David Warner’s batting may be slightly different but his celebrations have stayed the same. (AP: Rui Vieira)
If you went to school in a certain era you’d know the thing I’m about to mention. Think of those rulers or cards or badges bearing a sort of hologram, where tilting it in one direction shows one image, then another changes it.
Tilt David Warner’s World Cup one way and he’s barnstorming, leading the competition with 447 runs, two centuries in the bag plus a couple of fifties. Back in town like he never went away, clamouring for the Lord Mayor’s job.
Tilt the other way and you see a player struggling, far from his best. Someone approaching the game with an alien hesitance. When Australia took on Bangladesh in Nottingham, plenty of commentators who’ve watched a lot of Warner for a lot of years had this second view.
ICC tweet: The unstoppable @davidwarner31 continued his red-hot form with a magnificent 166 while @Uz_Khawaja and @AaronFinch were also among the runs. Watch their best shots here! #CmonAussie #CWC19
If you think either of these things, I don’t think you’re hallucinating. It’s possible to be both at the same time.
Warner’s return to the Australian team for this World Cup was against the modest bowling of Afghanistan, and saw his slowest half-century in one-day cricket. He followed up with a slower one against India. A brisk 107 against Pakistan suggested he’d turned a corner, until he crawled to 26 from 48 balls against Sri Lanka.
Take scores of 26 or bigger, and that was the slowest he’s ever batted in this format. His 56 against India was the second slowest. And his unbeaten 89 against Afghanistan was eighth slowest, out of 53 such innings in his career.
Clearly something was up. Is up. May well be up again.
Against Bangladesh he also battled early. If you read over a scorecard you might think he smashed it: boundaries, a couple of sixes, reaching 50 from 55 balls. Yet watching it live he never looked quite right.
Cricket World Cup tweet: David Warner – 447 runs Shakib Al Hasan – 425 runs Aaron Finch – 396 runs Joe Root – 367 runs Rohit Sharma – 319 runs After that 147-ball 166, @davidwarner31 is at the top of the #CWC19 run charts!
There were moments, like a back-foot punch from Mashrafe Mortaza, or a swept six off Shakib al Hasan. But between those were miscues and prods; even a six hooked off Mustafizur came in a tangle of feet and lost balance.
And yet, through it he came. Past 50, past 100, on past 150. Turning a big day into a huge one. Able to maintain concentration, to not be flustered by the shots that didn’t work, and in between those to keep finding the ones that did.
When Warner was asked for his perception, “I’ve hit a lot of fielders” was his catch-all simplification. “I don’t mean to go out there and bat slow,” he said after play. “It gets a bit frustrating because you middle one and it goes full pace to the fielder and you can’t even get off strike.
“I got frustrated against India. I got frustrated against Afghanistan. And then today, Finchy kept telling me to hang in there and bat deep.
“It’s generally not my game to stick there, I usually try and go after it a little bit, come down the wicket or something. But must be a bit more maturity, I think.”
David Warner hit 14 fours and five sixes against Bangladesh but was not satisfied with the pacing of his innings. (AP: Rui Vieira)
Cricket World Cup tweet: One game, two stunning hundreds! #SpiritOfCricket #CWC19 #CmonAussie #RiseOfTheTigers
For all his struggles, Warner is getting results. Just not as slickly or quickly as he once did. Perhaps this is no bad thing. There’s something deeply satisfying about this version of Warner, craggy and weathered, battered and strapped, feral beard sprouting out the sides of his grille, facial hair an alarming shade of orange, elbow cased in its thick black bandage.
This is less The Reverend than The Revenant, out of the wilderness, mauled by a bear but dragging himself onward. There is satisfaction in seeing a player blessed with so much ability having to dig deeper.
And especially satisfying is seeing it work, seeing Warner not at his instinctive and dominant best but finding a way regardless, having the inherent quality to get a result.
There’s no way to tell whether he’s hampered purely by the physical game, or whether consciously or unconsciously he’s made his game a form of penance. His line about maturity suggests that is how he’d like to be seen. No one could be immune to the issue of perception: the worthy and humble innings of toil.
If his approach is going to work in this World Cup, it will be because Aaron Finch has gone the opposite way, back to his purring best after some well-documented struggles. Before Shakib took second spot back, Australia’s opening partners were the top two run-scorers in this World Cup.
Last week I looked at the way Finch has batted cautiously in ODI cricket. Warner has been his complement, with fast starts affording Finch time.
David Warner and Aaron Finch seemed to have swapped speeds during this World Cup. (AP: Rui Vieira)
Eight of Finch’s 14 one-day hundreds have begun with Warner, and 12 of Warner’s 16 with Finch. In 54 matches they have 2,645 runs, with seven century stands.
Perhaps this partnership is so complementary that it has now accommodated a complete inversion. In this World Cup, Finch has got off to flyers that allow Warner to settle. And with that foundation, Warner can go large.
The risk of course is when this doesn’t work: when Warner gets out and can’t compensate for an early grind. That slow 56 against India sucked the air out of a chase of 352 that needed nitro-boosting from the start.
Not every game needs a huge score, but if a knockout match does, Warner needs to be in a position to provide.
His hefty hundred against Bangladesh didn’t feel like a turning point, any more than his Pakistan ton proved to be. There was no moment when everything clicked. It felt instead like a player finding a way to succeed despite the limitations plaguing him, and a performance all the more creditable for that.
It’s not coming easy, and he’s ploughing on regardless. When Warner has come up against obstacles, even those he has liberally salted in his own path, he has so often found a way around or over or through. By this stage of the campaign, all that Australia can do is keep faith that he’ll do it again.