Shane Watson is dropped for bad form in his last ten ODIs, spread out over more than a year.
Third ball of the match David Warner gets a short ball from Dawlat Zadran. He moves back into position. The ball should fly over deep midwicket. Instead it limps back to mid-on. Warner drops his arms in disappointment and then looks at the wicket, as if it has let him down. As if this lack of pace is somehow an affront to his personality.
This is, after all, Warner’s wicket. The wicket where he scored his Test high score. One hundred and eighty runs from one hundred and fifty nine balls. With a red ball. During the day. Wearing whites. Now he was after Afghanistan.
This is Warner’s WACA. And the pitch had better wake up and recognise it.
Can Aaron Finch, or the Australian top, middle and lower order, handle the swinging ball?
Eight overs into the match, Afghanistan has two slips in place. Warner has hit two boundaries. Australia have hit two boundaries. Afghanistan’s greatest bowler Hamid Hassan is bowling on cricket’s bounciest surface. At the other end, Dawlat is bowling a very tidy spell: four overs, one wicket maiden, and only 14 runs. Afghanistan have not landed any killer blows, but they are there, still.
First ball of the ninth over, Warner crashes a drive through the off side. Last ball of the over Warner crashes a pull through midwicket. The next over Hassan touches 145kph and then crashes into Warner three times.
There seem to be only four batsmen in the Australia side, and then gamble, gamble, gamble, and gamble.
In the first five years of his ODI career, Warner was ok. He averaged barely more than 30, he struck at 83. He had two ODI hundreds, both in one series against Sri Lanka. He had been in and out of the side.
In ODIs, David Warner hasn’t always been David Warner. Trapped in this limbo between T20 Warner and Test Match Warner, he has just muddled through.
Warner could bat like he does in Tests for 50 balls and like he does in T20s for 25 balls, and destroy most teams. But it’s that pacing of innings he has seemed to struggle with. In a game of role players, he’s never truly understood what his role his.
A strike rate of less than 100 would suggest he’s not been told to smash it from the start. And a conversion rate of two hundreds in his first 50 games means he’s not really playing for the long haul.
What should ODI Warner be?
There are three knockout games to come: can Australia win all three without a frontline spinner?
Pull. Pull. Cover drive. Pull. Pull. Slap. Slap. Pull. Cut. Cut. Drive. These are David Warner’s first 11 boundaries. These are Australia’s first 11 boundaries.
It is batting. There is little slogging. Warner waits for bad balls, he puts them away. On rare occasions, he gets impetuous and treats normal balls as bad balls for the hell of it. But this is just quality batting. Quality batting at over a strike rate of over 100. He has 79 off 68. Or, more importantly, 79 out of 109.
There is Steven Smith at the other end, doing a very good Damien Martyn ODI innings imitation, but he is barely needed. When Smith scores a boundary, it’s not a slap. It’s not a pull. It’s just a tickle down the leg side. It is the Rest of Australia’s first boundary.
Is Mitchell Johnson still capable of destroying entire nations with the ball?
It doesn’t matter how good your form or rhythm is or whether it is swinging or seaming: if you are a fast bowler, and the batsman is scoring off you at the WACA, you are going to bowl a short ball to sort the batsman out. That is your birthright on this pitch.
Hassan tried this with Warner. Around the wicket, trying to squeeze those muscular little arms, he dropped short. Warner clubbed it. It was more of a broadside at the Associates than anything the ICC is planning to do. Mid-on saw the shot and turned to retrieve the ball. It clunked its way down to long-on.
Hassan barely turned around to see it.
If the rumours are true, Pat Cummins might not play again this tournament due to an injury, leaving Josh Hazlewood with a few very important games for a man his age.
When Warner brought up his 100th run with an inside-edged single, Australia had not yet reached 150. It was barely 25 overs into the match. Warner had enough time to make another hundred. Maybe two more.
A few overs later, he was dropped off the bowling of Mohammad Nabi. It was a chance, a tough one that hit Afsar Zazai on the chest behind the stumps.
Warner had been almost mute in comparison with what happened next.
He swept a six. From the fast-medium stylings of Dawlat. You know what they say about it being hard to hit low full tosses for six? Warner suggests otherwise from the next ball. The crowd catches another one. The next one almost takes the hand clean off a small boy. When Afghanistan find the yorker, Warner finds the edge and still gets a boundary. When they miss the yorker, he just hits them for six. Afghanistan try full and wide, Warner ignores the straight and leg-side boundaries and just scores fours through point.
Warner had long ago taken down Hassan. In this period he adds both Zadrans, Dawlat and Shapoor. Dawlat never recovers.
For the second time, Warner hits 10 ten boundaries without Smith hitting one. Five of them are sixes. He bests his previous best. He scores Australia’s highest individual score in a World Cup. Australia are going okay against Afghanistan. Warner is ending them.
Is this Australia team really good enough to win the World Cup?
The ball flies straight up in the air. It stays up there for a long time. Nabi is under it long enough to finishing writing a prequel to War and Peace. The ball comes down with ice on it. It hits his hands, and tries to escape. Nabi holds it with as little of his hands as you can to take a catch. Warner is out; Afghanistan will not reach his individual score.
Warner has batted Australia beyond critical questions. He’s batted them into a beautiful land of pull, slap and crash. Warner makes 178 off 133 out of 274. Afghanistan make 143 off 225.