So David Warner is heading home, arm busted and ambitions dented but that radiation-proof determination surely intact. Anyone who knows the feeling of broken bones could see what had happened as soon as he was hit by a Mohammed Siraj short ball during the Delhi Test. The way he yelped and flinched when the physio gently squeezed his arm reflects exactly that bright flash of pain that seems to start in the marrow and end between the temples.

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It was strange then that the initial response from Australia’s captain and coach was that he might recover for the third Test a little more than a week away. The elbow fracture sustained is small – at the team hotel on Tuesday night Warner sat comfortably and only wore a light compression bandage around the injury. But even a tiny fracture hampers all movement anywhere near it. It radiates discomfort. It throbs like a bad tooth. He was never going to be able to hit a cricket ball so soon.

Nursing him through the series might have made sense had Warner been the gun player in the line-up blazing runs, but this felt more like making a point that he remains firmly the first-choice opener. Now team management gets a convenient chance to try Travis Head at the top without being seen to have made a definitive call on Warner. The latter’s declining returns have been talked about plenty: his fighting 200 against South Africa’s pace in the Boxing Day Test ensured he would join this India tour, but it is also his only time past 50 in his last 15 innings. His career has never seen a streak that quiet.

His two cheap dismissals in Nagpur helped set the tone for Australia’s substandard batting across the match. Those who only follow cricket from the scorecard will think the same of his 15 at Delhi, but that innings weathered a fierce opening hour, added a 50-run opening partnership, and gave the stability for Usman Khawaja to get set and go on to top score. Even the fetishists of hard noses and hard edges can’t credibly complain about getting out after your arm gets broken.

Still. In a small sample size, Warner didn’t show a method for India that inspired confidence. He is a player that Australia want batting for a day, not an hour. With Cameron Green coming back, Peter Handscomb managing the conditions well and Head seeing the ball the way he is, Warner’s absence leaves the side looking balanced in these conditions.

Head as an opener could work because he loves thrashing pace bowling, and the scant few overs of it that any Australian might see will come at the top of the innings. Even when the spinners follow up, a newer ball might suit his attacking shots. His style in these conditions is a gamble that could equally fail, but his bright start in the second innings in Delhi suggests he might pull off a couple more such efforts.

That isn’t a viable option after this tour, though. Head’s propensity for thrashing the ball between cover and backward point would be a liability in England, where the ball swings and seams early while a cordon of catchers waits for the inevitable. His spot at number five has been perfect, facing an older ball while he either presses home an advantage or counterattacks in difficulty.

As for other openers who could handle English conditions, there are no standout challengers. Selectors plan to have Warner back in India for the one-day series in March, and from there his return to the Test spot is probable. He started this year wanting to tour India and England before deciding his playing future, and the second part is unlikely to have changed. The reason his detractors won’t want him for the Ashes – lasting memories of his diabolical 2019 campaign – will be the same reason he wants to go around again. He won’t want his final foray there to be the infamous 95 runs in a series.

To be fair, his trips to England in 2013 and 2015 were pretty good, returning six fifties in eight matches. But those years are increasingly distant, and today’s Warner has to approach the game differently. Of concern was the way Mohammed Shami bowled him in Nagpur, another one to quality right-arm pace around the wicket. That’s exactly how Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer took him apart in 2019. There’s a good chance Warner will be facing the same bowlers this time around. He will do everything he can to get the chance.