'Whenever we came off, we could make double and triple hundreds'
It's a unique bond that was borne out of their fellowship over hitting balls to the boundary more frequently than anyone before or after them. It was also a relationship that started with Virender Sehwag spotting the Test batter in David Warner before even he had done so & the mutual joy they've shared over each other's batting.
With Warner about to commence his final Test, it's only apt that Sehwag has a say on his former protege's incredible career & also how he's gone on to prove him right.
There's always been this narrative that you were the first person to tell David Warner during an IPL season in 2009 that he could play Test cricket. This is before anyone in Australia or Warner himself had believed it. Do you recall what it is you saw in him that prompted you to make that call?
When David Warner came to play for Delhi Daredevils in IPL 2009, he'd just made his T20I and ODI debuts. But the way he used to bat and hit the ball, I could see he had all the talent and the control you need in a Test batter. But what happens for a young player like him is that you don't have the confidence that you have the skills to play Test cricket. When I saw him, I was convinced that he would be better in Tests than he even is in T20 cricket. I shared this view with him, and he started laughing. He said, "I am so far away from Test cricket and in Australia it's so difficult to break into the Test team to start with." I told him, "You will enjoy it. It's made for you. In Test cricket, you have a powerplay throughout the day. In T20 cricket the powerplay only lasts for 20 overs." He started laughing and said, 'Then I'll certainly enjoy it".
Later, he went on to play Tests for Australia and messaged me saying he was so happy that I'd said that to him. I wished him well saying, "Hope you break all my records." And I think he's close to breaking all my records as opener. Except the strike-rate.
Except the strike-rate, exactly. Only you are ahead of him when it comes to that as a Test opener. Was it a particular innings in the IPL or you saw something in the nets that made you believe that this kid could play Test cricket and do it really well?
Just the way he used to bat in the nets or the way he scored a few 20s and 30s in that IPL, that's when I started thinking about him as a Test cricketer. There is a big difference between white ball and red ball. But it's all about your approach. If you are a player like Warner who believes that room outside off-stump is the same in both the shorter and longer formats of the game, and that you can hit that ball for a boundary, then you will enjoy Test cricket even more. Because you get to do it more often. That's when I felt like I should share my thoughts with him. He laughed it off but then once he did make it, he was the one who told the media that Virender Sehwag was the one who had said it first.
When you bat like you or David, there is always a lot of talk about the shots you play. But both you and he have had very strong defensive techniques too. Did you see that about him too at that early stage of his career?
Most players at the highest level have a good defence. Keeping the good ball out is a skill you expect all of them to have. But batters who are most successful are the ones who have the knack of turning them into opportunities to hit fours and sixes. David Warner has always had that. He always stood out as a result. He could always hit the good ball for a boundary. And being a left-hander, the right-arm bowlers had to constantly change their angles to stop him scoring or get him out, creating more opportunities. He never let them settle. He had the rare ability to block six good balls but also hit those six balls for boundaries.
You played against him during the 2011-12 India tour of Australia. Yes, he was in the opposition but it must have been a good feeling deep inside to see him play Test cricket just like you'd said he would.
I always admired the fact that he batted with the same mind-set as mine. When we played in that Test match in Perth (Warner smashed 180 in 159 balls, the quickest century by an opener at that stage), I told my bowlers don't bowl to him like it's a Test match. Bowl to him like it's a T20, stop him scoring so that he then gets out. If you can't stop him scoring, then he will never get out.
Did you have a chat with him during that series about what you'd said to him two years prior?
We didn't chat much off the field. But on the field, we had our own understanding. "Hope you're enjoying my batting," he would come and say after every boundary he hit. I would do the same when I was batting. After every boundary off my bat, I'd walk up to him and say, "Hope you're enjoying my batting." Nothing more than that. We would also do it very cautiously so that none of our teammates could hear us complimenting each other on the field while a Test match was on. (Laughs)
When someone bats like you or David, the criticism is also quite extreme isn't it. When you come good, people are all over you but when it doesn't come off, you also get written off more than the others. How difficult is it to deal with that lop-sided criticism, something only you and he have largely had to endure in Test cricket.
