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Shane Warne is back on the cricket field and back demonstrating his mastery
December 20, 2011
The 29,241 who made the journey to the Gabba to see the 42-year-old Shane Warne in action had an experience they will not soon forget. Much like those who saw Sir Donald Bradman play after the Second World War, it will be something they can tell their grandchildren about.
But for those "less" fortunate, those who had to settle for watching him on television, they were treated to an experience money cannot buy.
Part of Shane Warne's agreement to play for the Melbourne Stars in the Big Bash League was underpinned by a deal with television rights holders Fox Sports. Warne would wear a microphone throughout every match and commentate as he played. It is not a new concept. He has done this before in charity matches and exhibition games, as well as for training master-classes and memorabilia DVD's.
But tonight it was different. This was a competitive match, the most competitive and intense of the Big Bash so far. And what Warne delivered was truly spectacular.
Art lovers have pondered what it would be like to listen to Michelangelo talk as he painted the Sistine Chapel, and what tennis fans would give to have Roger Federer talk them through a service game against Rafael Nadal. Cricket fans got their equivalent tonight as Warne describe how he was going to bowl, and why he was bowling to that plan, before executing it in real time, in a competitive environment.
He had three old mates in his ear throughout. Former teammates Brendan Julian, Allan Border and Andrew Symonds were commentating with him but for the most part they left Warne to do his thing.
Warne's first over was accompanied by self-deprecation, anxiety and then relief that he landed the first delivery where he intended it. He felt his way through it, keen not to make any bold predictions or plans in case the execution was awry. Brisbane batsmen Brendan McCullum and Peter Forrest were kind to him, taking just four off the over, a luxury they could afford at 2 for 70 after eight overs.
Warne's second began with an assertion. "I reckon McCullum might attack me here. This would be the over. He's had a look, now he'll go. I'll toss high and wide first ball." Warne said. Sure enough, on cue, McCullum did exactly as Warne predicted, he charged at the first one. Warne's pre-planned response was executed perfectly. McCullum was beaten in flight, reached out and swiped a lofted drive, it ballooned high, and landed safely between cover and backward point.
The crowd rose as one as it went up. So did the commentators and undoubtedly the viewers at home, only for McCullum's miscue to escape to the waiting hands of a Melbourne Stars fieldsman.
Warne smirked. The commentators were aghast at the fact that the plan nearly worked. The glint in Warne's eye suggested, like a champion chess player, he knew he had McCullum's measure. He was one-step ahead.
A Forrest single brought McCullum back on strike. "Right," Warne said. "I reckon he's trying to go inside out [over cover] but given what just happened he may try to sweep this, so I'll slide this through him a bit quicker."
McCullum shaped to sweep, Warne slipped it through quicker behind his front pad. The ball pitched, turned, and hit middle. McCullum was bowled around his legs. We've seen Warne do it before. It was reminiscent of how he removed Kevin Pietersen in Adelaide on a dramatic last day in 2006. But the magic of this was that Warne predicted it and executed it perfectly.
For anyone who has ever bowled a ball in their life, to watch what Warne did would have left them breathless in amazement.
What followed was a bonus, but it was equally as special. Warne spoke of Dan Christian's preference to hit beyond long on and mid-wicket, so Warne brought both men up, "just to let him know there's no one out there". His confidence was so great he had slip placed in permanently.
Christian did get him. It was only one of three mistakes Warne made in 24 balls. The margins were so negligible that only Warne's admissions revealed his errors.
Third ball of his third over: Warne to Christian. "I think to Dan I'm going to take a risk here. A bit slower." Christian jumped down and hit him back over his head into the stands.
"The delivery wasn't too bad but the skill was pretty good. He got away with that mate." Julian said to Warne.
"Yeah just didn't get it wide enough. Good shot, good striker." Warne admonished himself for the mistake.
"I'm going again. Slower again. Let's see if he can do two." Warne's gambling instincts were on full display. He tossed the next very high, with lovely shape and drift. Christian defended. "Nice shape on that one." Julian said.
"Yeah that was where the first one should have been. Muppet, Shane." Warne turned, smiled. "Slow again." He said with that glint in his eye.
Christian pressed forward, then went back, tried to work to leg, defended short on the leg-side. His partner Andrew Robinson, worried about two consecutive dots, charged down for the run. He was sent back. Wicketkeeper Matthew Wade nipped out, gathered, and ran Robinson out with a direct hit at the non-strikers end.
It was not Warne's wicket, but it might have well have been. Normal service resumed. The king was back on top.
Last ball of the over. "Are you going to be aggressive here and try and get him out?" Julian inquired.
"I'm going to try and get him LB here," Warne replied. "They've just lost a wicket so he might try and play a little bit safer and try and get a one or a two. So I'll try and get one fast and straight."
Warne approached with purpose, skipped one through to Christian who went back and kept it out. Warne had a giggle. "Didn't do what I meant to, but it was not a bad over."
Warne's last over was an encore. As if only to confirm whose show it really was. He showed his customary cheek as he bowled to Nick Buchanan, son of Warne's former Test coach John Buchanan. "I should probably bowl a big bumper to big Buchy to say 'say hello to your dad'," Warne said with a wry smile and that typically sharp tongue. Buchanan senior is obviously not on Warne's Christmas card list.
Michael Neser came on-strike two balls later. "Bear [Cameron White], apparently he slog- sweeps, this guy? Yeah? There you go. I did my homework and looked at the computer." Another cheeky comment from Warne, laced with sarcasm. He was in command now.
He even had the audacity to stop mid-approach to admonish Allan Border, his first ever Test captain, Australia's longest serving skipper at that, for speaking during his run-up.
Warne is the undisputed king of Australian cricket. His presence attracts crowds and interest wherever he goes. Fox Sports record viewership through the early part of this tournament can be largely attributed to Warne, justifying the money spent on securing his services.
His performance at the Gabba was truly special. Ironically, an experience money cannot buy.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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