On day 1 of the 2019 Ashes series, when Australia came out to bat, Shane Warne made an interesting point on commentary. The legendary Aussie leg-spinner said that the booing from the crowd for the three cricketers who were part of the ball-tampering scandal will affect Steve Smith more than David Warner. His argument was that while Warner is a feisty, thick-skinned lad, Smith is a bit too much of a nice guy.
With nine days of Ashes past us, it seems clear that Warne was wrong. While Smith is piling on heaps of runs, Warner is in a rut. He has had three single-digit scores so far and has been dismissed by Stuart Broad on all three occasions.
So, why is there such divergence between the performances of these two players? The reason could well be the attitude of the two players to batting.
Everyone who has watched Smith over the years has observed his fidgety nature. The number of rituals he goes through before facing every ball is incredible. This over-animated style of Smith suggests that when he is out there in the middle, he is completely absorbed in the game and in his batting. Most probably, what's happening around him becomes unimportant.
Warner, on the other hand, probably, feels much more affected by the reaction of the crowd. As bizarre as it may sound, Warne may have got his psychoanalysis wrong. One merely needs to look at some of the past actions of Warner to realise that he is much more vulnerable to things happening around him while batting than Smith.
In 2013 also, during the Ashes series in England, the stocky left-hander found himself in the midst of a controversy after getting into a drunken brawl with Joe Root. Initially, he wasn't in the team but then was brought in for the fourth Test. When he walked out to bat in the first innings of the Test, Warner was greeted with vehement booing. Very early on in his innings, he edged a ball to the wicket-keeper and was dismissed. Yet, he asked for a review, only to be proven wrong. This decision to review despite having clearly edged the ball was probably due to the hostile reaction.
In 2014, during the first Test against India at Adelaide, the former vice-captain of the Baggy Greens got a hundred in the first innings but was dismissed in the second by Varun Aaron. The Indian bowler celebrated by screaming 'c'mon' many times. But it turned out that Aaron had overstepped and Warner got a reprieve. The pugnacious Aussie responded to this turnaround by shouting 'c'mon' back at the bowler in a ridiculing manner.
Even the way Warner batted in the World Cup hinted at a deep-seated desperation to respond to the negative behaviour of the crowd. Instead of the confident, free-flowing stroke-play that he is known for, the left-hander played in a very cautious manner. All these instances show Warner's sensitivity to external incidents.
So, while Smith is too caught up with his batting to think about what's happening around him, Warner has let the hostility of the crowd get under his skin. For all his bluster, the opener does not like to be targeted. This is the reason why the two batsmen have contrasting forms. Let's see if Warner can overcome this slump.