NEW DELHI (AFP): Love him or hate him, David Warner’s self-belief and single-mindedness has seen him withstand scandals and slumps to remain Australia’s key batsman at the World Cup.
One of the most polarising players in cricket since his international debut in 2009, left-handed opener Warner is the centrepiece of Australia’s batting order in the twilight of his legendary career.
He will turn 37 during the World Cup in India.
While unconvincing in Test cricket in recent years, where his position in the team has been the subject of immense scrutiny, Warner has maintained strong form in the 50-over format.
He’s hit the second most ODI centuries by an Australian batsman and scored over 6,300 runs overall at a healthy average of around 45.
With long-time opening partner Aaron Finch retired and successor Travis Head under an injury cloud, Warner will be relied upon at the top of the order in his swansong from ODI cricket.
Despite his critics lining up, a typically bullish Warner is determined to leave on his own terms having publicly laid out his retirement plans, where he also wants to exit Test cricket with a farewell match on his Sydney home ground in January.
“I probably owe it to myself and my family,” Warner said in June when announcing his future intentions.
“I’ve played every game like it’s my last. I enjoy being around the guys. I love being part of the team and being that ball of energy in the group.
“I’ll keep working as hard as I can to get there.”
If all goes to plan, it will be something of an unlikely fairytale ending for Warner, whose career looked over in 2018 after he was named as the chief protagonist of Australia’s humiliating ball-tampering scandal at Newlands in South Africa.
Warner received a 12-month suspension for instructing teammate Cameron Bancroft to use sandpaper on the ball and was also banned from leadership positions for life.
Much like his attacking batting, Warner hit back against the odds, returning with aplomb across three formats to maintain a formidable presence at the crease.
Short but nuggety, Warner’s strong forearms generate immense power, resulting in one of the most aggressive batsmen in cricket history.
“The courage to play his own way…the guts to take on the pace bowlers with the new ball, that is no mean feat,” former Australia captain Ian Chappell wrote in ESPNcricinfo recently.
“It’s something that he should be remembered for – not many have the courage to not only do it but to maintain that approach throughout a lengthy career.”
Ahead of the World Cup, Warner turned back the clock with a belligerent century against South Africa in Bloemfontein in a statement to those who have written him off.
“I saw some really good signs with David Warner in South Africa,” said former wicketkeeper Brad Haddin, who was part of Australia’s 2015 World Cup triumph alongside Warner.
“He looked like he wanted to take the game on and when he does that it takes the pressure off the rest of the batting order.
“I think he’s ready for a big tournament and a great finale.”
From wilderness to World Cup for Agar
After a historic international debut was followed by a period in the wilderness, spinning all-rounder Ashton Agar relied on resilience to fight his way back into the Australian team.
The left-armer looms as an intriguing option for Australia at his first 50-over World Cup appearance, a decade after he became a cult hero and broke a Test cricket record.
In the first Ashes Test in 2013, the then 19-year-old Agar was picked from obscurity after being selected ahead of incumbent spinner Nathan Lyon at Trent Bridge.
The wiry debutant stunned the cricket world by hammering England’s potent attack for 98 runs, the highest ever score from a number 11 and a record that still stands.
But Agar quickly fell back to Earth, dropped after the next match having lacked penetration with the ball and unable to recapture the heights of his swashbuckling knock.
Agar returned to Australian domestic cricket, but struggled with his newfound fame.
“He went through a period where there was a lot of self doubt,” Agar’s former teammate Brad Hogg told AFP.
Similarly as a left-arm spinning all-rounder, two-time World Cup winner Hogg served as a mentor to Agar, who was on the outside of the Australian team for more than two years.
“He came back from England and was deemed as a potential all-rounder,” Hogg said. “Maybe he concentrated more on batting than his core skill of bowling.”
On the famous pace-friendly WACA pitch in Perth, Agar honed his bowling in uncompromising conditions for spinners as he slowly restored his confidence.
– ‘More resilient’ –
“There is not much margin for error bowling on the WACA. He had to adjust his game,” Hogg said.
“He’s had ups and down but that’s made him more resilient.
“I think what he went through has built a stronger Ashton Agar.”
A rejuvenated Agar became a star for powerhouse Perth Scorchers in the Big Bash League through his accurate bowling and cavalier batting, providing invaluable flexibility.
He re-emerged at the international level in late 2015 and soon enough Agar played for Australia across the three formats.
Agar particularly excelled at short form cricket, proving a reliable performer for Australia in 69 white-ball matches.
But with Australia boasting a strong pace attack alongside frontline spinner Adam Zampa, Agar has been unable to cement a permanent position.
But on spin-friendly pitches in India, Agar presents a compelling case to national selectors as Australia seeks a first World Cup title in South Asia since 1987.
“You’ve got to play two spinners in India. He’s tall and can get extra bounce, which is suited to the Indian conditions,” Hogg said of Agar, who recently became a father for the first time and turns 30 during the tournament.
“He has ability with the bat and he’s a good fielder. The time is right for him now to really shine.”
Cricket World Cup factfile on Australia:
– WORLD RANKING –
– MATCH SCHEDULE (GMT) –
Oct 08: v India at Chennai (0830)
Oct 12: v South Africa at Lucknow (0830)
Oct 16: v Sri Lanka at Lucknow (0830)
Oct 20: v Pakistan at Bengaluru (0830)
Oct 25: v Netherlands at New Delhi (0830)
Oct 28: v New Zealand at Dharamsala (0500)
Nov 04: v England at Ahmedabad (0830)
Nov 07: v Afghanistan at Mumbai (0830)
Nov 11: v Bangladesh at Pune (0500)
– SQUAD –
Pat Cummins (captain), Steve Smith, Alex Carey, Josh Inglis, Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Mitch Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, David Warner, Adam Zampa, Mitchell Starc.
– LEADING RUN-SCORER IN SQUAD –
David Warner: 6,397 runs; highest score 179; average 45.04; Hundreds 20; Fifties 31
– LEADING WICKET-TAKER IN SQUAD –
Mitchell Starc: 220 wickets; best bowling 6-28; average 22.23
– PREVIOUS WORLD CUP APPEARANCES –
1979: Group stage
1983: Group stage
1992: Round-robin stage
– WHAT THE CAPTAIN SAYS –
“We want to try out a few combinations, a few different players but ideally, we have structured the combination we want to go about. As a captain, I want to get used to how to use my bowlers here.”
— Pat Cummins on the purpose of the three-match series with India on the eve of the World Cup