Warner may have the runs, but his strike rate has taken a big dip this World Cup
David Warner averages 74 currently after three knocks in the World Cup. His 148 runs so far though have come at a strike-rate of 71.84, which is the lowest for him ever across a series or tournament. And while there's been incessant talk over the last couple of days about how the generally-explosive Australian opener hasn't looked at his attacking best, the reason for it is because he hasn't been allowed to do so by the bowling attacks that he's come up against.
Skipper Aaron Finch was hit by a series of questions regarding Warner scoring his two slowest ODI half-centuries ever over the last 10 days. And he too hinted at his opening partner's lack of "flow" was a result of teams bowling better at him.
"The first game against Afghanistan, they bowled well to him and he just couldn't get away. India bowled really well at the start and he hit the field a lot," said Finch. So what does he mean by they've bowled well?
Since the time Warner burst on to the scene nearly a decade ago, his strengths as a batsman have always been a strong base, a great eye, the whiplash effect he's able to generate while striking the ball and the way his balance at the crease and stable hands allow him to hit balls on the up on most pitches.
"You have to remember that Indian wickets are quite low and quite skiddy with the new ball, which allowed him to use his hands and stand really still and hit the gaps," is how Finch summed up Warner's destructive spell in the IPL earlier this year after returning from the one-year ban. And it makes sense too, when you look at Warner's key strengths as batsman. But Warner's success as a batsman also depends greatly on him being allowed to use those hands, which is whenever there's any amount of width provided to him. Over the years, opposition teams have tried various tactics to stop Warner, from coming around the wicket to cramp him for room or on occasions bowling wider and dragging his hands further in a bid to use his strength to get him out. But Warner's generally found a way to still dominate.
But what the likes of Hamid Hassan from Afghanistan and the Indian new-ball pair have done successfully is come over the wicket and bowl into his body, tucking him up completely. Hawk-eye images show that nearly 70 per cent of the deliveries Warner has faced from the pacers in the World Cup have pitched around short of length an inch or two outside his leg-stump and gone on straight with the right-arm over-the-wicket angle. By being consistent with their tactics, they also managed to cut down Warner's boundary scoring options.
The fact that Warner's wrists are more concrete in nature and not as supple as say a Steve Smith or Usman Khawaja ensures that he isn't adept at manoeuvring balls coming at him from that angle through the off-side. The top-hand heavy grip on the bat doesn't help his cause either. It leaves Warner with only one choice, which is get in line and tuck them away through the square region on the leg-side for singles and twos, which he has done quite a lot this tournament. The West Indies started similarly and it resulted in him being indecisive while attempting a cut shot and playing it straight to the point fielder.
The tactic isn't lost on Warner though, and he has tried his best to coax the fast bowlers off their game-plan. He has tried taking a leg-stump guard, and standing nearly on the edge of his stumps, nearly enticing the pacers to attack his stumps with a fuller length - thereby getting his hands the ability to reach out - or even try bowling wider and trying to get him edging. They haven't quite caught the bait yet however. And because of his hard hands, the times he does try to somehow get deliveries through the off-side, Warner ends up edging them towards almost a second-slip position, and it's been evident from where teams have been placing their solitary slip fielder for the Aussie opener.
Finch put Warner's significant success in the IPL in perspective very prudently too saying, "You're not playing a club team, where you can find one target and target them really hard. Each team is super strong."
What teams seem to have realized is that the best way of dealing with Warner is not going at him, but rather waiting for him to come at you. To his credit though, except against the West Indies, Warner has managed to not get sucked in too often, and has found ways to score runs, even if they haven't come at the pace and intensity the world is accustomed to from him. And you couldn't disagree with Finch when he predicted that, "every evidence suggests he'll be back to his dangerous best."