Australia v England, 4th Test, Melbourne, 1st day December 26, 2006

Warne routs England again

Australia 2 for 48 (Hayden 17*, Ponting 0*) trail England 159 (Strauss 50, Warne 5-39) by 111 runs
Live scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Shane Warne bowls Andrew Strauss to become the first man to reach 700 Test wickets © Getty Images

Shane Warne's greatest strength, as befits the greatest bowler of the modern era, is not his prodigious ability to spin a cricket ball or the phenomenal accuracy with which he goes about his work. It is his ability to impose his iron will on any given occasion. And today, on the occasion of his final Test on his home ground at Melbourne, and with 699 Test wickets to his name, Warne rose above the conditions, the emotion, and most of all, his abject English opponents, to deliver the perfect belated Christmas present to an adoring crowd of 89,155.

For all that he is Melbourne's favourite son, Warne had absolutely no right to lord it to quite the extent that he did. On a miserably cold and damp day, the start of which was delayed by half-an-hour by morning drizzle, Warne took 5 for 39 in 17.2 overs of pure mischief-making. It was his 37th five-wicket haul in 144 Tests, his third in 11 at the MCG, and he didn't even enter the attack until the 41st over of the day, by which stage two wickets had already been lost and several more were threatening to topple in conditions perfect for seam and swing.

But that mattered not a jot to Warne, who sensed his stage and toyed with England as well as the crowd. Two overs before he was finally thrown the ball, he made as if to go to his mark and the crowd roared as Justin Langer took his cap off his head only to return it seconds later, and, when he did finally enter the attack, he needed only four overs to deliver the moment that his entire country had been awaiting. At 3.18pm, he bowled Andrew Strauss for an even 50 to reach 700 in Tests.

The delivery that did for Strauss was a classic Warne dismissal, a flighted ball that dipped into the rough, bit and crashed into middle stump as the batsman played loosely for an imagined half-volley. The timing was especially shattering for England, who had lost Paul Collingwood two balls earlier to end a third-wicket stand of 57 - the highest of their innings. After that the rest of the innings passed like a Jubilee procession.

Admittedly, it took Warne a while to get back in on the act again, but it hardly seemed to matter. Australia were unusually inept in the field - Matthew Hayden missed a straightforward chance in the gully and Adam Gilchrist muffed two chances behind the stumps, including a howler of a stumping against Kevin Pietersen - but they correctly surmised that another chance would be along before long.

Sure enough, Warne bagged his second when Chris Read - picked in place of the out-of-form Geraint Jones - slapped a schoolboyish drive to short cover for 3 and returned to face the icy glare of his unamused coach, Duncan Fletcher. Steve Harmison heaved a wide ball to mid-on and trudged off for 7 before Pietersen, who seemed to be past caring by this stage, hoisted a steepler to Andrew Symonds in front of the screen screen. Warne wrapped up the innings when Monty Panesar, newly promoted to No. 10, scuffed another heave across the line and picked out Symonds again at mid-on.

It had been, as Ricky Ponting admitted, a good toss to lose - and it was Flintoff who, understandly enough, chose to bat first. Glenn McGrath, like Warne, was making his final appearance in Melbourne, and he set the tone for the day in his very first over with a series of 125kph offbreaks. It was Brett Lee, however, who made the initial breakthrough when Alastair Cook - England's centurion at the WACA - under-edged an attempted leave to Adam Gilchrist behind the stumps.

Matthew Hoggard should have had Matthew Hayden lbw on two occasions © Getty Images
Given the conditions, Australia's star performers should have been the slower seamers - McGrath, Stuart Clark and Andrew Symonds, who managed just three wickets between them but should have had at least seven. Ian Bell, who almost ran himself out first ball, was trapped lbw for 7 by Clark, who also added the captain, Flintoff, for another uneasy innings of 13. McGrath, meanwhile, had to make do with the sole scalp of Sajid Mahmood. It was another unworthy swipe that earned the wicket, but it was at least McGrath's 150th in Tests against England.

When their turn came late in the day, England did bowl pluckily in the circumstances, but without luck as umpire Rudi Koertzen turned down numerous lbw shouts - with Hoggard staring incredulously into his eyes after one particularly marginal call against Matthew Hayden. Flintoff managed to pop up with two in two balls before the close, removing Justin Langer and the nightwatchman Lee, but Warne's exploits had already sealed the day's honours.

Short cuts

Play of the day
Shane Warne's 700th wicket was the moment most of the MCG wanted to see and Warne obliged his home fans by bowling Andrew Strauss in his fourth over. Figures of 5 for 39 provided an ideal start to his two-game farewell.

Smart decision of the day
The umpires choosing to stay on the field for most of the first session. Misty rain hit the ground at times but it wasn't until a heavy shower forced an early lunch that they gave in.

Not so smart decisions of the day
It wasn't a great day for Rudi Koertzen. Matthew Hayden should not have survived two lbw decisions to Matthew Hoggard and Paul Collingwood benefited when hit on the pads by Stuart Clark before he had scored.

Surprise of the day
Was it the cold weather or slippery hands? The Australians had a sloppy day in the field, with Adam Gilchrist missing a stumping and a catch and Matthew Hayden dropping Andrew Strauss in the gully. The unusual set of mistakes didn't matter in the end.

Near miss of the day
According to Cricket Australia Boxing Day has been sold out since June 1, but a few thousands seats weren't taken up. A world record to beat the 90,800 here in 1960-61 was predicted, but the 89,155 was still a new Ashes mark.

Quote of the day
"I was going to keep running but I got puffed." Shane Warne on his celebration for his 700th wicket

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo