Aussies 'expecting the very best David Warner this week'
Australia captain Tim Paine says extra responsibility to score runs and stand in the slips with Steve Smith out will bring out the best in his opener
Andrew Ramsey at Headingley
21 August 2019, 07:14 PM AEST
Tim Paine has foreshadowed that the additional responsibility now borne by opener David Warner will bring out the belligerent best in the former vice-captain.
With Steve Smith ruled out of the third Ashes Test scheduled to start at Headingley on Thursday 8pm AEST, Warner assumes even greater importance at the top of his team's re-cast batting order.
The 32-year-old has played 76 Test matches for his country, which is almost the combined aggregate (93 Tests) of the other members of Australia's new-look top six.
But Warner has struggled for runs since returning to the team at the start of the series against England after a 16-month absence, and has been dismissed for single-figure scores in each of his innings of the campaign to date.
He has only experienced a similar run-drought once previously in a career that has netted him 6,381 runs at an average of 46.91, a vast majority of which (6,342 at 47.68) he has made in the specialist batting role against the new ball.
It's those remarkable numbers, plus the additional expectation that falls upon Warner in Smith's absence, that reassures Paine that his senior batter will step up against England's bowlers who have shown a clear plan of attack against the left-hander.
"Very confident," Paine said after Australia's main training session at Headingley when asked how bullish he felt about Warner returning to form.
"I've spoken a lot about the fact he averages close to fifty in Test cricket, and he's done that over a long period of time.
"I think with Steve missing this game, it might be the little poke and prod that Davey needs.
"He likes that responsibility and my experience with Davey is when people doubt him and his back is against the wall, he comes out swinging.
"I'm expecting the very best David Warner this week."
The only previous occasion during his Test tenure that Warner has recorded a similar string of low scores was in 2013, when he lost his place in the team at the start of that year's Ashes campaign in the UK and batted at number six upon his return.
As a result, his Test record on British pitches (574 runs at 30.21 from 19 innings with a highest score of 85) is notably different to his overall output, largely due to the difficulties posed by the Dukes ball which swings and seams more pronouncedly in English conditions.
In the current series, Warner's front pad and stumps have been targeted relentlessly by veteran seamer Stuart Broad (who has dismissed him three times) and newly capped fast Jofra Archer (once) bowling at the opener from around the wicket.
The ploy prompted former England batter Kevin Pietersen to note that Warner needed to adjust the position at which he takes guard when batting so he is better placed to cover deliveries fired in at his stumps, and to safely leave those that don't threaten them.
"It's not nice when a weakness is clearly being targeted, but you've got to put your ego to bed and make a change," Pietersen wrote in his online blog this week.
"With him (Warner) batting on the middle stump, he is leaving his stumps completely open.
"He doesn't know where his off stump is, so he doesn't know what to play. That's why he's nicking so many balls."
The other demonstrable change to flow from Smith's absence, with Paine indicating his belief that the ex-skipper will be fit to return for the fourth Test at Old Trafford, is the re-configuration of Australia's slips cordon.
While Warner had moved into first slip upon his return to the team this month, Smith took that role to spinner Nathan Lyon when only one fielder was required in a catching position behind the bat.
When Smith was unable to take the field in England's second innings at Lord's, Australia missed a couple of opportunities that flew from Ben Stokes' bat early in his knock and which proved costly as the England allrounder went on to complete an unbeaten century.
Paine said that while Marnus Labuschagne – who is expected to reprise his concussion substitute role on a more permanent basis and replaces Smith in the starting XI – boasts a strong slips-catching pedigree, he expected Warner would retain the post when Lyon is bowling.
"I think Davey will probably stay in there, and Marnus – for people who haven't seen him – he's probably as good a slipper as there is going around, and everywhere else in the field," Paine said.
"So he'll cover Steve with the fast bowling at second slip, and then we have Usman Khawaja who did pretty well (at slip) in Australia last year for Lyno.
"We've also got Matthew Wade who's a wicketkeeper and he can field anywhere, so we've got a number of options to go through that spot if we need to.
"But I expect Davey to go back there – he's allowed to have a bad day."
Mark Taylor, who was on hand at Australia's three-hour practice session at Headingley on Tuesday and spent a long time in conversation with Smith, believes Warner is still coming to grips with his new fielding post.
Having spent most of his international career fielding in front of the wicket – usually at mid-off, mid-on or in the covers – Warner is still learning how best to position himself and anticipate slips chances when spinners are bowling, and reaction times are shorter.
"One thing he's going to have to learn is getting his positioning right," Taylor said during Nine's coverage of the Lord's Test.
"The ones (off the spinner) are the worry for me, he's having trouble finding where he should stand with Nathan Lyon.
"Even in the first innings, when Steve Smith bowled his three overs, (Chris Woakes) tried a drive on the on-side that found the edge, and it went past David Warner's right hand.
"That should have been (caught) – if he was in the right position there, that ball hits him in the right foot.
"But he was so fine, because he probably hasn't fielded at slip for a leggie in his life. So it's not just about catching and ability, it's about finding the right spot to be.
"And at the moment, David is a work in progress."
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Moeen Ali, Jimmy Anderson, Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Olly Stone, Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia beat England by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Second Test: Match drawn at Lord's
Third Test: August 22-26, Headingley
Tour match: Australians v Derbyshire, August 29-31
Fourth Test: September 4-8, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval