Everyone loves fairytale narratives. Cricket has a few of them. And they attract every bit of attention and eyeballs owing to the ‘feel good’ factor linked to it.
Muralitharan finishing with 800 Test wickets, Jacques Kallis scoring a match-winning hundred in his final Test and going past Rahul Dravid in the tally of all-time run-scorers in Test cricket, Ricky Ponting scoring twin tons in his 100th Test. They all made a special occasion more memorable like icing on the cake.
For David Warner, there were multiple reasons. It was his 100th Test, yes. But seldom a player has walked into his 100th Test match with such sense of uncertain future. He had not scored a Test hundred for nearly three years. Worse, not even a Test fifty in the preceding 14 innings. With important tours of India and England in the line up, two countries where he averages under 30, tension was building in the clouds that the 101st in Sydney could be his final Test. Add to it the salty drama with Cricket Australia about the leadership ban appeal. It affected both him and his family.
Warner had a lot going on heading into his special Test.
To break the rut of low scores, answer his doubters, and score a double hundred in front of his family sitting in the stands, Warner accentuated the relevance of his 100th Test.
And there is a good chance this was his final Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). In November, the southpaw said this could be his last 12 months in Test cricket. So when Australia play their next red-ball game at the G, Warner could be a former Test cricketer. It is a venue where he has smashed two centuries, averaging 44.5 before this Test. It is a venue at which every Australian cricketer dreams to gain accolades.
"I know when I'm at my best, I'm taking the bowlers on," said Warner in the build-up of the Test. That is pretty much what he did. The way he kept the Protea bowlers at bay rekindled memories of how he bossed them in Cape Town in 2014. That game, Warner amassed twin centuries, scoring 280 runs in the match at a strike-rate of 90.9, with 130 runs in boundaries alone - 46.4%.
It was a bit different kind of domination this time. 76 runs in boundaries out of his 200. 38% runs on boundaries. On one of the hottest days in Melbourne, he was running 3s like Speedy Gonsalves. The conditions were batting-friendly but it was like watching the old Warner in action, the one which has brought him the accolades of 100 Test caps.
The left-hander could have been run out on 48. Overzealous in his bid to run hard between the wickets, Warner sprinted to Marnus Labuschagne’s end on an overthrow when his batting partner struck a doubt. There was no way Labuschagne could have made it but seeing Warner at a point of no return, he tried his luck.
The inevitable happened. Labuschagne was run out. For an individual who has an insatiable hunger for runs, the disappointment was apparent on his face. But it was for a greater cause. A Warner run out when he was looking at his finest after a number of years in his 100th Test would have been such a pity and the exact opposite of a fairytale.
Labuschagne’s sacrifice provided Warner the only chance he needed in the innings. In the longer run, it also helped the veteran race his way to a double hundred and Australia accelerate.
The presence of a left-hander in Warner helped Australia neutralize the only spinner in South Africa’s attack, Keshav Maharaj.
Warner was on 77 when Maharaj was brought into the attack in the 32nd over. From there on, the left-hander accrued another 123 runs out of which 72 came against the left-arm orthodox spinner. Both of Warner’s sixes came against Maharaj, hinting at a clear usage of match-up which may not have been applicable to the same degree if Labuschagne hadn’t sacrificed his wicket for his partner’s cause. On an excellent batting pitch, it crippled South Africa further.
It is amazing how small things can create a significant difference.
It also enabled Warner to gain the much needed acceleration to double his score from 100*. As the day progressed in Melbourne, the 36-year old was cramping in the sweltering heat. It was visible in his celebration. His trademark celebratory jump took out the last ounce of energy left in him.
“I only did the one on my knees (the double hundred celebration because I knew I couldn’t jump but then I said stuff it, I'm going to jump and lo and behold my calf went on me. That was the last thing that kept me going,” Warner’s words after the double hundred clarify how special this knock was to him. He still didn’t want to leave. He had run out of vigour but not the appetite for more runs.
To cap it off, look at the records he created:
- 10th batter to score a hundred in the 100th Test
- Only the second batter to score a double hundred in the 100th Test
- First Australian to score a double hundred in the 100th Test
- The second batter overall to score a hundred in both his 100th ODI and 100th Test.
- 8th Australian to score 8k Test runs
Ricky Ponting is the only other Australian to score a ton in his 100th Test. Both Warner and Ponting did it against South Africa. Ponting went on to score a hundred in both innings of his 100th Test. Warner must have known he won't get another innings so he managed a double hundred in the first innings itself.
The innings roared ‘I am still here’ and did it in the most spectacular fashion possible.
“I don't feel 36. I'm running faster than a lot of youngsters. So when they catch up to me then I might think about pulling the pin,” Warner said after the match.