Ben Jones analyses a curious match-winning contribution from the Australian opener.
Yesterday, David Warner made a century at Taunton, his first since being banned for a year by Cricket Australia following his involvement in the South Africa ball-tampering scandal. His 107 (111) was probably the deciding factor in a game between two evenly matched sides. He batted through the early stages of a 10:30am start, under cloudy skies, on a cold English morning. It was an emphatically effective contribution.
However – the fact that it was Warner’s returning ton has driven the majority of the commentary surrounding the innings, far more so than the actual innings itself. Whilst nobody has gone so far as to claim this was one of Warner’s most masterful tons, the tone of much of the discussion was of talent and ability coming through, proving decisive as it generally does; bans are temporary, class is permanent, and Warner was too good for Pakistan.
Except, of course, he wasn’t. Whilst there were moments of Peak Warner ( a Lara-esque knee-up pull shot here, a bludgeon through the covers there), it is difficult to construct a detailed argument that he played well. He made a mistake – that is to say, played a false stroke – more often than once every four balls. Whether you view playing well as simply the absence of error is irrelevant, because this isn’t how Warner makes his runs. He has never made a century involving so much risk as the one he made yesterday.
To play a false stroke that often and still reach 100 is an outlier, and a significant one. In ODI cricket, roughly 16% of all shots result in a miss or an edge; on average, one in nine false shots brings a wicket. To play so substantially above that base rate of error, and still play the decisive innings of the match, is surprising. Indeed, since the last World Cup there have been 345 individual centuries made in ODI cricket, but only four saw a higher false shot percentage than Warner’s century at Taunton.
Whilst those clouds were ominous, and the setting was so stereo-typically conducive to swing and seam, there wasn’t an inordinate amount of either. Full and good length deliveries swung 0.7 degrees in the first 10 overs yesterday, and seamed 0.5 degrees; the average for all ODIs this year is 0.9 and 0.5 respectively. It may have looked unpleasant, and without question there was something in it for the bowlers, but these were not the conditions of touring batsmen’s nightmares. There is a reason that both sides were able to put on around 300.
This isn’t a criticism of Warner. It takes considerable mental strength to watch the ball fizz off the pitch and past your bat, time and time again, yet still maintain enough focus to put the bad balls away to the boundary. It is a tangible skill, and it is impressive to bring that skill to bear on what could well be a crucial match on the highest stage.
However, it doesn’t suggest that Warner Is Back. It doesn’t suggest that he’s going to charge through this World Cup, gobbling up runs like a bristling Pacman, consuming all before him. What it does suggest, is that Warner has been the benefit of good fortune, and as such it suggests that his level of performance isn’t sustainable. It’s the dullest term in sportswriting, but there will be, to some extent, regression to the mean. That level of risk won’t carry you very far.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.