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Lawrence Booth: Persuasive Warne papers over Aussie cracks

October 8th, 2008 by Lawrence Booth in Australia in India, Test cricket and tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Sometimes, insight arrives when you’re least expecting it. I didn’t need to watch Shane Warne threaten to beat Gloucestershire all by himself in a C&G Trophy match for Hampshire at Bristol a few years ago to know that he was a world-class leg-spinner. But what I learned that day – thanks to a quirk in the positioning of the press box – was just how preternaturally persuasive he actually was.

The media’s vantage point at Nevil Road is, depending on the bowler’s end, at wide third man or cow corner for the right-hander, a view that provides an unusually acute sense of just how far forward the batsman is getting. Well, they were getting very far forward indeed to Warne, who kept hitting them on the front pad and kept winning lbw appeals – three of them, according to Wisden. Few spinners would have bothered even to appeal; even fewer would have had their shouts upheld. But part of Warne’s secret was his sheer chutzpah. And judging by his performance yesterday at Australia House, where he was promoting a new book, he retains that quality in spades.

Forget, for a moment, his pronouncement that Australia will “wipe the floor” with England next summer unless KP’s boys start winning Tests other than dead ones. Forget the mischievous claim that Michael Vaughan really is England’s best No3. Forget the predictable dig at Ian Bell, Warne’s very own Shermanator. Forget the accusation that South Africa only really have two batsmen. What really impressed was his ability to say, with the straightest of faces, that Australia are actually getting better.

Now, Warne had a book to publicise, and it is not exactly a revelation that outlandish claims can beguile hacks with space to fill. But he really seemed to believe that a side lacking Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Justin Langer and Warne himself was on the up.

Let’s put this into perspective. In the early hours of tomorrow morning, Australia begin a four-Test series in India without a decent spin bowler. Even Warne had to concede on Monday that it was the current team’s one missing ingredient, but he did it in a way that suggested he was shrugging off the absence of a violinist in an orchestra. The choice boils down to Cameron White, whose leg-spin has never lived up to its youthful promise, and Jason Krejza, whose already tentative claims to representing the world champions were further undermined by match figures of 31-2-199-0 against a President’s XI in Hyderabad last week.

Much has been made of the fact that Australia’s 2-1 victory in India four years ago revolved around the efforts of Jason Gillespie, McGrath and Michael Kasprowicz. Fair enough. But that interpretation ignores the input of Michael Clarke’s slow round-armers (six wickets at 2.16, although admittedly in the one game Australia lost), Nathan Hauritz’s off-breaks (five at 20) and Warne’s leggies (14 at 30). If Australia’s spinners claim 25 wickets between them this time, they will have surpassed all expectations. Perhaps even Warne’s.

India’s top five – even with Sourav Ganguly bidding farewell at the end of the series, Rahul Dravid in danger of fading away and Sachin Tendulkar on the verge of Brian Lara’s world record and, who knows, maybe fulfilment – should have a field day. Virender Sehwag may fare even better than that, providing he can see off Stuart Clark and Brett Lee. But England fans looking to read the runes ahead of next summer should keep their glee under wraps a while longer.

First, there is no Andrew Symonds, who is paying the price for a fishing trip and other misdemeanours besides. His off-breaks and general competitiveness are more than handy in an emergency. Second, there is no Bryce McGain, the 36-year-old leg-spinner branded yesterday by Warne as Australia’s best slow bowler. In part, it says a lot about Australia’s desperation that a bloke with 19 first-class matches to his name should be worthy of the accolade. But Warne pointed out that McGain’s late arrival in first-class cricket has at least spared his shoulder the wear and tear common to most ageing leggies. McGain could yet wreak terrible deeds on England next summer. Well, Warne probably reckons he can anyway…

Lawrence Booth
writes on cricket for the Guardian. His third book, Cricket, Lovely Cricket? An Addict’s Guide to the World’s Most Exasperating Game is out now published by Yellow Jersey

Posted in Australia in India, Test cricket |

3 Responses to “Lawrence Booth: Persuasive Warne papers over Aussie cracks”

  1.   David Barry says:

    Just to nitpick on Australia’s bowling in 2004 - the series was won in the first three Tests. Hauritz only played the last Test, and Clarke only bowled in the last Test. So your point is generally correct, but the focus should be on Warne’s 14 wickets at 30 in the first three Tests.

    In Krejza and White we have bowlers equal to Nathan Hauritz. Hauritz’s figures from 2004 are VERY generous to him - he got pasted in the second innings on a dustbowl, until Clarke replaced him and took 6/9.

  2.   hemantbrar says:

    i think warne is a lot better understanding of the game than this article shows.
    in ipl he turned the weakest team into the champions with his vision and if u look again at the australian team, it is not that a bad team except in spin department.
    and on their 2004 tour, i dont think clarke or hauritz did anything significant….

  3.   The Tooting Trumpet says:

    Warne is a turn isn’t he?

    In cricket, he backed up the showmanship with the best control of any leg-spinner in history and a soaring cricketing intelligence.

    Without the cricket, he’s just a turn, albeit a good one. In ten years, we’ll be saying the same about KP (replace “…soaring” with “…a measure of”).

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