White Ball Stud, Ashes Dud. Which is the real David Warner?

What are we to make of the differences between David Warner’s red ball and white ball form?

Over the past week, we have seen Australia easily beat Sri Lanka 3-0 in a T20 international series that was incredibly one-sided. With such a big margin, it is usually difficult to single one player out as the match winner, but all three man of the match awards were given to David Warner.

It is incredibly rare for the same player to win the man of the match award in all three matches of a series. It is unusual enough for the same player to get it in two matches in a row, and yet it happened. In the Ashes, Steve Smith won the man of the match award in two tests in a row, out of three tests that he played the whole test, and that was incredible. This was that little bit better, at least in terms of man of the match awards, with three out of three. David Warner is better than Steve Smith – at least in terms of man of the match awards.

While we could argue that man of the match awards are subjective, not objective, or that objectively Smith’s Ashes dominance was a lot bigger than Warner’s T20I series dominance over Sri Lanka, the fact remains that Warner did very, very well.

This is all the more significant when you consider just how bad Warner’s Ashes performance was. In 9 out of 10 innings he failed to get to double figures. While he got 61 in the other innings, it was an awful series for him.

But then we may recall that Warner had an incredibly good ODI World Cup return, finishing seconnd on the run scoring list behind only India’s Rohit Sharma, and winning the man of the match award in four out of the 10 matches that Australia played, with Australia winning seven of them.

All told, Warner has won 7 man of the match awards out of 18 since his comeback, an incredible 39% of matches he has played in. If we remove the 5 matches that Australia lost, given that players on the losing side are almost never given man of the match awards, it rises to seven out of 13, or 54%. Take out the drawn test, and it is seven out of 12, or 58%.

To say that that is incredible is an understatement. To suggest that he is out of form or needs to be dumped is foolish.

The question more is why was he as bad as he was in the Ashes?

What the hell happened in Sydney?

One theory is that Warner is not good at tests, but that theory ignores his test success, where, prior to the Ashes, he averaged close to 50 at test level, and was second to Steve Smith as Australia’s best test batsman, and was one of the very best in the world.

While Warner has always been better in the shorter formats, he isn’t normally the worst on either side in tests, then winning 4/10 man of the match awards and second highest run scorer in the ODI World Cup, and then winning 3/3 man of the match awards in the T20I series kind of difference.

We could explain the loss of form if perhaps he went from a poor test series to a brilliant World Cup and an incredible T20I series, but the problem is that the Ashes was smack bang in the middle of that rich vein of form, when he should have been doing really well, perhaps not as well as Smith, but it shouldn’t have been that big a difference.

One possible explanation is that, in the year away, he didn’t play any tests, and didn’t play very much long-form cricket either, most of them being 2-day matches or less, without the stamina required for test level. While Smith somehow psyched himself up for the Ashes, Warner for whatever reason wasn’t able to do it, perhaps because for Warner the shorter format is natural, while for Smith it is the opposite.

When Warner first played international cricket, it was in the T20I format, before he had even made his first class debut, and it was some time after that that he made the transition to tests. Smith, on the other hand, was playing tests soon after he made his international debut.

Or it could just be that England bowled really well, and that the Ashes was a bowler-friendly series. Marcus Harris and Cameron Bancroft, Warner’s opening partners in the series, did just as badly as Warner, while England’s openers for the most part did similarly poorly. Indeed, other than Smith and Labuschagne, Australia’s batsmen really struggled, while England had few batting stars either.

We will have our answer as to why Warner did as badly as he did when Australia next plays test cricket, against Pakistan on the 21st of November at the Gabba. It should be a match that Australia wins easily, at home at our favourite ground with the biggest win/loss record, so Warner should get big scores. If he doesn’t, then perhaps he really isn’t suited to test cricket and should stick to ODIs and T20Is, for now at least.

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