David Warner seals an important Test 200 for Australia against South Africa

Ahead of this year’s Boxing Day test, the competition was up to David Warner. Nearly three years without a Test century amid widely declining batting returns did not match the tone of the week leading up to the 100th Test match. But on the second day of the competition, Warner sucked up all the heat that was there, dragging the South African team into the oven with him.

He wasn’t out 200 when he came out with cramps near the end of a hot day. The South Africans had no such rest, bowling as Australia led by 197, the score at 386 for three with two injured retired who may return tomorrow.

Over a long career, no one has had reason to accuse Warner of not fighting. On Tuesday he showed it all in difficult circumstances. The results may indicate a sub-par bowling effort, but Enrich Norte in particular has been ferocious, regularly topping 150km/h on the pace gun and hitting 155. Warner hasn’t enjoyed a high-speed bowling encounter lately and has had plenty of tense moments, jamming on yorkers and deflecting the pillow or body. But he stayed put, finding a way to survive, avoiding short balls where he could play, and deflecting singles when the streak made it impossible.

Turning the strike all day frustrated the South Africans, especially with left-handers batting right-handers. Marnus Labuschagne was the only wicket-taker in the first two innings, running after being knocked down for 14 when he watched the ball in place of his partner. But then came Steve Smith. In 2018, South Africa broke Smith and Warner. In 2022, Warner and Smith smashed South Africa, adding 239 in the largest partnership of their long batting career.

Full of determination and patience, Smith made a long bowling on seven and another on 33, then came out of his lull in waves of surprising action, like lofting Keshav Maharaj’s first ball after lunch for six, or Lungi Najidi smashing a boundary from a haul and big on three balls. His 30th Test century appeared to be a formality, but South Africa in desperation brought Nortje back before a new ball was due, and Smith made a catch on 85.

By then, Warner’s 25th century was far behind him, and his third double ton was about to hit. His celebration when he reached his 100th was perhaps his most expressive in his entire decade of Test cricket, as he slammed his bat towards different sections of the stand. His reaction to the double was blissful exhaustion, arms spread wide, attempting to leap into the air undercut by a calf muscle cramp that would soon see him retire.

A jerky Warner is helped from the field. Photo: James Ross/AAP

It was a show that had the best aspects of Warner’s game: patience and build-up running through the wee hours, punctuated by occasional aggressiveness that became more common as players tired and the day went on. Punches through the point, cover pushes, whacks through long and wide, four running in ridiculous heat. As they once said about Monkey Magic, Warner’s nature was irrepressible.

The tactical nature of his innings devastated South Africa, as did the wider Australian tactics, choosing to bowl in the moderate heat on the first day largely to avoid having to do so on the second. The only problems they have are injuries: Nortje smashed Cameron Green with a right-handed finger and forced him to retire late in the day, while Mitchell Stark injured his bowling hand while fielding the day before. These two injuries combined could leave the hosts short in the third period.

That will be for a while, with more strikes to come. Travis Head finishes the day with 48 runs that he wouldn’t normally get out in the blink of an eye, Alex Curry is in the ninth, and Warner can return to bat on day three after an overnight rest and strays. In fact, knowing what we’re doing with his character, he’s probably just dying to do it. Joe Root is the only other player to score a double century in his 100th Test match. Nobody made a triple, and there were three days left to play. food for thought.

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