David Warner has depicted Joe Burns as his most effective opening partner since Chris Rogers, while conceding that the Australian selectors will ultimately have the final say over whether he is partnered by the Queensland batsman or the rising star of Victoria’s Will Pucovski.
The selection chairman Trevor Hohns made an extraordinary admission when announcing the Test squad, stating that Warner would be given a say in the choice of the opening combination after he and Burns provided a strong platform for the Test team last summer, following plenty of top-order misadventures during the 2019 Ashes series.
Hohns’ words in turn made Warner’s still more significant than usual, and while he couched his views with the usual caveats about the selectors, he left little doubt that he felt Burns was good value for his spot, particularly in terms of how the pair have complemented each other as players in a way he had not experienced since Rogers retired in 2015. Warner and Rogers opened together in 41 innings between 2013 and 2015, averaging 51.32 with nine century stands; Warner and Burns average 50.55 from 27 stands including six century partnerships.
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“I know you guys would like an answer. For me to be honest I’ve had over a dozen opening partners and it’s never been quite stable. I think they gave me the opportunity to ask me who I feel comfortable with, and when I was batting with Rogers we had a great partnership and…we bonded really well together out in the middle,” Warner said. “I think with me and Joe, we’ve done that over the past few years.
“I’ve known Joe for a long time, we’ve played out in the middle together, we know each other’s game very well, but it’s upon the selectors to pick the right person to fit that position. If they go the way of Will, he’s batting fantastic, he’s been in and out of the Test squad and he removed himself with some sad times with his mental stuff. So for him he’s in the right frame of mind at the moment, it probably is an opportunity for him to come into the team.
“But as we know it’s harder to get out of this team than get in, so whoever they go with, I’ll be well and truly happy with, as long as the person who comes in does their job. At the moment I didn’t think Joe did anything wrong last summer, we put on some great partnerships, averaged over 60 and that’s what you want from your opening partnership. It’s upon the selectors to pick their team and I’ve got to be happy with that and embrace it.”
Reflecting on how he and Burns had gelled, Warner said that their ability to start with a long partnership together in the first Test of the summer against Pakistan in Brisbane, after Warner’s personal hell during the 2019 Ashes, had further reinforced what was already a strong relationship.
“I haven’t spoken to Cracker [Hohns] yet, no, if they come to me and ask me, I’ll speak honestly,” Warner said. “But with me and Joe we’re good friends off the field as well, so having that support when you’re out there, I know last year we were both quite nervous when we were going into that first Test and then for him coming back into that team, not getting the opportunity in England, there’s a few nerves that float around.
“But we obviously know how to get off strike with each other, but that’s just normally what you do anyway as a cricketer – if Will’s there he’s not going to do anything different. So it’s about building that bond and relationship and we’re the two that go out there together all the time when we face up, so you’ve got to have that bond and partnership.”
Asked about criticism of Hohns’ suggestion he would be consulting Warner from the former Test captains Ricky Ponting and Mark Taylor, the opener said that his views were formed soundly on the basis of recent performance from the duo, even if Warner has been able to put far more individual runs on the board than Burns.
“They’re two guys who have captained their country. I’m sure they would have had a say in their teams as well. But obviously they were captains,” Warner said. “As I see it, I don’t think it’s just like the selectors are going to come and ask me. It’s just more of a preference in the sense of the amount of time I’ve spent with Joe Burns in the middle.
“Obviously we won a lot of games last year, so for me, you don’t really break something that is working, which is obviously the opposite to when things aren’t going your way and you’ve got to try and find solutions to problems. That’s the only thing I can sort of back that answer up with. As you say, when you get into the Australian team, you have to put numbers on the board and Will is an exceptional talent and a great player and he’s in the right mind-frame at the moment.
“This next sort of A game is going to be the tell-all. It could well be the bat-off for that position. It’s going to be interesting to see but the selectors will pick the team.”
Warner also reflected on how, at the age of 34, his game had evolved into a lower risk – though still free scoring – mode of batting. “I’ve just recently turned 34, so my days are numbered, when you’re in the 30s. There’s obviously a risk element but there’s a cricket smarts element to it as well,” he said. “For myself, it’s about getting off to a good start and taking calculated risks in that middle-overs period if we’re talking about 50-over games.
“I think last year was probably the most disciplined I’ve batted in Test match cricket as well. I faced a lot of balls in the games and gave myself a lot of time. I really took pride in the last 12-24 months, to apply that discipline and you keep learning as you get older.
“You don’t always have this game down pat. You’ve always have to keep thinking outside that square and bowlers have different ideas and ways of trying to get you out. You’ve got to be on top of your game to be able to adapt to that.”