As David Warner tapped his bat and gazed down the wicket, steeling himself for the first ball of the Nagpur Test, the veteran knew few chances to overturn his grim India record awaited him.
The start to his innings was about as comfortable as it gets for a touring opener in India; after watching a Mohammed Shami loosener fly a couple of paces clear of off stump, he fended the ball off his back foot and scurried through for a single.
Warner was off the mark and off strike.
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But 13 balls into Australia’s first dig, he was trapped on the crease as his off stump was ripped from the ground.
Provided George Bailey and company retain the 36-year-old for the next three Tests, allowing a champion to sail into retirement on his own terms, he can cling to several more chances to resuscitate his India legacy.
But regardless of the fortune or misfortune that may lie ahead, his window of opportunity is closing at a drastic speed.
After being castled for 1 as Shami charged in from around the wicket, Warner’s Test average on Indian soil is 22.88.
Shami hadn’t dismissed Warner in Test cricket before Thursday. In India, the left-hander has fallen victim to Ravichandran Ashwin more than all other bowlers, losing his wicket to the masterly off-spinner on five occasions. He’s also been scalped by Harbhajan Singh, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar on Indian pitches.
Those dismissals span tours in 2013 and 2017, won by India 4-0 and 2-1 respectively, and the first innings of the ongoing Test in Nagpur.
Through prolific numbers and spellbinding knocks, Warner has elevated himself to greatness.
Only six Australians have posted more Test runs than Warner’s 8133, and just seven have notched more centuries.
His 69-ball ton at the WACA was a beauty, as was his first-day century before lunch. There was his unbeaten 335, and more recently perhaps a career-saving double century at the MCG.
He’s also one of just 14 Australians with 100 or more Tests beside their name.
Not bad for anyone, especially a bloke vaulted into Australian colours without a first-class game in the bag, and almost universally pigeon-holed as a short-form slogger.
But Warner’s Test output in India stands in stark contrast to his heroics in Australia. Every one of the aforementioned innings — arguably the greatest knocks of his Test career — were carved out on Australian decks, and his average of 22.88 in India is dwarfed by his home average of 58.39.
Like Warner, destructive opening predecessor Matthew Hayden dominated bowling attacks on Australian pitches, averaging 57.88. But unlike Warner, the barrel-chested Queenslander thrived in India, averaging 51.35.
Relying heavily on a lofted straight drive and a variety of sweep shots, Hayden plundered 549 runs, including knocks of 203, 119 and 97, for an average of 109.8 on Australia’s tour of India in 2001.
A 1999 camp in Chennai under the expert eyes of Indian spinning icons Bishen Bedi and Erapalli Prasanna had sewn the seed for Hayden’s success on that tour.
Hayden, Allan Border, Dean Jones, Michael Clarke and Steve Smith are among the Australian greats renowned for starring at home and in India — a country in which careers are largely defined.
Australia’s second dig in Nagpur, and possibly the following three Tests, will buy Warner more time to overcome his struggles in India — a blight on a superlative career.
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