As Australia qualified for the Twenty20 World Cup semi-finals by chasing 158 against West Indies, the most important piece dropped into place with a click. David Warner is Australia’s defining T20 player, ever since rising to prominence with a pyrotechnic national debut back in 2009. His current captain, Aaron Finch, may edge him on career runs after 13 matches in the past year that Warner missed, but Warner has still played the most T20s for Australia. He more than anyone legitimised the format in Australia by crossing from it to become a Test success. All the while, he gathered more than 5,000 IPL runs.
In his most recent IPL season and his World Cup to date, his batting has done anything but click. His half-century against Sri Lanka was followed by a low score against England and an asthmatic wheeze against Bangladesh, unable to middle shots while needing to chase a small target at high speed to boost the team’s net run rate.
Against West Indies, at last, the click arrived. First by striking the spin of Roston Chase through cover, the area that has so often got Warner started in Test innings. Then the short length of the tall Jason Holder gave Warner something to get under. In his recent work he has not been game to take on the pull shot early in an innings, but here he lashed the midwicket boundary, then cleared it, either side of fencing a wider ball down to the fence at deep third.
From there it was Warner as we knew him, not as we have recently known him. Belting back past the bowler with a cleared front foot. Creating space to utterly smash spin over wide long-on. Utilitarian cut shots and square drives when the opportunities arose, then after notching his half-century, creating opportunities like a switch-hit from a slower ball from Dwayne Bravo that Warner had to chase right-handed across his stumps before thumping it over what had previously been backward point. The fact he ended up with 89 runs unbeaten was something, but the fact he scored them from 56 balls, at 9.5 an over, was much more important.
If Warner goes well, Australia’s approach of big top-order runs and a Test-style pace attack reaps the benefit. The pace of his innings gave freedom to Mitchell Marsh after Finch’s early dismissal, with the first drop taking eight balls to get a read on conditions before he started clearing fences. Marsh shaded Warner for strike rate in the end, dismissed late in the chase for 53 from 32 balls. As clearly the most in-form striker in the team, Marsh is central to Australia’s chances in the finals to come.
As is the continued work of Australia’s three premier quicks, especially Josh Hazlewood, bowling red-ball lengths with a few more variations. The approach looked great in the first innings when Starc got through the opening over for four runs, with the West Indies power merchant Chris Gayle blocking and leaving as though this was indeed the first morning of a five-dayer. It looked less good when Evin Lewis thrashed thee fours in a row from Hazlewood, followed by a Gayle six to take 20 from the over.
When Gayle hit another from Patrick Cummins, West Indies had 30 on the board from 13 balls. But Cummins cramped him for room next ball to squeeze it back on to his stumps and, just as important with a new batter arriving, Finch kept faith with Hazlewood. Giving him another over, reward came with the wickets of Nicholas Pooran, undone by extra bounce while trying to hit over cover on the up, then Chase, bowled by a superb delivery that swung away a touch from the right-hander before pitching and cutting back in to take off stump.
He followed up later in the innings by producing savage bounce to have Shimron Hetymer glove the ball through to the keeper on 27, then had the outgoing retiree Bravo caught down the ground: that first over conceding 20 was followed by three overs, four for 19. This has been Hazlewood’s power across 20 overs. Since his recall to this format last year, Australia’s most reliable Test bowler has gone at 6.8 runs per over while picking up 21 wickets in 15 matches.
Throw in the continued good work of the leg-spinner Adam Zampa, currently leading the tournament with 11 wickets after returning one for 20 from his four overs, and Australia’s bowling configuration has worked.
The overs of the fifth bowler remain a question and a vulnerability. But on Saturday, who should be stepping up to the bowling crease for the first time at this World Cup? Mitchell Marsh, chipping in with three overs for 16 runs. At the moment, there’s nothing he can’t do.