How David Warner’s sluggish feet are impacting his form

David Warner resumed the IPL from where he had left off before the break—his form shattered, his morale tattered. Agonisingly for Sunrisers Hyderabad and Australia, Warner has not been himself for a while. After the slump in Ashes 2019, he bounced back with a triple century against Pakistan and enjoyed a profitable 2020, but this year, he seems to have reacquainted with the ghosts of two years back.

In seven IPL games, either side of the five-month break, he laboured for 193 runs at a strike rate of 108, his worst in any season, lost captaincy and was benched for a match. Even more worryingly, he has looked genuinely out of touch and found multiple ways to get out.

 

South Africa tearaway Andre Nortje opened him up like a professional would an amateur, or like a can of cola. The Australian opener shaped up for a predetermined get-away-from strike leg-side tap-in, only that he misjudged Nortje’s lightning pace, steep bounce and the hint of away movement the Dubai surface offers for pacers in the first few overs. The short-of-length ball took the splice of his blade and bobbled towards the point fielder. Swing and seam movement have been his familiar nemesis, but pace and bounce rarely so. In his best of times, he relishes both pace and bounce, the ball coming on nicely onto his bat. But he looks far from his best. The two previous balls illustrated the depth of his woes. He missed a fast but full ball, which a peak Warner would have thundered through covers, before nervously defending a good-length ball just outside the off-stump.

What is the trouble eating him?

One of his trusted allies seems to have deserted him. His quick feet, which usually bails him out of trouble, often compensating for his hard (but fast) hands. He doesn’t make giant strides, backwards, sideways or forwards, but his feet movement are swift, precise and decisive from the first ball he faces. But in all the three balls he faced against Delhi Capitals, his feet move sluggishly, a touch too late in responding to the synapses of his mind. A side-on frame of his dismissal captures the travails of his feet. As he makes contact with the ball, a touch early than he had anticipated, he is hopping, balancing just on his back-toe, front-leg in the air, and the bat-face pointed upwards rather than facing the ground. The front-on view shows that he is on the move, his head falling over, and not over the ball. Put simply, he got himself into a difficult position to play the shot, because his feet were not moving as fluently as they often do.

 

Was it an aberration?

Warner has played little cricket this year, a couple of Test matches in January, a clutch of Marsh Cup games, and seven IPL games. So maybe, he was rusty, not in peak match-form and fitness. Maybe, as the tournament progresses, he would rediscover the destructible Warner we know. But nigglingly, the same set of problems has haunted him throughout this IPL—feet not where he wants them to, head drooping, balance going off-kilter and subsequently failing to time the ball. Not always could his raw power and hand-eye coordination rescue him. The trouble is exaggerated when is facing really quick bowlers, like Nortje, Kagiso Rabada (who has nailed him four times in T20s alone) and Jasprit Bumrah, a telltale sign that his reactions are slowing down, bit by bit. It’s a larger concern because he normally plays (and flays) fast bowlers better than he would the spinners, especially in the subcontinent, where Ravi Ashwin, Shakib Al Hasan and Harbhajan Singh are among the top-five who have dismissed him the most in the IPL. So in the World Cup, to be played in the Emirates, it would be a trial by both pace and spin.

How bright are his comeback-to-form hopes before the T20 World Cup?

He would get at least six games in the IPL, considering that Sunrisers are short of batting firepower upfront. Jonny Bairstow’s absence is a definite largesse for him—had the English batsman not stayed back, Warner would have continued to bench-warm. Moreover, Sunrisers have been patient with him, affording time to revive the form of one of their biggest match-winners and personalities. Warner, too, has looked to plough through the trough, channelling inner strength from the tough times he had endured in his life and career. He’s a tough character, and would not go down without fighting tooth and nail to dust up his form. There’s a kind run-in of fixtures—Sunrisers encounter Punjab Kings and Rajasthan Royals next. Both sides don’t have the sort of bowlers that could torment them.

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