England v Australia, 5th Test, The Oval, 1st day September 8, 2005

Australia's one-man band

A delighted Shane Warne celebrates the dismissal of Michael Vaughan © Getty Images
Shane Warne has spoken regularly about his desperate desire never to lose an Ashes series. He talks a lot - mainly on-field trash and occasional treasure - but with Australia involved in their most important match in a decade there is no doubting his sincerity. Every move today was made with an essential victory in mind.

There were whispers of sore shoulders, back and legs over the past week and it is little wonder. Not for the first time this series has he looked like a Covent Garden busker attempting to play and lift a mini-orchestra. Warne has been carrying his team for weeks, trying not to let the strain show and keeping in tune with his expanding duties. He did it again today as England were restricted to 319 for 7.

In the near-perfect Australian worlds of the last tour, last year and last century, Warne would have marked his run with a couple of openers cursing Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie from the dressing-room. On this tour he has had to tackle the first pair most of the time as well. England started with trumpets and blew at a run-a-minute until Warne arrived in a new set of sunglasses and the same shining outlook.

And Kevin Pietersen followed soon after © Getty Images
The fast men had been ineffective so Warne mixed stock and shock, and his vision of success took shape before the corporate lunch tables were set. It would be a long sitting over two sessions, but the first course was essential in developing a day when he played a handful of parts on a surface suiting batsmen.

There was the destroyer who lopped the first three wickets before a bread roll was wiped with pate, the cheeky sledger calling Andrew Strauss "Darryl" after Cullinan, his most famous bunny, the dirty-hands worker who clopped through 34 overs, the actor who directed his appeals through Billy Bowden, and the one-man band who kept his side in the series.

John Howard, the Australian prime minister, has asked bosses to go easy on their staff this week if they turn up yawning after watching Australia's push to retain the urn. Warne has given their red eyes tinges of hope with his 5 for 118. The first four came before the day's half-way mark, and as Andrew Strauss and Andrew Flintoff threatened the recovery Warne stood firm, absorbed some stinging touches and stretched his bowling shoulder to help it through another important session.

Ian Bell went for a duck as well © Getty Images
While support from the fast bowlers came in pockets, he received significantly improved assistance in a field of bright faces and softer hands. Australia's poor catching has been costly throughout the series, but today it was excellent with superb efforts from Hayden, Katich and Warne, who captured Flintoff off McGrath at first slip.

Warne had sparked another change and within 13 runs Shaun Tait had Paul Collingwood and Strauss had fallen to his chief tormentor, although he departed in comfort with 129. Ending the day rubbing his wrist, Warne was one wicket from matching his best series return in England, a stunning 34 on his debut tour in 1993. This trip has also been one to talk about. Warne has again made it memorable as he fights to match his mouth.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo