Warne prepares for Ashes curtain call

The Aussie spinner could end up on the losing side even though the 2005 Ashes have revolved more around him than any other player.

india Updated: Sep 05, 2005 17:07 IST

One match to go and the scoreline could not be more intriguing: England 2, Shane Warne 1.

That, at least, is how it feels. Australia's leg spinner could yet end up on the losing side even though the 2005 Ashes have revolved more around him than any other player.

His performances, like so many of his deliveries, have defied belief.

Ask England's left-handed opener Andrew Strauss, who shouldered arms to Warne's 'Ball of the New Century' at Edgbaston and saw it dart impossibly across his front pad and hit leg stump.

Ask England's all-conquering fast bowlers who have had more problems getting him out than almost any other Australian.

Sports psychologists say that perfect preparation feeds perfect performance.

Warne prepared for the Ashes by losing a wife and family. Simone, tired of newspaper reports of her husband's liaisons, turned her back on a new life in England and returned home with the couple's three children.

In response, 99 players out of 100 would have withdrawn from the tour. Warne has not only played, he has put together a series to rival the one he enjoyed in 1993.

Then, he had bowled his original 'Ball of the Century' to dismiss Mike Gatting on the way to 34 wickets at 25.79 runs apiece in six matches.

In four tests during this campaign, he has taken 28 at 19.67, becoming the first man to break the 600-wicket threshold.

He is also averaging 33.68 with the bat, better than teammates Matthew Hayden, Damien Martyn, Simon Katich and Adam Gilchrist, while his batting strike rate of 72.59 per 100 balls is bettered only by England's Andrew Flintoff.

Deprived of his main foil, the injured Glenn McGrath, Warne has continued to flourish, even when asked to bowl early on unmarked batting strips.

Warne magic

At Trent Bridge he was mesmeric.

The game seemed dead, England chasing a mere 129 to win.

Delighting in the limelight and the impossible, Warne created extraordinary drama where none should have existed.

Milking the moment behind a hangman's smile, he tied Marcus Trescothick, Strauss and Michael Vaughan in knots.

The England captain did not have a clue where the ball had gone once it had taken the edge of his bat, looking behind him to left and right, unsure how he had been dismissed.

Warne appealed and implored right down to the final delivery. He never gave up, wincing at every refusal as if appalled by the injustice.

It was magnificent theatre but it was not quite enough.

Perhaps there are two Shane Warnes, existing independently of each other. As his estranged wife puts it: "I think he lives in such a rarified bubble these days, he doesn't understand what reality is any more."

Perhaps Warne, 36 next week, simply cannot grow up which might explain his popularity among younger teammates and rivals. He seems attracted to their energy, spontaneity and lack of gravitas.

Had it not been for his off-the-field antics, which have included a brush with match-fixing allegations and a failed drugs test, he would surely have captained the world champions.

As a cricketer he comes close to perfection, a pantomime hero and villain with an acute tactical brain.

No one could have done more to keep Australia's flickering hopes alive in this series. No one will do more in the finale at The Oval starting on Thursday, a game which doubles as his last Ashes match in England.

"My life has changed over the past six weeks," he says. "I am still going through all sorts of emotions. But there is still a job to do and however I feel at the moment, I will be up for the game."

English cricket lovers will miss the man and the theatre, which unfolds whenever he approaches the crease.

As one letter to The Times put it: "Should Australia win the fifth test and thus retain the Ashes, I propose that the famous urn be presented to Shane Warne, to be kept by him and his heirs in perpetuity."

First Published: Sep 05, 2005 17:07 IST