By Nick Said
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - From bar room brawler to test match troubadour, cricketing bad boy David Warner has made a swift transition into one of the sport's extraordinary talents and brought a new dynamism to opening the batting in tests.
Once seen as a flashing blade in the shorter formats of the game, Warner has gone through an extraordinary transformation and according to captain Michael Clarke was now among the world's leading batsmen in the five-day version.
As Australia triumphed in their away series against South Africa on Wednesday with their bowlers grabbing a dramatic win, it was Warner who laid the foundations for the 245-run triumph at Newlands in Cape Town.
The opener, whose talents will be on display in a short Twenty20 series between the sides starting on Sunday, blasted two centuries in the match with a savage performance that laid waste an attack allegedly the most formidable in test cricket.
The quick-fire tons won him the man of the match award and contributed to his overshadowing bowling colleague Mitchell Johnson for the man of the series accolade.
It marked a remarkable metamorphosis from last June when he was almost frozen out of the side for punching England's Joe Root in a Birmingham pub, his quick temper emphasising a reputation as a hot head off the pitch as well as on it.
Knocks of 135 and 145 in the third and decisive match in Cape Town took Warner to 1,066 runs at an average of 71.07 in his last eight tests but the figures do not do justice to the damage he wreaked in the Ashes and in South Africa as Australia posted back-to-back series wins.
While the 27-year-old still has his rough edges - he was fined part of his match fee from the second test for alleging ball tampering by the opponents - he has quickly become a lethal weapon with his confident swagger, heavy bat and quick hands.
By his own admission, Warner has not always had the right focus. "I've got my head screwed on for once," he suggested when asked about the reason for his change in fortunes.
It was a similar sentiment to the one he espoused after a first test ton in Pretoria. "Not going out and punching blokes at a club probably sums it up," he said of his improvement.
But finding the sweet spot on the bat and treating some of the world's best bowlers with disdain, goes deeper than that.
"He deserves a lot of credit for the work he has put in, he is batting as well as anybody in the world at the moment," opined Clarke, while opposing coach Russell Domingo suggested Warner had tightened up his technique to attain success.
Following the attack on Root, Warner was fined A$11,500 and suspended for a month but spared the embarrassment of becoming the first player ever sent home from an Ashes series.
He denied having a drinking problem but was out of sorts in his three test appearances, amassing just 128 runs as England won the series comfortably.
Warner bounced back in the follow-up Ashes series over the Australian summer with a century in the first test in Brisbane, one more in Perth and ended as his team's top scorer in the 5-0 whitewash of England with 523 runs at an average of 58.11.
The first of three Twenty20 internationals between South Africa and Australia will be played in Port Elizabeth.