Picking his ball … David Warner plays a shot off the bowling of Imran Tahir at Adelaide Oval on Thursday. Photo: Reuters
It is one of sport's uncommon delights to see an individual rebuild his self-belief, from rock bottom, out in full view. David Warner arrived at the second Test in much the same condition as the Adelaide Oval: half-complete, with an architect's impression of glory in his head, but basically a shambles.
His recent slump in confidence was real, even if the statistics helped hide it. Edgy in Brisbane, he was perhaps lucky to get out quickly. In 1997, Doug Walters said Mark Taylor's problem was he was batting for too long, drawing out his agony as he clawed his way towards form. Warner had at least avoided that.
On a perfect clear morning, Warner walked out, as out-of-form batsmen will, with an air of fake-it-till-you-make-it. The positive body language and the signs of intent were orthodox psychology, but what often happens is that the self-kidding soon runs out, and about 20 minutes into an innings, once the surge of bravado fades, the batsman is back in his rut.
Rewards ... There never seems to be anything wrong with Warner's game technically. Photo: Reuters
So it went, until Warner got lucky. In his third over, Morne Morkel bowled two fullish balls wide of the off-stump. Warner threw his bat at both, slicing one and middling the other to the cover boundary. Then Dale Steyn repeated the error in his fifth over, and Morkel gave Warner another. Warner's first six boundaries, all between point and mid-off, were not necessarily controlled, and he did not yet look settled, but on the scoreboard he was nearly 30, and sometimes that message from the scoreboard does what all the positive thinking in the world cannot.
The crisis in Australia's innings happened at the other end, prompted by Jacques Kallis taking the ball for the 11th over. In the next 16 minutes Ed Cowan, Rob Quiney and Ricky Ponting were out, and suddenly Warner's personal crisis was forgotten; he had a team crisis to attend to. It helped that soon after Michael Clarke's arrival, Kallis's brilliant spell of swing bowling became just a cameo. His hamstring did for South Africa's day what Adam Reynolds's hamstring had done to the South Sydney Rabbitohs' season.
By now Warner started to believe that if the morning was going to belong to anyone, it might as well be him. He punched defensively at Steyn, and his follow-through was barely complete when the ball was hitting the extra-cover rope. There never seems to be anything wrong with Warner's game technically. His balance, from head to toe, is natural, and he has quicker and stronger wrists than any of those clowns masquerading as boxers. More than most, because of his unusual approach to batting, the key to Warner's game is in his head. Most top-order batsmen follow the precepts of defending the good ball, making the bowler bowl to their scoring zones, and leaving everything else. Early in his innings, Warner likes to get off strike by turning any ball on the stumps to leg for a single. Anything well wide of the off-stump he swings at very hard, trusting that a mis-hit will fly over the field. In between those two zones Warner tends to leave, and when he is batting well he has the clarity of mind to leave the right ones.
A day of grand entertainment hit a high note after lunch, as Warner and Clarke put on a festive 100 runs in 10 overs. This was mostly a matter of the batsmen taking full advantage of some poor bowling. It was slowed by a probing spell by Rory Kleinveldt, who, it must be said, had earlier fully vindicated his captain's lack of confidence in him. A late replacement for the injured Vernon Philander, Kleinveldt had been fourth cab off the rank after Steyn, Morkel and Kallis, and had started with the same trundling short-pitched ordinariness as in Brisbane. But in the middle of the day, Kleinveldt troubled Clarke for several overs and put a brake on the Australians' momentum, leading to Warner's dismissal by Morkel. Kleinveldt had worked hard for his first Test wicket, and it was his bad luck that it fell to the other bowler.
Warner's job, by then, was done. It might seem perverse to judge a century in 93 balls by the ones he did not play at, but the same was the case with his lightning 180 in Perth in January. The success of both innings rested on his avoidance of the balls that could have got him out. When he did get out, it was to that very misjudgment.
By the end of the day, Warner was again feeling like the Test batsman he wants to be. His team had survived another near-disaster, the middle order was again cashing in, and, with their three best bowlers booking MRI scans, it was the visitors looking in need of renovation.