David Warner was a bundle of nerves upon his Indian Premier League return but it didn’t show in Kolkata, where the suspended superstar blasted 85 to make an emphatic World Cup statement.
Chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns described the IPL as a “good test” for Warner and Steve Smith to see where they are at after a year in exile.
Warner, playing at the highest level he has since the Cape Town cheating scandal, showed few signs of rust in a 53-ball blitz that was a clear signal of intent in his first outing for Sunrisers Hyderabad this year.
The hard-hitting opener scored freely and quickly against a Kolkata Knight Riders attack featuring star spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Sunil Narine.
“(Normally) I am pretty chirpy in the change room (before a game),” Warner told Star Sports.
“I didn’t really say much (before this game).
“I was that nervous, I went to the toilet a couple of times.”
Warner helped Hyderabad to a total of 3-181, which Kolkata overhauled in the final over thanks to Andre Russell’s astonishing 19-ball 49.
Warner, branded ‘never to lead again’ as part of Cricket Australia’s sanctions following the Cape Town cheating scandal, clobbered three sixes and nine fours to show why he will be a key part of Australia’s World Cup defence.
The sacked vice-captain, now into the final week of his year-long ban from international cricket, was already expected to march into Australia’s 15-man World Cup squad.
The only question, which is becoming increasingly hard to answer, is where he will fit in the batting order when Australia start their campaign in Bristol on June 1.
The form of every batsman in the current ODI squad, especially incumbent openers Aaron Finch and Usman Khawaja, has ignited feverish debate about Australia’s first-choice XI.
Finch and Khawaja fired yet again in Sharjah on Sunday and Australia have now put on 60-plus opening stands in five of their past six ODIs.
Finch has admitted there will be some “really tough calls”.
Warner, having posted a grade-cricket century during his recent return from elbow surgery, picked up where he left off at Coogee Oval until Robin Uthappa plucked an astonishing catch.
Kolkata keeper Dinesh Karthik put down a leg-side chance when Warner was on 68, while a beamer from New Zealand paceman Lockie Ferguson tested out the Australian’s reflexes.
But it was largely trademark power hitting from Warner in a 118-run opening stand with Jonny Bairstow.
“If you look at the last couple of years, he was outstanding for us,” Hyderabad’s stand-in skipper Bhuvneshwar Kumar said of Warner.
“He’s won matches single-handedly. Having him back is good.”