What is behind David Warner’s demotion to No.4 and what does it mean for his World Cup hopes?
@ovshake42 3 minute read
David Warner batted at No.4 in the third ODI against India, raising questions over his role in the Australia ODI XI, particularly with the World Cup set to be held in India later this year.
Warner’s struggles in India continued in this season’s Border-Gavaskar Trophy until he was concussion-substituted for Matt Renshaw during the second Test match. He averages 21.78 across 10 Test matches in India, and is unlikely to appear in the longest format in the country again.
ODIs, on the other hand, are a different story. Coming into this series, Warner had made 391 runs at 55.86 in the format in India, including two hundreds. Despite his recent failures in Test cricket, he was retained for the ODIs.
But Warner did not feature in the first two ODIs as he was not deemed fully fit, having sustained an elbow injury in the Test series. Australia opened the batting with Mitchell Marsh and Travis Head, both of whom attacked inside the powerplay.
They worked well as a pair. While no Australian has scored more runs than Warner’s 575 (average 41.07) in men’s ODIs since the start of 2022, Head (449 runs at 64.14) averages significantly more, and Marsh’s average (336 runs at 42) matches Warner’s. Head (107) and Marsh (103) also strike at a rate quicker than Warner (92) over the same period.
Both men also batted well, especially in Visakhapatnam, where they took only 11 overs to chase a low target. That led to an obvious question: if Warner does not open the batting, is there a place for him in the Australian ODI side?
If Warner plays as an opener, it will be at the cost of Head or Marsh, both of whom are in excellent form. If both play, Warner (6,030 runs at 45, strike rate 95) can still be part of the squad, as arguably the most high-profile reserve opening batter in the history of ODI cricket.
But as Australia demonstrated during the third ODI, in Chennai, there can be another role for him too. They picked Warner – perhaps to counter the left-arm orthodox spinners, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel – but made him bat at No.4.
Australia backing Head and Marsh at the top ahead of Warner in the same country where the World Cup will be played probably indicates that they are likely to go hammer-and-tongs inside the powerplay.
In his 142-match ODI career, Warner has not opened the batting only once until today – in a 2015 World Cup match against Scotland where the team decided to provide batting practice to the middle- and lower-middle-order batters.
Walking out in this unaccustomed position, Warner made 23 in 31 balls, the second-lowest score among the top eight batters, before Kuldeep Yadav beat him in the air and had him caught in the deep.
Of late, Australia have demonstrated a tendency to pack their side with all-rounders, at times at the cost of a specialist strike bowler or two. If they indeed bat deep, they are likely to pick at most five batters. At Mumbai, they went in with four (including Marsh, who seldom bowls anymore).
If Steve Smith bats at three, the lone slot available to Warner will be at No.4, a position where Marnus Labuschagne bats. While he has established his credentials in Test cricket, Labuschagne has not quite been the same batter in ODIs, as an average of 31.37 and a strike rate of 83 suggest. He has not scored a hundred in three years. Warner has certainly done better.
Warner’s role, thus, is likely to be a flexible one. He can be, based on requirement, at the top if one of Head and Marsh is injured or loses form, or a No.4, permanent or otherwise. If the conditions merit, he can even play as the extra batter in the XI.
To find Test openers who have found success in the ODI middle-order, one does not need to look far: KL Rahul has been doing a more than reasonable job for India.