David Warner caps milestone Test with 200 for Australia against South Africa | Cricket

Before this year’s Boxing Day Test, the heat was on David Warner. Nearly three years without a Test century amid more broadly declining batting returns did not match the celebratory tone of the week leading up to his 100th Test match. But on the second day of the contest, Warner absorbed all of the heat that there was, and dragged the South African team into the furnace with him.

He was 200 not out when he limped off with cramps near the end of a scorching day. The South Africans had no such respite, bowling through to stumps when Australia led by 197, the score at 386 for three with two retired hurt who may return tomorrow.

Over a long career, no one has ever had cause to accuse Warner of lacking fight. On Tuesday he showed it all in difficult conditions. The scoreline might suggest a substandard bowling effort, but Anrich Nortje in particular was vicious, regularly topping 150km/h on the speed gun and getting as high as 155. Warner has not relished facing top-pace bowling recently and had plenty of nervous moments, jamming out yorkers and getting deflections into pad or body. But he kept facing up, and found a method to survive, evading shorter balls where he could and playing back and deflecting singles when the line made that impossible.

Turning over the strike all day frustrated the South Africans, especially with the left-hander batting with right-handers. Marnus Labuschagne was the only wicket in the first two sessions, running himself out after an overthrow for 14 when he watched the ball rather than his partner. But next came Steve Smith. In 2018, South Africa broke Smith and Warner. In 2022, Warner and Smith broke South Africa, adding 239 in the biggest partnership of their long batting career.

Smith was full of determination and patience, spending a long period on seven and another on 33, then would break out of his quietness in sudden flurries of activity, like lofting Keshav Maharaj’s first ball after lunch for six, or smashing Lungi Ngidi for boundaries from the pull and the uppercut in three balls. His 30th Test century looked a formality, but South Africa in desperation brought back Nortje before the new ball was due, and Smith steered a catch to gully on 85.

By that point Warners 25th century was well behind him, and his third double ton was coming up. His celebration di lui when the hundred arrived was perhaps his most expressive di lui in his whole decade of Test cricket, thrashing his bat towards different sections of the stand. His reaction to the double was one of delighted exhaustion, arms spread wide, an attempt to leap into the air undermined by the savage calf cramp that would soon see him retire.

A cramping Warner is helped from the field.
A cramping Warner is helped from the field. Photograph: James Ross/AAP

It had been a performance featuring all of the best aspects of Warner’s game: the patience and run accumulation through the initial hours, punctuated with occasional aggression that grew more common as the bowlers tired and the day wore on. The punches through point, the cover drives, the smiting through wide long-on, and the all-run fours in ridiculous heat. As they once said about Monkey Magic, the nature of Warner was irrepressible.

The tactical nature of his innings ruined South Africa, just as Australia’s broader tactics had done, choosing to bowl in the moderate heat of the first day largely to avoid having to do so on the second. The only problems they face are the injuries: Nortje smashed Cameron Green on his right index finger and forced him to retire late in the day, while Mitchell Starc injured his own bowling hand while fielding a day earlier. Those two injuries combined could leave the hosts short in the third innings.

That will be a while off, with more batting to come. Travis Head finished the day with 48 not out that he typically made in the blink of an eye, Alex Carey is there on nine, and Warner could return to bat on the third day after a night’s rest and electrolytes. Indeed, knowing what we do of his character about him, he is probably raring to do just that. Joe Root is the only other player to have made a double century in his 100th Test match. Nobody has made a triple, and there are three days left to play. Food for thought.

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