For the Australian opener, the last few years have been a rollercoaster. After a brutal, historically poor Ashes series in 2019, Warner made more runs in his first innings back home than in the whole tour of England combined. A week later, in a second Test against Pakistan, he steamrolled a triple-century, an innings of iconic weight and heft that will live long in the memory. And then, those two tons in that series were more than he’d manage over the next three years. Not since the New Year’s Test of 2020, a pre-pandemic era scarcely recognisable, had Warner raised the bat in a Test for Australia.While the NSW great was emphatic in saying he had more to offer, others were starting to disagree. Cross-format concerns are often overstated, given the lack of transferable skills across continents as much as the number of balls to work with, but the IPL auction offered gently concerning news for Warner.Delhi Capitals, his second home since Sunrisers Hyderabad ended their long-term relationship, made a move which suggested they were hedging their bets with Warner’s future. The arrival of Rilee Rossouw is far from a death-knell for the Aussie but, given the presence of Rishabh Pant in the Delhi middle order, Rossouw’s easiest route into the side is at the top – he’s there to put pressure on Warner, and as one of the world’s most in-form T20 players, that pressure will be considerable.Today was a statement that Warner, for all the miles in his legs and technical critiques, still has the game and mentality, to cope with that pressure.In its own way, last night suggested what was to come today. It was classic Warner, leaping on a wounded touring team and punishing them at lightning speed. But even as the fading light met with fading Protea hope on Day 1, you’d have been hard pressed to predict what would come on Day 2. The hallmarks of a Warner ton were there throughout, showcasing a level of aggressive intent which few openers have ever managed to match. Thirty eight per cent of the balls bowled to him en route to his century were met with attacking shots, more than two boundary attempts an over; by the end of his innings, that had risen to just under 50%. It’s the sort of stroke play and assertive batting which sees Warner as the second fastest scoring Test opener the game has seen, second only to Virender Sehwag. It was an apt reminder that while few have managed to meet his level in terms of pure run scoring, and few have matched his pace, it’s taken a genius to combine the two.And while very few if any maintain the criticism which dogged the start of Warner’s career – that he’s a slogger without the defensive game to succeed in Test cricket – this was a perfect rejoinder. What stood out, though, was that while Warner carved and drove and looked for the rope with that remarkable frequency, he didn’t ever really lose control. Indeed, his first 100 runs saw just 9% false shots, the sixth most secure century he’s managed in Test cricket.Even in the prime form of 2014-2017, Warner has rarely been a player to hit straight down the ground until absolutely comfortable at the crease, and today was no different. Not until he’d passed 150 did he look to target the ‘V’, throwing the bat at a pitched up ball from a tiring Rabada. The other great attacking opener of the last 20 years, Chris Gayle, scored almost a third of his runs in that zone, but for Warner it’s down at around 15%. Instead, he feasts – and indeed today, feasted – on anything short, anything to go through square. It’s a method that has served him incredibly well down the years and returning to it, focusing on the strengths that have made him one of the greatest openers Test cricket’s seen in the modern era, brought him back to his best.There were landmarks galore. Eight thousand Test runs, passing Mark Waugh’s tally in the baggy green before the day was done. The 10th man to score a century in his hundredth Test, the second Australian after Ricky Ponting; the second man, regardless of nationality, to score 200 in that landmark match.At various times in his career, Warner’s presented himself in a range of differing, some might even say contradictory moulds. In the early days, the bull; aggressive, snarling, the leader of the pack. Later, it gave way to The Reverend, a becalmed version of the bad boy youngster, a vision of reform which, in an almost too great ironic twist, gave way to the images of Sandpaper-gate. Today – and since his public admonishment of Cricket Australia and their view of what a disciplinary process/investigation should look like – he looks like a man with little to lose.If you don’t want me, so what? I’ve got options.But even then, it was clear quite how much Warner wanted this – never more so than when it looked like he might fall short. The passage after lunch, prior to the arrival at his landmark, showcased the Warner we have grown used to seeing in the last few years. An excellent spell from Anrich Nortje, from that round-the-wicket angle from which Stuart Broad famously tortured the Aussie opener, briefly put Warner’s celebrations in jeopardy. Since the start of that series, Warner averages 30 against right-arm seamers from round the wicket, compared to 42 from over, and as Nortje cramped him for room, removed his scoring options, and threatened his stumps, you could see exactly why. The outside edge was beaten, a series of bumpers led to a pitch perfect yorker that was resisted by only the smallest amount of bat. After almost three years of waiting, it was a final threat for Warner to deal with, a final hurdle to leap. He got through it, just. Which is what he tends to do.As the evening came in, and the fatigue – induced by cramp, heat, emotional exhaustion – set in, it was hard to avoid the metaphor. A man fighting the effects of time, a level of greatness already achieved but brutally fighting on for one last taste of glory. This is what Australian Test cricket is supposed to look like. A hard, true surface getting better for batting under the roasting sun, opposition attacks flailing as two all-time greats get through their work in front of an impassioned, well-oiled Melbourne crowd. And, in recent times, Australian Test cricket is David Warner. Today is one to enjoy and appreciate, to recognise the familiar greatness, the flaws, the traits that have defined a generation of his game. It’s a day to remember that this is what David Warner was, for 100 Tests, for 25 tons – because even after a day like today, we might not get chance to see it for much longer.
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