Australia's Usman Khawaja plays a shot during the
Australia's Usman Khawaja plays a shot during the

Selection gamble backfires as Warner 3.0 emerges

AUSTRALIA'S World Cup defence has kicked off with an ideal start, with a comfortable seven-wicket victory over Afghanistan.

Bigger challenges await, but coach Justin Langer will be encouraged in particular by the impressive batting display by opener David Warner and the strong showing by Australia's fast-bowling battalion.

However not everything went to plan, leaving some question marks ahead of next week's clash with West Indies.

Here's what we learned from Saturday night's victory.

SMITH, WARNER SLOT STRAIGHT BACK IN

By far the biggest question facing the Australian team leading into this World Cup was how David Warner and Steve Smith would be in their returns to the national set-up.

Having not played top-flight cricket, outside of a handful of Twenty20 tournaments around the world, at what level could we expect their games to be?

And, perhaps even more importantly, how would they be reintegrated in the team.

Steve Smith has slipped back into the team. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Steve Smith has slipped back into the team. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant) Alastair Grant

If it hadn't already been established, we can confirm it now: all is well.

Despite copping some treatment from the English fans, Warner and Smith continued their lively form from the warm-up games and looked at ease in the middle.

Smith was lively in the field, producing two moments of brilliance to rock the plucky underdogs - including a stunning run-out of Mohammad Nabi as he dived to his left at cover, scooped up the ball and returned the ball to Alex Carey behind the stumps to leave the veteran stranded well short of his crease.

Factor in, also, that he looked as cool as you like as he joined Warner in the middle - despite being roundly booed - while sitting back and rotating the strike as his former deputy chewed up the modest Afghanistan target.

For 12 months they've been cricketing pariahs, but they loom as the jewels in Australia's World Cup defence.

And while the boos will continue to rain down on them from hostile crowds, there's every chance this could backfire on the home fans - as the early indicators are that, if anything, Warner and Smith could be feeding off the hatred and using it to get back to their devastating best.

As Australia has found in the past in its battles with India's Virat Kohli… sometimes it's best not to poke the bear.

Usman Khawaja was out cheaply.
Usman Khawaja was out cheaply.

SELECTION GAMBLE DOESN'T PAY OFF

Australia's biggest, and perhaps only, selection drama leading into this clash was the battle for the No.3 spot.

Once it was established that Warner and Finch would rekindle their opening partnership, that left Usman Khawaja - the world's leading one-day runscorer in 2019 - to battle it out with veteran Shaun Marsh at first drop.

Marsh boasted a superior record in the UK, where he averages 59.2 and has hit three centuries, but ultimately Khawaja's form was irresistible and he got the nod.

"Usman's form in the last 14-15 games has been impossible to ignore," Finch admitted at the toss before adding, "so has Shaun's (Marsh) to be honest, but unfortunately he misses out."

With five top order batsmen - but only four spots to squeeze them into - someone had to miss out.

Unfortunately for Khawaja and Langer, the stylish 32-year-old was unable to capitalise on his opportunity - falling for 15 from 20 balls to Rashid Khan.

As ever, the left-hander looked in fine touch but given the closeness of the battle coming into the Afghanistan fixture you would assume there will be a finite number of low scores before Marsh's name starts to get mentioned at the selection table once again.

WARNER 3.0?

Australia once craved The Bull, David Warner's powerhouse persona which characterised his brutish batting at the top of the order.

Later, they were treated to The Reverend when Warner became a reformed bad boy who lost his chirp on the field but still churned out runs at an eye-spinning rate.

Warner celebrates reaching 50. Picture: AP
Warner celebrates reaching 50. Picture: AP

But against Afghanistan, in the biggest match Warner has played since being rubbed out of cricket for 12 months for his role in last year's ball-tampering affair, we were witness to a different beast entirely.

In bringing his half century from a patient 74 balls, Warner displayed precious little of the explosive qualities we've come to know him for.

He barely picked up the pace thereafter, finishing with eight boundaries as he carried his bat for an unbeaten 89 - instead letting skipper Aaron Finch provide the fireworks at a strike rate of 134.

There was an element of scratchiness in Warner's knock - understandable, perhaps, given it turned out to be his first ODI half-century in 20 months - but he proved determined, dogged and, dare we say it, mature.

With that level of application to his game, once the polish comes back Warner promises to again be a force to be reckoned with.

Is this THE third-coming of David Warner?

Pat Cummins appears assured a place in the Australian line-up for the first Test. Picture: AP
Pat Cummins appears assured a place in the Australian line-up for the first Test. Picture: AP

IT'S PAT CUMMINS' WORLD CUP

Four games into this World Cup and we've seen an early shift away from the pre-tournament belief that it was going to be hell for the fast bowlers of the world.

Already we've seen the West Indies taking notes from their 1980s forbearers with some fearsome short-pitched bowling to bounce out Pakistan for a mere 105.

Fast bowling was even a key part of England's thrashing of South Africa, with Jofra Archer and Liam Plunkett combining to remove the Proteas' top five batsmen - before Ben Stokes chipped in with two late wickets of his own.

Which all bodes well for Australia, given they boast one of the most impressive fast bowling battalions on the planet.

And while Mitchell Starc is Australia's best exponent of fast, swing bowling - there's no more dangerous quick on the planet when he's landing his inswinging yorker - this could well become Pat Cummins' World Cup because of the pace and bounce on display so far.

Well directed short balls from Cummins did the business to rattle the tailend of Afghanistan - after the 26-year-old had earlier removed the dangerous Hazratullah Zazai with one angling across the nuggety left-hander.

CONFIDENCE HAS RETURNED

The shadow of Australia's ball-tampering scandal has weighed heavily on the team for much of the past 15 months.

But suddenly, on the back of a win streak just prior to the return of their stars, Australia's confidence has been restored.

And not a moment too soon.

Former Australian star turned commentator Michael Slater gets a sense that things have turned around in a big way.

"That dressing room is starting to believe," Slater said in commentary.

"2019 is starting to turn around that belief system, because they've won more than they've lost and they did it without Smith and Warner.

"And now they've got those two champions back in the team. I think (Australia) will be right."