That all seemed an eternity ago on match eve on Wednesday as the current PM made a cameo appearance at Australian training in Brisbane for some glad-handing. In front of a horde of cameras and his sizeable entourage, Scott Morrison spoke with Justin Langer, Smith and captain Paine, Smith joking loudly after the interaction: “Can someone tell the PM that Sydney isn’t a pink ball Test?”
Warner and the other players practised in the background, while those formalities were going on before a final hit-out in the nets, which the former vice-captain hopes is the precursor to putting memories of Stuart Broad and England behind him this week.
“He hasn’t lost any of his appetite to score runs,” Paine said. “He’s still working as hard as I’ve ever seen him work and just watching him the last few days, he looks like he’s back to his best – the ball’s making a different sound off his bat again. He looks like he’s in great positions most of the time when he’s batting in the nets.
“I think the best thing and the most pleasing thing about Davey was during the Ashes when he was in the worst form of his career, he didn’t change a bit and a lot of players would. He’s got unbelievable self-belief and that’s his main strength.
“Obviously he didn’t put the runs on the board he would’ve liked. But I still know that he believes and we believe he’s a world-class opener. He’s played nearly 80 Tests and averages nearly 45 or 46, so I’d be expecting that to be back over 50 by the end of this series.”
A return to his prolific ways in Australia would set Paine’s team well on the path towards keeping intact an unbeaten record at the Gabba in Tests that stretches back more than three decades.
Paine insists, however, it is not just up to Warner to share the load with Smith. Marnus Labuschagne, who made a top-order spot his own after being a concussion substitute for Smith at Lord’s in August, is eager to clinch the maiden Test hundred that eluded him in four journeys past 50 in England, while Burns and Travis Head are out to impress after returning to a top six rounded out by Matthew Wade.
“It’s no secret during the Ashes we relied probably too heavily on Steve,” Paine said. “The rest of our top seven are really keen to score a lot of runs. Traditionally, we love batting in Australia. They’re higher scoring grounds than where we’ve just come from, so I know our batters are really looking forward to the chance to get out there.
“This country has had some real success on this ground. It’s a great ground to bat on if you can get in and spend a lot of time out there, so our top six and seven are really looking forward to it.”
Chris Barrett is Sports Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.