It’s been a big year for David Warner.
In January, he won the Allan Border Medal for the first time. Also in January he became a father for the second time, with the birth of his daughter Indi Rae.
In August, he captained Australia for the first time, leading them to ODI and T20 series wins over Sri Lanka. Also in August, he was named Australia’s Sporting Father of the Year.
In September, he smashed two ODI hundreds in South Africa, and in December he plundered back-to-back centuries against New Zealand in the Chappell-Hadlee Series. In all, 2016 has been a stunning year for Warner in ODIs: 1388 runs at 63.09 and seven hundreds. Only Sachin Tendulkar has made more ODI centuries in a year (nine in 1998).
Along the way, Warner has earned a new nickname from his team-mates. Once, he was the Bull, but they believe the Bull has been tamed somewhat by the responsibilities of vice-captaincy and fatherhood. He is now The Reverend.
And yet for all the white-ball runs that Warner has made in 2016, for all the personal highlights along the way, there is one considerable caveat: 2016 has been Warner’s worst year in Test cricket. With just one Test left in the year, he has managed just 604 runs at 35.52; prior to 2016, his lowest yearly tally was 788, scored in 2012, which was his first full year as a Test cricketer.
Warner’s only Test hundred of 2016 so far came in the first Test of the year, the washed-out SCG Test against West Indies in January. There, he blasted a quick unbeaten 122, but it was an innings of no value, for it came on day five as Australia batted for the first time in a match that was utterly ruined by rain. In 18 innings, he has only two half-centuries and that one hundred.
“It’s just a little bit of a cycle, I think,” Warner said on Saturday. “I go out there every time I go out to bat, trying to put as many runs as I can on the board. Same mindset, same sort of process I go through with training.
“At the moment I’m hitting them well enough in the nets and not making them in the middle. The tide will change. Many players before have experienced the same thing. I’ve just got to keep a level head, cool head and make sure that I watch every ball as hard and as closely as I can.”
One of Warner’s more surprising failures in 2016 came in his most recent innings, when he was beaten for pace by Mohammad Amir and pulled a catch on 12. It was the second innings at the Gabba and Australia already had a lead of nearly 300. Warner had license to look for quick runs to build a big target, precisely the sort of innings in which he has often thrived before.
“In the nets I’m hitting them well. But you’ve got to try and take that out on the field,” he said. “Sometimes you see a ball there that might be to hit, like the other day. Probably in white-ball cricket I wouldn’t think twice about pulling that ball, and the other day he beat me for pace.
“They’re just the little things that come into your mind, going ‘okay, we’ve got some runs on the board, I want to up the ante a little bit’. You can afford to do that. It’s just about execution, and the other day was a bit of poor execution. I’ve got to keep going out there and backing myself.”
And while Warner would love nothing more than to finish the year with a bang, history suggests it will be tough. Not only has 2016 been his least productive Test year, the MCG is his least productive Test venue. It is the only Test ground in Australia at which Warner has not scored a century, and the only one where he averages less than 50. His MCG average? 24.22.
Warner has so far played in five Boxing Day Tests and has managed only one half-century – he made 62 against Sri Lanka at the MCG four years ago. Last year, he made starts in both innings against West Indies but then fell playing his shots against short deliveries. Perhaps Warner would do well to heed the words MCG curator David Sandurski.
“Melbourne isn’t the sort of wicket where you can’t just go blasting off from ball one,” Sandurski said on Saturday. “You’ve got to take your time and get used to the conditions, because the weather here can be so inconsistent that it is hard to get a wicket spot-on. It’s a pretty good idea for a batsman to be cautious early before he gets going.”
A good idea in theory, maybe. But good luck preaching caution to this Reverend.