Australia v South Africa, 1st Test, Perth, 2nd day December 17, 2005

Waxing Warne

Shane Warne continues to pile up the honours © Getty Images

For Australians it's best not to think about how their side will perform without Shane Warne. At 36 his career is far closer to midnight than midday, but he continues to shine like the sun. On his least favourite home surface he calmed his team as South Africa threatened to control the second day as they had most of the first.

Warne finished with three victims to Brett Lee's five, but it was the way he built pressure for his pace mates that restricted Australia's punishment. At the WACA Warne calls himself a stock bowler, which is both true and unfair as he retains the ability to shock. With his lbw of Ashwell Prince, his 86th dismissal of 2005, he climbed over Dennis Lillee to become the greatest wicket-taker in a calendar year.

It was an appropriate baton change as Lillee, who set his mark in 1981, was sitting in the stands - he is the Western Australia Cricket Association president - as Warne congratulated himself with a fist-pumping celebration after Steve Bucknor upheld his appeal. Working around the wicket to Prince, who was troubled playing back to a legspinner, Warne was rewarded for his patience in a stunning second session when South Africa lost 4 for 61.

Stopping the run flow was his first goal when he marked his run shortly before lunch and adding further doubts to minds that were less than stable against legspin was the second. Both aims were achieved and wickets dropped at each end. Australia must treasure having Warne on call to sandbag runs and provide crucial breakthroughs.

Lee's partnership with Warne either side of lunch was the most impressive of the day, Lee taking care of Herschelle Gibbs and Jacques Rudolph and Warne removing the dangerous AB de Villiers as South Africa spilled from the scene-stealing comfort of 1 for 127. Lee went on to collect 5 for 93 in a performance of aggression and Warne supported his fast men superbly.

By tea Glenn McGrath had benefited from his partner's dismantling of Justin Kemp, who was tested by Warne's hand-and-mouth repertoire. Having shakily played a couple of deliveries in his first Test in four years, Kemp was condescendingly told he had just received a legspinner before being christened "Daryll" after his former bunny Daryll Cullinan. Kemp then hit a McGrath split-finger slower ball to mid-off.

The same mind tricks don't work on Mark Boucher or Shaun Pollock anymore and the pair swung their side from the difficulty of 6 for 187 to snare a lead. This game will now rely on second-innings exploits after two fascinating days in which the advantage has switched like a steamy French Open deuce.

Graeme Smith and de Villiers started with a purposeful 83-run stand and until Warne arrived de Villiers showed no fear despite being clattered in the helmet grille by Lee. The batsman offered a smile and so did the watching Lillee, who had delivered numerous similar deliveries on this ground during his bowling incarnation. Talk of the pitch centred on it being much slower than in Lillee's day and South Africa braked until Boucher and Pollock intervened.

Boucher's free-flowing innings of seven boundaries was perfectly timed and responsible for the 38-run first-innings buffer, but he also became a Warne victim when Matthew Hayden took an extraordinary leaping, one-handed catch at first slip. Australia's fielding was as impressive as this even contest and both sides should be admired for their proud recoveries.

Despite Lee's fire, Warne was the crucial factor as he ran into the Fremantle Doctor seabreeze for 29 overs broken only by lunch and tea. His back aches, he spends more time in recovery, the appeals often sound strained, and the world records continue to pile up. The individual honours currently give him unrivalled status, but Australia would feel safer if he stayed until he was 40.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo