He says only a select few get an opportunity to don the coveted baggy green cap, and when you do get that chance, you ask yourself how you are going to shoulder the responsibility of keeping an Australian legacy intact. Ask David Warner to describe his favourite baggy green moment and he will take you back to Brisbane – circa 2011 where he made his Test debut – a memory that gets him teary eyed. That is how much David Warner loves Test cricket. For someone as menacing and destructive in the shortest format of the game, the five-day game finds a special place in Warner’s heart.
From a young boy making a name for himself in coloured clothing to a man looking forward to scale greater heights in Test whites, Australia’s David Warner describes this fascinating journey in an exclusive chat with IPLT20.com.
Excerpts from his interview:
Though you were making a name for yourself in T20s, was there always an urge to don the whites as soon as possible?
As a kid growing up, you always want to play Test cricket for your country, and for Australians, it is all about getting that baggy green, which does not come easy. There is a saying back in Australia ‘Only half a person gets the opportunity in their life time to represent the country.’ And you always have in your mind as to how am I going to do this. For me, it was fun at the start in T20 cricket. I worked hard and I put in a lot of time and effort establishing myself as an ODI player and a T20 player. I went out there and backed myself, opened the batting and played with a lot of freedom. From there, I set myself a goal that sky is the limit. I never thought in a million years that I would be opening the batting in Test cricket for Australia. I always batted in the middle order in ODI cricket while playing for New South Wales, and later, I got an opportunity to open. From there on, it just exceeded my expectations.
Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer and many more have opened the innings for Australia in the past. Was there a bit of pressure to fill such big shoes?
Those guys have their own legacy. These are the guys that you look up to. Matthew Hayden scored 30 hundreds as an opening batsman, and Langer and Hayden are amongst the greats of our era. These are the guys who I look up to as batsmen. Not that I cannot look up to someone like Ricky Ponting or Steve Waugh, but those guys played in the middle order. For someone to have an average between 45 and 50 at the top of the order is exceptional. Graeme Smith, who just retired, is a perfect example; he averaged close to 50 as an opening batsman, which is phenomenal.
To try and fulfill your duties as an international Test cricketer, you aspire to be like Langer and Hayden. I want to leave a status and a mark on the game for the next generation of openers coming through. I am not about records or averages; I just want to be a part of the series we play and the wins we get. That is what our great Australian team from the last decade did. They won sixteen Test matches in a row, which is still a record today. Hopefully, one day we can be a part of something like that.
Tell us about your baggy green moment, when you received your Test cap from Michael Slater. Was it the proudest moment in your cricketing career?
Yes, it was. When I used to watch cricket and Michael Slater used bat, I was like, “Wow, look at this guy.” He was someone who would go after everything with an amazing back-lift and he was someone who took the attack to the bowlers. Then, you had the same kind of aggression in Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer, who had a long-lasting partnership for Australia, which changed the game. I think receiving that baggy green from Michael Slater was the pinnacle of my career, and it brought a tear to my eye because it brought tears to my parents’ eyes as well. They were at the ground when it happened. I was thanking the heavens for the opportunities I have got so far and also for what I have become and what I have done in my life till now.
Not the best of Test debuts for you, against New Zealand scoring just 3 and 12. But did that unbeaten 123 you scored later at Hobart make you believe that you belonged to the Test arena?
In that Test series, I had gone from one extreme to another. We were playing on a wicket that was green; it was dicey and I had to play a different role. I couldn’t play my aggressive style of cricket and I had to hold out in that second innings. I batted the whole day and held the other end. We got so close from so far, and I think it hurts the most that we didn’t win that Test match. It is definitely up there among one of the best knocks I have played in any format of the game due to my sheer approach to that innings, circumstances of that wicket and the situation of the game.
Seven centuries since, from a T20 specialist to a Test regular. How would you describe this journey?
(Smiles) It is almost like I am playing the same game, irrespective of the format of the game, and I am still playing the same way. But in Test match cricket, 90 percent of strokes are along the ground. You can transfer that into T20 cricket as well where you open the batting and you can play your natural shots. Your natural ability takes over. You don’t need to hit the ball in the air, but if it is there to be hit, you are going to hit it. I have actually learnt how to play T20 cricket more through Test match cricket by being calm and relaxed and not letting adrenaline take over. I think Test cricket has helped me with my T20 game.