See, a batter can get out while defending the ball and a batter can get out while playing a shot. Even the most defensive-minded of batters has got out while playing a shot and every shot-maker at some point has got out while defending. Criticism is part of our life as cricketers. I had a discussion with David during the IPL one season where he wasn't scoring runs as consistently as always. I gave him a piece of advice. "People will say a lot of things about your batting. That's their job. Your job is to focus on playing the way you want to play and not the way everyone else wants you to play. That's where your strength lies." I told him the only way to shut them up is by being honest to yourself and letting your bat do the talking for you.
While it's incredible that both of you ended up with some amazing numbers in Test cricket, there are some who believe that your real value as batters should be measured by the impact you had on games..
I agree but impact is something that comes into question after the match. You can't think about it while you're batting. When I made that 83 off 60 balls in Chennai (against England in 2008), I remember my attitude that evening was I have to put every boundary ball away. We have enough players to save this Test but if my aggressive approach comes off at the top of the order, then we will be in a position to chase this down. I guess that's how you make an impact on matches and results. But again people call it an impactful innings only if it results in victories for your team.
You and David have also spoken about your own dismissals very differently to other batters. As in, both of you have this rare ability to contextualise in a way where you judge them based on what your intent was rather than the outcome. Warner spoke last year before his double-hundred at the MCG in his 100th Test about how going back to being his ultra-positive self was his best way of bringing the best out of himself.
When we play a bad shot, we also admit to ourselves that it was a bad shot. But we also then think that it was an opportunity to score runs and I got out in that attempt, which is fine. We won't go overboard with analysing it then. But there are times when we are also very critical of ourselves but at the end of the day, we back ourselves to execute the same shot better next time around. I might have got out a 100 times playing the cut shot, but I've also scored 3000-4000 Test runs with that square cut. Similarly, David Warner has scored loads of runs with his cut and pull shot but he's got out while playing them too. Our mind-set always stays positive. We don't focus on the dismissal but on how to make sure the next time we get that delivery, we hit it for a four or six.
It's quite remarkable that you two played the way you did and still managed to play over a 100 Tests. There have been so many "Test specialists" who couldn't do that. Both of you stayed true to yourself till your final Test.
It's important that we've known our own games very well. A lot of people told me if I changed my game, I could play for longer. But I always believed in staying true to my approach and David has done the same. He had a couple of lean years in between but I think that was because he did change his approach slightly and wasn't as aggressive as earlier. But you see how he's gone back to scoring runs once he's gone back to his true self. I remember even I had a bad patch in 2006-07 but I stuck to my guns and didn't succumb to all the advice coming my way.
The best part about being as aggressive as David and me is that whenever we came off, we could make double and triple hundreds. And as a result of that, you end up getting a few extra innings than others to find your form back if you do go through a tough phase.
No wonder both of you ended up scoring triple-centuries while so many of the classical Test batters didn't get close.
We always had that extra time to do so. But it was also we who created that time for ourselves by batting the way we did.
There is also always talk about players like you guys getting affected more than others as you age in terms of reflexes and even with your hand-eye coordination slowing down. Was it a challenge for you and have you seen it be a challenge for him too?
I don't think so. Just look at his last century against Pakistan. It was a big hundred. Basically, after a certain age, if you maintain your body and mind the way they should be, you can get through those natural changes. I agree that your eye-sight and reflexes can slow down, but you can work on them. David is such a fit guy.
I personally don't think he should retire from Tests based on the way he's batting. But as you age and get to 35-36, you start thinking about off-field matters, like your family and your kids. I can't see any issue with his reflexes or fitness owing to age. I think he's mentally decided that he doesn't want to play Tests anymore.
I'm sure he will continue playing T20 cricket for a long time to come.
I remember the time after your Test career ended, there was this big hole at the top of the order for India and the eventual resignation that they won't be able to find another Virender Sehwag. Do you see a similar situation with Warner in Australia?
I don't think there will be another David Warner for Australia. The fact that he's made 26 Test tons and has nearly 9000 runs after batting in the style that he has is extraordinary. How do you find someone else to do that? You might find someone who could pull it off over a handful of Tests but to do that over a 100 Tests is something else.
Is there a David Warner Test knock that jumps out as having been your favourite?
It has to be that 180 he made at the WACA against us in 2011. It was outstanding batting and he'd made the century by the tea-break and also finished the match off single-handedly by then. It was also an innings that summed up David Warner the Test batter, the ability to finish the game off like that and so quickly and what he's gone on to achieve is very special.