There is, no one will be surprised to hear, a cussedness to David Warner. A stubbornness born from a deep well of confidence that goes undiluted by criticism, by the doubt of others, or even by the realities in front of him. In part, like many top athletes, it is fuelled by those doubts, a pushing back against them. For the most part though, with Warner, it seems to be innate, a refusal to accept as real the limits that others might.
It was like this when Warner was picked for Australia’s T20 team having never even played first-class cricket for New South Wales. He couldn’t succeed, but he did. And the same when he was a T20 player coming into Test cricket, a gamble that could never come off, except it did. Hundreds flowed. They were mostly short and fast, showing that he couldn’t bat long, except he started to do just that. Then after his sandpaper ban, and his 2019 Ashes disaster, there was no way he could succeed as much as before, except he did. A triple hundred, an Allan Border medal, the unlikely achieved with typical Warner ostentation.
Coming into this southern season was more of the same. He had a poor couple of editions of the Indian Premier League. Got dropped by the franchise he was captaining. Hadn’t been touring for Australia. Had played two Tests in two years. Turned 35 years old. Failed in the T20 World Cup warm-ups. Maybe he was done?
But no. He was David Warner. Player of the tournament by the time that World Cup was done, Australia winning the final. Then back home for an Ashes series, walking out to start the second day in bright sunshine after England had been knocked over under the first day’s cloud for 147. Warner batting through until after tea time, returning with 94 runs to his name and a swelling lead for his team.
It’s not that Warner batted especially well in Brisbane. The point was that he didn’t, but succeeded anyway. It can seem that Warner has that particular power: like a daytime TV host telling you about The Secret, he wants what he wants so intensely that somehow it happens. And here it was, Warner bowled by Ben Stokes, nowhere near the ball, but getting no further than the non-striker’s end before being told that the bowler had overstepped.
Four times before in Test cricket, Warner has been out to a no-ball, recalled to the crease, and gone on to make a century. For most of the day it looked like his self-applied providence was going to make this a fifth. He was dropped at slip, a standard chance to Rory Burns who over time has proved less catcher than colander. He left his crease and slipped flat on his face, only for Haseeb Hameed to hurl overarm rather than gently underarm and miss the throw from short leg. Warner was swimming for his crease, freestyle stroke to get a glove back in his ground, but washed up safe. He didn’t enjoy facing Mark Wood, tested for pace repeatedly, wafting the bat at nothing.
In between times, he had his moments. A couple of forays onto the front foot to drive through the off-side. His signature shot of standing up as tall as he can manage to punch through point. Targeting Jack Leach to the tune of 31 runs from the spinner’s first three overs, Warner twice drop-kicking him over the fence down the ground. He was warming up for the series, out of tune, unconvincing, and he still made one of the match’s defining score.
The only thing that didn’t go Warner’s way was notching century number 25. He has waited a long time to pull out the Toyota jump, and would have enjoyed taking off. Instead he misread a slower ball from Ollie Robinson, spooning to cover, and couldn’t quite believe what he’d done. But then, by that stage, nor could England.
By contrast with Warner, nothing went England’s way. The drops and the misfields, as per standard. Ben Stokes diving for a boundary save and coming up sore, hobbling around the field and bowling a few overs innocuous compared to his first few. Burning DRS reviews on spurious calls. Marnus Labuschagne fluently ran up 74. Through the middle session, the body language slumped. Robinson stood with hands on hips, Wood scratched his forearms, Hameed at midwicket was a clothes horse drying a Test shirt. Joe Root spent the drinks break talking to Spidercam instead of his troops.
The tide did turn after tea, as Warner’s exit brought wickets. But the deficit was still 196 by stumps, with Travis Head’s century bringing Australia to 343-7. Two of Australia’s key three bats had got themselves into the series, while Steve Smith, out for 12, obviously felt the situation was not dire enough to require his intervention. His teammates had it well in hand. Warner may have missed this hundred, but he looks to have set himself up for the next.