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Agent 700: The name?s Warne... Shane Warne!

The delivery that bowled Andrew Strauss to give the latter his 700th Test wicket, however, was entirely in keeping with the Warne story so far, writes Gideon Haigh.

india Updated: Dec 27, 2006 02:27 IST

Andrew Strauss still 'isn't quite sure' how he missed it. Shane Warne was 'not in a hurry' to bowl it. The delivery that bowled the former to give the latter his 700th Test wicket, however, was entirely in keeping with the Warne story so far.

The anticipation was acute. The start was delayed. The quicks were enjoying themselves. Melbourne's weather, which has more varieties than even Warne, pelted down after 15 overs, banishing the players from the field for an early luncheon, during which children gambolled on the outfield in glorious sunshine.

Play resumed as the clouds scudded into view again, and Warne was applauded when his sun hat blew off and needed retrieving: the honour of doing so could have raffled among the crowd at vast profit. It was 2.51 pm by the time Warne peeled off the sweaters in which he had been thickly encased, and in his first three overs the match was delicately poised. Andrew Strauss was playing with utmost patience, having not hit a boundary until he had been in for 134 minutes, and not reached his fifty for another hour. This was, in other words, the wicket for which Australia were searching — and Warne found it. Warne's twentieth delivery had familiar hallmarks. It was whirled with vigour, looped with guile, landed with precision, and full of minatory intent.

Strauss was looking to manufacture a half-volley, which he could work through mid-on. The ball curved and dropped instead, and punctured bat and pad. It was a better wicket than wicket 600: Marcus Trescothick, Strauss's quondam partner, caught off the back of the bat. It was considerably better than wicket 356, to break Dennis Lillee's Aussie record: Paul Wiseman, a New Zealand tailender, almost fell on his face trying to execute a sweep.

As the crowd hugged itself at its good fortune, Warne made a clockwise orbit of his teammates in his wicket-taking ecstacy that made Monty Panesar look like a master of understatement, ending in a huddle where he collected the full set of handshakes and high-fives. When the huddle dissolved, he emerged and held the ball aloft to each corner of the ground. Warne has a telegenic smile but this was not it: it looked relieved, wistful, even grateful. When Warne ran after Kevin Pietersen to congratulate him on his 158 at the Oval last year, it was to say: ‘Savour this’. He didn't need Pietersen at the non-strikers’ end to reciprocate the advice, although the hug was appreciated.

Pietersen was the one that Warne wanted, and the batsman's artlessness with the tail made it easy. Warne collected his 37th bag of five wickets with the glee of a gambler sweeping his winnings off the baccarat table. The story is just about to end, but it feels like it could go on forever.

The Guardian

First Published: Dec 27, 2006 02:27 IST