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AUSTRALIA V SRI LANKA TESTS

Warner finds right way to unravel spin

12 September 2016
Our voices

Opener discusses 'losing the plot' during form slump in Sri Lanka, and his unique method to counter spin

@ARamseyCricket
@ARamseyCricket

Andrew Ramsey is the senior writer for cricket.com.au. He previously wrote for the Guardian, The Australian, The Times, The Telegraph, The Hindu and Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack and the author of The Wrong Line.

On the eve of the series-deciding fourth ODI against Sri Lanka in the jungle centre of Dambulla last week, Australia captain David Warner ended his pre-game practice session in the nets by facing a handful of deliveries from local spin bowlers while batting right-handed.

It was by no means a patronising gesture, given that the teenage tweakers had regularly confounded the world champions' stand-in skipper as he searched for a way to shed the batting blues that had accompanied him since recovering from a fractured left index finger in time for the opening Test of this tour almost two months ago.

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A game that precipitated Australia's 0-3 failure to a vastly lower-ranked Test opponent, and which began a run of scores for Warner that up until that stage read 0, 1, 42, 41, 11, 68, 8, 1 and 10 across the red and white-ball formats.

A sequence that left the 29-year-old so frustrated that he faced up in the mirror image of the batting stance that has so tormented bowlers, fast and slow, from every other Test nation at some stage over the preceding five years.

Not because he had become so bereft of ideas that he was seriously contemplating a career as a right-hand batsman, but because he had identified the risk-laden reverse-sweep shot as perhaps the most reliable mode of breaking the stranglehold forged by hostile spin attacks on overtly spin-friendly pitches.

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And setting up right-handed allows him to focus on the technical aspects of executing the stroke rather than worrying about the intricacies of getting his hands and feet in the required order before the ball arrives.

"That was myself trying to battle my own demons, to see if I can still play the game of cricket," Warner admitted candidly in a one-on-one interview with cricket.com.au as the trying tour of Sri Lanka entered its final days.

"I’d lost the plot the last week and a half, it’s been challenging trying to get the ball out of the middle of the bat.

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"I’m trying to work on a lot of things which is hitting through the ball and I just felt I needed to practice the reverse (sweep).

"And when I do practice the reverse sweep, I tend to bat right handed just to get my head over my front leg and really extend out, because when you reverse you need to do that."

The drill might not have yielded immediate results as he scored 19 from 16 deliveries in the fourth ODI, where Australia secured the five-match series, before being bowled in familiar circumstances by another of Sri Lanka’s previously unseen spin brigade, left-arm orthodox bowler Sachith Pathirana.

But four days later, when the final ODI was played at Pallekele Stadium where the first wheels had wobbled loose from the Test bandwagon in late July, Warner finally tamed those demons to score 106 from 126 balls faced.

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Which despite being the second-slowest scoring rate (in balls faced) of his seven ODI centuries to date, represented a new high watermark for an Australia batsman in the 50-over format in Sri Lanka.

And which got underway with a reverse sweep to the boundary from the off-spinner Dilruwan Perera who had previously proved more of a thorn in Warner’s paw than those troublesome Dambulla net bowlers.

It’s a reason why the newly installed skipper, who has now handed back the captaincy role to its rightful bearer Steve Smith, believes that for all the frustration to have simmered throughout the tour, he will depart a wiser cricketer.

Which he hopes will hold him, and his teammates, in good stead when they undertake their next Asian quest on the four-Test tour of India next February and March.

"I’ve learned a lot about myself more than cricket," Warner reflected.

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"I think it’s quite challenging when you’re used to being in form across all three formats and then coming to the subcontinent and not being able to put the runs on the board because the wickets are challenging.

"You have to think outside the box.

"That’s one thing I’ve really tried to learn on the way (in Sri Lanka), and it’s been tough.

"I’ve learned about myself that you can’t go away from what your plans are, and my plans are still trying to take it to the bowlers.

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"But when I look back at the Test series there’s a couple of things I could have done different.

"I can go back and work on that, pending selection, going forward to India.

"There’s certain things that I might need to keep backing, and that might be sweeping and reverse sweeping.

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"We do it in the one-day format and the Twenty20 format, and that might be a way that I have to score in Test matches.

"At the end of the day, you have to keep backing yourself and the way to keep scoring runs for me might have to be that instead of defending all the time.

"Because I am a believer that if a bowler gets six balls (in an over) at you, then one of them has got your name on it."