Is David Warner the Best Test Opener in the World Right Now?

Tim Collins@@TimDCollinsFeatured ColumnistMarch 4, 2014

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - MARCH 01: David Warner of Australia come from the field at tea during day one of the third test match between South Africa and Australia at Newlands cricket ground on March 1, 2014 in Cape Town, South Africa.  (Photo by Morne de Klerk/Getty Images)
Morne de Klerk/Getty Images

It was in 2009 that Australia were dawning on an uncomfortable new era at the top of the nation's Test order.

In the aftermath of the country's first series defeat on home soil for 16 years at the hands of South Africa, Australia waved goodbye to the most colossal of openers in Matthew Hayden.

The departure of the brutal Queenslander—combined with Justin Langer's retirement exactly two years prior—signalled the end of a glittering string of fluent Australian openers that had begun with Michael Slater's emergence back in 1993.

Although a strong middle-order comprising Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke remained intact, the absence of a combative force at the head of the innings left a somewhat more gentle feel emanating from a declining Australian side.

Four days after Hayden's final appearance, an unknown and diminutive left-hander was picked from obscurity to open the batting in Australia's Twenty20 International against the South Africans in Melbourne.

His name was David Warner. And the impact he would have was unfathomable. 

From only 43 deliveries, Warner clubbed a thunderous 89, annihilating the visitors' attack over the boundary again and again, in a manner more akin to that seen in Major League Baseball's Home Run Derby.

The then 22-year-old was the first man in 132 years to wear Australian colours without having played a first-class match—and he did so in outrageous style.

Five years later, Warner stands as an intoxicating blend of two of his fabled predecessors. Like Hayden, the explosive left-hander possesses an array of bludgeoning strokes, bullying his opponents with a belligerence that became Hayden's everlasting trademark.

Yet there's far more substance to Warner than mere strength. Like Langer, the now 27-year-old owns a tenacity, a ferocity, that is seeing him relish the gritty and combative aspects of Test cricket; evident in his mauling of both Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel in recent weeks.

Having learned that his natural stroke-play is enough to bury the attacks of the world's leading sides, the New South Welshman has reined in a degree of flamboyance and refined his simple technique to become an unrivalled weapon at the top of Clarke's re-born Australian side.

Indeed, a glance at the opener's record since the beginning of last year shows that Warner is currently operating at a level of his own. And no one else is even close.

Top 10 Test Opener Records Since Jan. 1, 2013:

David Warner16145614550.2074.4358
Chris Rogers13101111940.4447.1545
Alastair Cook1593013032.0642.5826
Graeme Smith1269623436.6359.7413
Murali Vijay1069516740.8846.7322
Peter Fulton1265213631.0437.8624
Hamish Rutherford1261117130.5558.9711
Shikhar Dhawan753418748.5469.2621
Alviro Petersen1150310629.5854.2613
Kaushal Silva548613954.0044.5413

Warner himself will look back upon his incident with England's Joe Root in mid-2013 as a turning point. Since that well-documented, public indiscretion, there has been a subtle shift within Warner. The indiscriminate and somewhat naive play that defined the opening years of his international career has been replaced with a feisty intensity.

It's a shift that has extended beyond his occupation of the crease. Between the wickets, Warner furiously scuttles like few others in the international game. In the field, he's beginning to chase the standard previously set by Ponting and Andrew Symonds in the point and cover region.

Emerging from controversy, an archetypal Australian Test cricketer has been born.

Yet the numbers only tell half of the story. Had Warner thrashed his way to such figures against Test cricket's lightweights, his stature in the game would have remained contentious.

But by doing so against India, England and South Africa for 15 of his last 16 appearances, the explosive left-hander's credentials are undeniable; the two latter teams own—aside from Australia—the world's finest bowling ensembles.

In this South African series alone, Warner has hammered three hundreds and two fifties from just six innings to average 90.50 at a strike rate of 86.74 against the world's previously peerless outfit.

However, despite his resounding success, the antagonistic Australian continues to polarise opinion; his truculent manner and regularly distasteful words in front of the microphone are a source of immense friction with opponents.

Critics will also knock the pugnacious batsman's glut of second-innings runs, eager to point out that Warner's dismantling of Australia's opponents has been predicated upon the large first-innings advantages set up by Mitchell Johnson.

There is, of course, merit to such an argument. The left-hander would likely admit to a craving for a greater quantity of first-innings runs, despite an emphatic 135 with his first effort in Cape Town. But Warner's ability to disintegrate an opponent cannot be underestimated, for teams often find themselves in a muddle when setting a total in the third innings of a match.

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - MARCH 04:  David Warner of Australia celebrates after reaching 100 runs during day 4 of the third test match between South Africa and Australia at Sahara Park Newlands on March 4, 2014 in Cape Town, South Africa.  (Photo by Morne
Morne de Klerk/Getty Images

The frightening part? He can only get better.

At 27, the aggressive opener is still eyeing his prime years ahead; the span between the ages of 28 and 32 often represent a fruitful time for a batsman, a time when the reflexes remain sharp but the mind calm.

Fresh from slaughtering the world's premier attack on their own turf, Australia's future rivals will be all too wary of Warner's potent threat, for right now, he's the world's most fearsome Test opener.


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