IND vs AUS: Why David Warner has failed in India for a decade

IND vs AUS: For 18 masochistic innings, over a decade, David Warner has walked out to bat in India to eke out 399 unconvincing runs. It isn’t a surprise, then, that Australia are considering replacing him with Travis Head for the second Test at Delhi. It will be a surprise if he scores if played in Delhi; even that won’t wipe off what we have seen over the years. Just regression, not progression.

In a 2013 Test in India, R Ashwin wanted to switch over the stumps to David Warner. His captain MS Dhoni signalled him to go around. The young Ashwin agreed but after a few luckless overs, switched to over the stumps. Two balls later, Warner went for a sweep and heard the death rattle.

In 2017, Ashwin went for the rough outside leg stump from over the stumps. Warner actually side-stepped outside leg and realised, with surging levels of panic, that this was a silly thing to do: the ball was going to turn a lot more than he thought it would – and that it wasn’t going to hit his pad. And so, he chased it with his hands, body well away from the ball. No luck, out bowled.

Over the years, Ashwin has done him from both angles: over and round. From outside leg stump to spinning away from the line of stumps as the case was at Nagpur. From getting the ball to slide in with the angle from round the stumps to going full to beat the iffy sweep shot. Basically, he has toyed around with the Australian opener. A dipping full toss that doesn’t land on the pitch but on the stumps is the only manner of dismissal left.

There was one bright moment that the mind throws up from the Bangalore Test in 2017. Warner actually charged out to tonk Ashwin for a six. Soon, however, he reverted to the jeebies, with ever-increasing lack of trust in defense, he succumbed.

When Warner stops fussing about defence, he looks a much better batsman. And when he does, he is such an attractive batsman to watch that it is always surprising to see his reticence, which mostly leads to failures. No one is going to mind him seeing stumped or lofting; so much better than dawdling and stumbling around, which is his usual pattern in India.

It’s easy to see why he gets into repeated troubles. If he doesn’t use his feet, he hardly reaches the pitch of the ball. His lack of reach, and lack of big forward stride prevents him.So, he is seen tamely caught at the crease, pushing and prodding, either outside the line or against the turn. He thinks he can get his wrists to save him but he isn’t that wristy a batsman.

He talks the good talk about sweeping but doesn’t do it often.The concerns about the shot on turners obviously weighs on his mind and he rarely commits himself to it. Still, only a couple of his dismissals have come on sweep shots against Ashwin – and once in Bangalore, it could be argued that the point of impact was outside off. But such are the self-doubts that he doesn’t commit himself to any weapon.

The fear is in the mind – the rough, against the turn, the bounce.All come into it, of course, but do you reckon Matthew Hayden would have succumbed to all those doubts?

With Ashwin his troubles escalate, as he doesn’t have the wrists and the game to manoeuvre him to the on side for rotation of strike. He is almost locked in the crease, shutter down on one side of the pitch, and with increasing levels of claustrophobia. He is a batsman who loves the classical side-on, beside the line position. To seam and spin. It makes him attractive to watch but a sitting duck against the turning ball. Without the footwork to accompany it, being beside the line leaves him perennially chasing the ball. He tries to follow the ball with his hands but invariably ends up chasing it away from the body, which is no good.

Even his quotes reflect a pattern of self-doubts. Ahead of a series to India or Sri Lanka, he will talk about the need for patience. Mid-way, after a couple of failures, he will say one needs to attack. Rinse, repeat the self-doubts.

In 2016, on a tour of Sri Lanka, Warner cleared his throat: “You’ve got to be patient enough. They’re (boundary balls) the ones you’ve got to really wait on. You’ve got to bite the bullet.” That didn’t last long. A month later, after some failures, here is what he said. “You got to think out of the box. If you defend, one’s got your name on it, and one’s going to straighten… You’re sitting duck when you’re facing six balls in a row.

Same thing in 2017 India. Patience talk. Then how he needs to attack Ashwin. Didn’t work.

Forget India, the reticence to attack has happened to him even elsewhere in the past. So much so that his mentors have had to remind him of his own aggressive talent.

At the start of the 2013-14 season, after a fallow run in which he failed to reach a hundred in 23 innings, Trent Woodhill, a renowned batting coach, took Warner to a café in Sydney for a chat about exactly this tendency. The crux of that talk was – ‘Attack the balls there to be hit and defence would look after itself.”

Apparently, so the story goes, that the then coach Mickey Arthur had wanted Warner to strengthen his defense, triggering a mini-slump. In Woodhill’s telling, Warner the batsman is a different beast at the crease once he starts thinking about attacking. He turns busy, the footwork turns more like a boxer’s and he is ready to punch.

That is indeed the case. But one suspects even that might not work in India. Still, no one is going to mind Warner getting out stumped, or getting out attempting a big shot. This tuk-tuk business of being caught stuck at the crease is the worst disservice he can do to himself, and to Australia. But it seems now, it may no longer be his call. Travis Head is breathing down the neck. The Australian fans might rate Warner high based on what he has done back home, but for many in the cricketing world, Warner the Test batsman doesn’t trigger much reverence.

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