The 2013 5-0 Ashes victory – where does that rank in your CV?
It is definitely up there. You look at that and go ‘Wow!’ As a cricketer, wouldn’t you love to do that, and that is what happened. It was surreal, like a dream. Doing that lap of honour in front of my home crowd, it is a moment that I am going to cherish and never forget. I couldn’t have written that on a piece of paper when I was 18 saying this is what is going to happen, because this has been a dream come true.
For a naturally attacking batsman, how difficult was it to modify your game to suit Test cricket?
The transition for a lot of people is different. A lot of people see it as two different games, but at the end of the day, you still have a cricket ball you need to hit and score runs with. Personally, sometimes I find it a little hard to switch from Test matches to T20s, because your technique is different and you have to try and hit the balls at 90 percent instead of hitting the balls with 75 percent timing. It is hard to make that transition, but in your mind, your instinct takes over and you know exactly what you have to do.
You shared the dressing room with Virender Sehwag when you played for the Delhi Daredevils till last season. What were his insights about your game?
(Laughs) He was talking to me about calmness. The funny thing with Viru is he is a guy who says it like it is, and it sounds so simple. He would say, “Okay, we are playing T20 cricket, you have two fielders outside the circle, you can hit a six or a boundary anywhere.” In Test match cricket, he is like, “Who is on the fence? No one! You have three slips, a gully and backward point, so go for it!” He would also say, “You are going to be a better Test cricketer than a T20 cricketer because you have got all the fielders close. But you have to choose the right ball at the right time because the swing and wicket conditions come into play.”
Virender Sehwag gave me the self-belief to tell myself ‘I can actually do this.’ I have made the transition now and I am happy for that.
How important has Michael Clarke’s role been in your Test career?
He has been an inspiration to me. He has been someone who I have looked up to not just as a leader but as a good friend, because he has always backed me and supported me 100 percent when the times were tough. During the Champions Trophy last year, when things were not going my way, he stood by me. I think I have a lot to thank him for the inputs he has given in my career. He has given me a lot of motivation to be the best I can. And that confidence he gives you makes you play the way you are.
Do you remember a T20 match that felt like a Test match?
It was when we played Sri Lanka in one of the ODIs in Australia. It felt like I couldn’t hit a single ball out of the square. Even though I got a good score that game, later on, it felt like I was playing a Test match because it was hard to hit boundaries. Sometimes it gets challenging in India because of the spinning conditions when it gets hard to score runs. You feel like you are not getting ahead of the game, but you might still be 30-odd off 20 balls. When you open the batting, you can get off to a good start, but when you play in the middle order, you have got to take more risks to score because there are more fielders outside the circle. It is at those times that you feel you are playing Test cricket instead of T20s.
How has it been working with VVS Laxman? How much of Test cricket do you talk with him?
VVS is very good with the way he structures his talk and the way he delivers it to you. It is almost like a gift the way you can talk to a youngster, especially as a player who has played Test cricket for such a long time. You listen to these guys and take in their knowledge of how they played and how they went about their careers and you can take away what you want from that. Youngsters look up to them as idols and they want to be like them.
VVS’ game was based on batting time, timing and fluency, whereas I am more of a power hitter. So the stuff that he says to me is all about being calm and taking it to the end. I talk to him about playing spin. VVS is tall and has a better reach than I do, whereas I have to play a little bit later and wait for the ball. He could go out there, lunge and sweep, whereas I have a different style of play. It is things like these that you have a conversation about and you try to implement them in your game. It is more about the intent to be hungry for runs. If you are not hungry for runs, it is not going to work for you.
What does David Warner want to achieve in Test cricket?
I want to achieve a lot of wins for Australia. For me, it is about winning games and I want to be the guy who is looked at as someone who won games for Australia. Averages and all that will be taken care of if I am winning games for Australia. I would want to leave the game when I think I have done enough for my country and when it is the right time for the next person to take over my position.