If you were looking for rust that is usual when a batsman has been away from high-intensity cricket for a while, David Warner was not giving even a glimpse of that. His 85 off 53 deliveries for Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) in their six-wicket defeat by Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) on Sunday could well have been played by a batsman in the middle of a purple patch.
If you were looking for him to be searching for eye-hand co-ordination that made him a feared opening batsman before he was banned for his role in Sandpapergate in South Africa last year, the 32-year-old was not providing it. On the contrary, he used the first opportunity upon returning to the world’s most competitive T20 league to announce that he was ready to uncap his volcanic brilliance.
Warner was already IPL’s most prolific overseas batsman ahead of Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers. His knock of 85 off 59 deliveries helped him stretch the gap. But more than the mere numbers, it was the authoritative way in which he attacked the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) bowlers made him stand out, even after Andre Russell’s hitting saw the home team over the line in a close finish.
From the moment he hit leg-spinner Piyush Chawla through extra-cover twice in the second over, it was obvious that Warner meant business. And the manner in which he dealt with Sunil Narine and Kuldeep Yadav suggested that he was confident when playing quality spinners and as a batsman playing them from distant memory.
The reverse sweep that he welcomed Kuldeep Yadav with and the upper-cut for six off Andre Russell, springing high off his toes, will be etched in the memory of the fans in Eden Gardens and those watching images from the game. He was the dominant force at the crease, powering SRH to a huge total.
The immense power behind his strokes could be felt as the cricket ball blazed the Eden Gardens turf – or, in three instances, sizzled all way over the boundary ropes. The sound that his bat made on clean contact with the cricket ball was sweet and yet loud enough to be heard over the din by the Kolkata spectators.
He needed a hint of luck, but the rub of the green came his way only after he had passed the half-century mark. Dinesh Karthik was unable to pouch a gloved catch off the bowling of Lockie Ferguson. But few were grudging Warner that chance as he had already unfurled a variety of strokes to win over even the hardcore KKR fans.
He was toying with the home bowling, making each of them work hard to find the right line to bowl to him. It appeared that he won the battle in making then bowl more in hope than with the specific plan the team’s thinktank would have hatched for him in the run-up the game. He had honourably commanded that respect from the Kolkata squad.
It was an outstanding catch by Robin Uthappa at cover that stopped Warner from getting a century, but it appeared that the left-hander was pleased with bringing his whole range of strokes in to play on Sunday. It is not Sunrisers Hyderabad but also Australia who will be hoping that Warner, chastised and composed through the high-pressure game, will remain hungry in the weeks ahead.
It would be quite fair to say the pressure of returning to IPL, even if he had played 16 matches in the Caribbean Premier League 2018 and the Bangladesh Premier League 2019, would have been a great deal more than when he turned out for St Lucia Stars and Sylhet Sixers. And, coming with the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 not too far away, he coped with the pressure seamlessly.
With skipper Kane Williamson unavailable due to injury (and his old mate Shikhar Dhawan having moved to Delhi Capitals), the onus was on him to carry SRH batting on his shoulders. A century partnership with Jonny Bairstow and a brief association with Vijay Shankar showed that he was more than ready for the challenge.
It is this demonstration of mental strength that will have pleased Warner fans and caused some consternation among opponents taking notes. Warner was as eager as a rookie to show that he belonged. Yet, he would have been aware that his ‘comeback’ would be watched with great interest across the world.
For the moment though, it is clear that Warner’s love affair with IPL remains strong and he is motivated to deliver a great season with the bat. It was almost as if he had not missed a whole season last year as he was serving a ban by Cricket Australia and IPL decided to let him cool his heels rather than begin a journey as a T20 journeyman.
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