In the end, the story didn’t entirely deliver for David Warner. But in the end, it delivered enough. For what has felt like so long in the compressed world of short-course cricket, Australia’s opening bat has been out of form, out of runs, out of time, and eventually just out. The one thing he hasn’t been is out of patience. Warner’s reservoir of self-belief is profound enough to hide Loch Ness’s secrets. When he faces a struggle, he endures it until it passes. As he has creaked and stuttered after a couple of difficult stints in the IPL, he hasn’t gone chasing runs with desperate swipes at the ball. He has waited for runs to come back to him.
In recent matches at the T20 World Cup, they have started returning. But in Thursday night’s semi-final win over Pakistan, it was rhythm that came back to Warner as well. It came back even while Shaheen Shah Afridi was running wild.
Australian cricket parlance enjoys phrasing a leg-before dismissal as having your front pad blown off, and Pakistan’s left-arm quick just about rendered it literal when bowling to Aaron Finch. He followed up by trying to blast off Mitchell Marsh’s boot, though Marsh got an umpiring reprieve.
At the other end was Warner. Nobody hits Imad Wasim: the left-arm spinner is a power-play specialist who to this point in the tournament had conceded runs at 5.23 per over. In this match he had gone for six from seven balls before Warner pulled him for a six that just kept going and going over the leg side. The movement sang: that familiar twist through the hips, the high arc of power. Next ball he backed away to lace through cover for four. Imad came over the wicket to change the angle, Warner used it to shovel a boundary over fine leg. The over went for 17, Imad was dragged, and a chase of 177 was genuinely under way.
The confluence of timing, mojo and hunger for runs was no better demonstrated than when Mohammed Hafeez got the ball stuck in his hand, dragging an attempted off-break down into the pitch so that it bounced twice on its way to the far end. Most players faced with a double-bouncer are sufficiently surprised that they don’t do much. Warner was off in a flash, running down, grounding his back foot outside the playing strip by the time he dipped his knees, got underneath it on the second bounce, and whacked it for six.
He kept toying with the spinners, shifting feet to fake at playing switch-hits as they delivered the ball, before using simpler methods like skipping out to lift Shadab Khan straight down the ground. The tentativeness, the rust, the caution, all of those markers from recent months were gone.
Shadab accounted for him in the end, the leg-spinner’s googly turning away from the left-hander’s bat to land in Mohammed Rizwan’s gloves with the first ball of the 11th over. Bowler, keeper, striker and umpire all thought there was a nick, and replays confirmed a sound, though they also showed it definitely hadn’t come from bat on ball. Warner was given out for 49 from 30 deliveries. He had lost Finch, Marsh, and Steve Smith on the way, and it seemed that his unfortunate dismissal had robbed him of the chance to drive home a win just as he looked so well placed to do it.
What he had done, though, was get Australia to 89 for four, better than half the runs required in half the overs. Glenn Maxwell fell trying to maintain the rate but Marcus Stoinis was able to absorb some quiet overs by finding the boundary just often enough. Needing 62 off 30 balls was stiff but, as Matthew Wade settled in and Pakistan’s spin overs ran out, the batting pair turned the pressure around. The end came in a rush, sixes flowing as the 62 ended up being scored from 24. The total partnership was 81 from 41.
Stoinis and Wade will get the plaudits, and deserve them. Still adjusting to the job of finishing an innings, they have twice won matches at this World Cup while doing it. Going into Sunday’s final against New Zealand, though, it will be at least as important to Australia to have their mainstay opener back at a proper tempo, going with the rhythm of the game rather than fighting it. A fast 49 wasn’t the full story, and a dodgy ending cut it short. But as it turned out, a start was enough.