Almost two years after posting his 21st test century, Warner registered No. 22 when he flicked Pakistan leg-spinner Yasir Shah behind square for a single on Friday afternoon. He took off his helmet, leaped into the air, and then swung it around again before holding it aloft with his bat as he faced the players’ pavilion. Then he kissed it on the crest. People in the crowd of 13,769 at the Gabba stood and applauded.
There was no booing, like there had been when he scored centuries in the one-day format at the World Cup in England, which is where he returned from international exile following a 12-month ban for his part in a ball-tampering episode in South Africa in 2018.
Forgiven but not forgotten, he quashed any doubt over his spot in the Australian lineup after a lean Ashes series. By stumps on day two of the first test against Pakistan, Warner was 151 not out and Australia was 312-1, a lead of 72 runs.
Warner shared a 222-run opening partnership with recalled Joe Burns, who was out for 97 when he dragged the ball back onto his stumps attempting to sweep Yasir, and 90 with Marnus Labuschagne, who reached his sixth test half century with a boundary in the last over and remained unbeaten on 55.
The 33-year-old Warner had a reprieve — on 56 when he edged behind but a TV review showed 16-year-old paceman Naseem Shah had delivered a no-ball — and another close call on 93, when a direct throw hit the stumps as Warner slid his bat a fraction into safe ground beyond the crease at the non-striker’s end. He also had a life when a delivery from Imran Khan appeared to shave the off stump but didn’t dislodge the bails in the next-to-last over.
He faced more deliveries and scored more runs in one day than he did in 10 innings in the entire Ashes series, his first in the test arena since returning from the ban. Warner and Steve Smith — then the vice-captain and captain — were each suspended for 12 months by Cricket Australia and opener Cameron Bancroft was out for nine months after South African broadcasters caught a clumsy attempt to tamper with the condition of the match ball while the Australians were fielding in a test at Cape Town in March of last year. Bancroft was caught trying to scratch the surface of the ball to make it more favorable for Australia’s bowlers. Warner was widely viewed as responsible for hatching the plan. Smith was sanctioned for not doing enough to stop it.
In a country where the national cricket team is held in high esteem, it was considered inexcusable. None of the players challenged the severity of the bans, which were excessively harsher than anything ever imposed in international cricket for ball tampering.
Smith made amends by leading the scoring when Australia retained the Ashes in England. But Warner only tallied 95 runs in the Ashes, casting doubt over his status as Australia’s premier test opener. He responded the only way he could, crafting the century from 180 balls. He was on 149 when the new ball was taken in the 83rd over, and took a single to reach 150 from 257 balls after 6 hours, 10 minutes at the crease.
Warner said his time out of the game helped with perspective, spending more time with his family and realizing there’s more to life than cricket. “I don’t feel under pressure at all,” he said. “For me, it’s about going back out there and backing my ability. I’m back now and need to keep working hard, keeping being respectful of the game.”
Warner conceded the “Ashes for me was a failure,” in terms of runs, “but .... I wasn’t out of form, I was just out of luck. Today I had a little bit of luck.” Warner’s belligerence made it a difficult day for the inexperienced Pakistan pace bowlers, who didn’t get their lengths right on the bouncy Gabba wicket.
Naseem, the youngest player to make his test debut in Australia, finished with 0-65 from 16 overs and was bitterly disappointed after missing the wicket of Warner. He was bowling at speed of 148 kph (92 mph) in his first spell and troubled both Warner and Burns with some short-pitch bowling, but his pace was down when he bowled an over late with the new ball.
Yasir was the only bowler to get a breakthrough, returning 101-1 from 28 overs. Making things more difficult for the Pakistan bowling attack is Australia’s record at the Gabba, where they haven’t lost a test match since 1988.
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