David Warner made a welcome return to form with the bat with an innings of 125 against Queensland. (AAP: Albert Perez)
David Warner has put his Ashes struggles behind him — at least for the moment — with a first-up century for New South Wales in the Sheffield Shield.
It is the fulfilment of the return to form that, even during a historically bad Ashes series in England, was predicted to accompany his return to Australia.
Australia came back from England with the Ashes retained but much of the side’s batting line-up far less secure.
Warner’s 61 in the third Test was the only time he passed 11 in a series that also featured three straight ducks.
Australia’s best opening partnership of the innings did not come until the final innings of the series, and was still only worth 18 runs, with fellow openers Cameron Bancroft (44 runs at an average of 11) and Marcus Harris (58 runs at 9.66) also woefully out of form.
Their collective struggles meant Australia’s ability to get solid early partnerships to set up a successful platform was a major challenge and the top two positions in the order could be up for grabs.
So, with four rounds of Sheffield Shield competition scheduled ahead of the first Test of the Australian summer — against Pakistan at the Gabba — there was plenty of incentive for the batsmen to get off to a fast start.
Cricket.com.au tweet: Some cracking shots from David Warner in his 125 … and a trademark celebration! #SheffieldShield
In particular, Warner came into the Sheffield Shield season under pressure after a terrible Ashes series.
Aside from showing that he could not handle the bowling of Stuart Broad, Warner failed to make a real mark on the batting front.
Aside from that 61 at Headingley, the New South Welshman tallied just 34 runs in his other nine Ashes innings — the lowest total ever from an opener in a 10-innings series — and ended up averaging just 9.5.
Although his confidence had appeared to take a battering, there was always a suspicion that saying goodbye to the moving Dukes ball and a return to Australia’s decks would turn around his fortunes.
Whether correlation equals causation is not yet quite clear, but the early signs are good.
Warner’s first Shield innings was a marked improvement, with the left-hander showing patience and decent technique at the Gabba as he made his first long-form century in two years.
He struck 18 fours with a solid strike rate just above 56.
Warner reached his century on day two, prompting a familiar celebration. In the end, it took the part-time spin of Test teammate Marnus Labuschagne to trap him in front, ending his innings on 125 off 221 balls.
His century had added weight as it came a day after a trio of former Test players in the Queensland side all fell cheaply.
Matthew Renshaw (19), Joe Burns (13) and Usman Khawaja (1) would have fancied their chances of earning a Test opening spot before the season opener started, but struggled in the Bulls’ first innings of 153.
Vics off to a fast start
Victoria’s batsmen had a field day at Junction Oval, with Nic Maddinson getting 224 and Will Pucovski making 123. (AAP: Scott Barbour)
Meanwhile, Victoria’s Test hopefuls cashed in in a big way to kick off the summer, with the top three of Nic Maddinson, Marcus Harris and Will Pucovski all reaching triple figures against South Australia.
Maddinson’s 224 was comfortably the best of the bunch, although he was aided by 116 from Harris in their 220-run opening partnership.
The second wicket was worth another 193 runs with Pucovski, who scored 123 runs of his own. Pucovski was in the Test squad last summer before mental health struggles prompted him to pull return home.
So, should the Australian selectors be turning cartwheels at Victoria’s big start?
Obviously it is nice to see specialist batsmen in form, but this does come with an asterisk — the defending Shield champions were batting on a fairly placid pitch down at St Kilda.
It also did not help that the visitors were without their three main seam bowlers in Joe Mennie, Chadd Sayers and Daniel Worrall.