David Warner has wasted little time in demonstrating he’s brought his expansive game to the tour of South Africa by training his sights, initially at least, on the world’s top-ranked Test bowler, Vernon Philander.
Speaking to media ahead of the Australian team’s training session at Centurion, where the first Test will begin next Wednesday, Warner pointedly queried Philander’s effectiveness on, and preparedness to subject himself to, conditions that aren’t conducive to his swing and seam bowling.
Late last year, Philander replaced his new-ball partner Dale Steyn as the top-ranked Test bowler in the ICC world rankings having reached 100 Test wickets faster than any other South African (in terms of Tests played).
But when asked about the threat Philander is likely to pose on wickets which, judging by the lush, under-prepared practice pitches at Centurion following days of persistent rain on the Highveld, will have plenty in them for the bowlers, Warner couldn’t help but hark back to the previous series between the teams in Australia in 2012.
That was when Philander was a late withdrawal from the South African team with lower back stiffness, and was replaced by workhorse Rory Kleinveldt on an Adelaide pitch that was famously flat and enabled South Africa to hang on for a defiant draw.
Philander then recovered to play in the final Test in Perth – Ricky Ponting’s last match in which the tourists claimed a series win – where the Australian fast bowling complement that had toiled on the Adelaide deck had to be replaced in total due to injury.
“I would have like to see him bowl at Adelaide in that second Test when he apparently hurt his back and was bowling in the nets three days later,” Warner said today, ramping up the war of words that will doubtless gather intensity over the next week.
“On a flat wicket, who knows? But on a good wicket he’s very tough and will be challenging.
“We know that, we’ve seen the amount of dismissals he gets.
“I was watching (on television) yesterday the highlights of us when we played over here last in his first series, he was nibbling them about and obviously conditions were in his favour.
“If it becomes flat we’ve got to make the most of it and try to get on top of him, but if it’s green and seaming we’ve got to try and respect him as much as we can.”
Next on Warner’s hit list was left-arm orthodox spinner Robin Peterson who claimed two wickets late on the first day of South Africa’s three-day Test warm-up match yesterday, and who Warner claimed would be targeted in the same fashion as was England’s Graeme Swann during the Ashes.
Swann arrived in Australia acclaimed as the world’s premier off-spinner, but was so disdainfully and publicly manhandled by Australia’s batsman that he retired from all cricket, effective immediately, after the Ashes were decided in the third Test in Perth.
“Robin Peterson is a bit 'out there' and likes to get into verbal contests,” said Warner, with not a hint of irony.
“Sometimes, as a batter, if they've got that chip on their shoulder we're willing to take them down a bit more.
“I think that's a job we did very well against England.
“Any team that has quality fast-bowlers, we always try and take down the spinner.
“We did that against Graeme Swann.
“We know England tried to do that to Nathan (Lyon) and we tried to do it against Robin (Peterson) when he played against us in Australia (in 2011).
"We've got to respect him, and then when we feel we can go after him we'll go after him.”
Asked if that game plan might see Peterson not just removed from the attack but excised from the team, as was Swann, Warner aimed a glancing blow at the former England tweaker for good measure.
“I think Peterson might have age on his side, where he's not going to retire."
Having played his familiar role as number one pot stirrer, Warner offered an overview of how the mental and verbal battle against the world’s top-ranked Test team might differ from that which waged before and during England landed on Australian shores for the Ashes.
A primary difference, he claimed in reference to the number of England players who penned newspaper columns and maintained an endless Twitter commentary of their rapidly-unravelling tour, was that the South Africans were far more disciplined when it came to off-field comment.
Although this time his assessment was delivered with an acknowledgement that, as far as verbal engagement went, the Australians tended to remove their leaves from the England playbook.
"They (the South Africans) like to keep a lot of things in-house, they don't talk in the media as much,” Warner saud.
“They don't talk themselves up, which a lot of other nations probably do, including us.
“We try to get into a bit of a verbal war, sometimes it doesn't work, sometimes it does.
“But we've got to respect them, they're number one at the moment, they beat us in Australia, so we've got to come out and play our brand of cricket.”