed from Australia.
What Warner so desperately wants is respect as a player beyond the Twenty20 boundaries that he clears with such crowd pleasing regularity.
*All-rounder with Aboriginal heritage, from the Wiradjuri tribe in New South Wales. The 26-year-old offers mid-order impetus.
*Leg-spinner, 20, who took the most wickets in the group stage of the Australian domestic T20 at age of 18.
*Aggressive right-arm seamer who was part of the Dutch side that beat England at Lord's in last year's tournament. The 33-year-old has IPL experience with Delhi.
*The 23-year-old has hit fifties in international Twenty20 games off 18 and 19 balls. Appeared for Australia before he had played a first-class game.
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