Rajasthan Royals v Kings XI Punjab, IPL, Jaipur April 21, 2008

When the two Shanes shone

Cricinfo staff
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Shane Watson turned in a quality exhibition of clean hitting to take Rajasthan past the finish line (file photo) © Getty Images
 

While Yuvraj Singh and Tom Moody were being made to walk slowly over red-hot coals after a second successive defeat, the two Shanes, Warne and Watson, sat in the seats reserved for the media. When Moody was asked whether he had expected the "journalist in blue" to bowl as well as he had despite his preparation consisting largely of playing poker, the answer was revealing.

"Bowling spin can be like poker as well," he said with a wry smile. "Shane's still got the knowledge of how to bowl, and we know he thrives on the big stage. He might pull up a little sore tomorrow though."

Warne snickered when he heard that, but his presence amongst the notepads and dictaphones was almost appropriate given how the King's XI had failed to find any sort of answer to the questions that he posed.

Don't let the poker talk fool you. Warne didn't become one of the game's greatest bowlers by depending on the luck of the draw. "Over the past week, I've spent every spare minute in the nets," he said. "I've done lots and lots of bowling."

On Monday evening, he was warming up as early as the fifth over, with the Punjab side having got a flying start. By the time he brought himself on, the scoreboard showed 54 for 1 from just six overs. When he took himself off after a three-over spell, it was 84 for 4 after 11, and the transformation would have been even more dramatic had Darren Lehmann not made a hash of a steepling catch offered by Yuvraj Singh.

It took him just three balls to make an impact. Kumar Sangakkara was in rampant mood, but Warne struck with the guile that tormented two generations of the world's best batsmen. "I went a little wide of the crease," he said later. "You have to use these little subtleties."

Even if Sangakkara spotted it, he could do nothing about it, and the return catch gave the Royals a lifeline that they clung to tenaciously. Next to suffer was James Hopes, trapped in front by a topspinner. With Dinesh Salunkhe, the Cricket Star winner from Chembur who Warne rates so highly, accounting for Mahela Jayawardene, the balance had tilted in the space of a couple of overs.

There was still Yuvraj Singh though, and with Rajasthan's fielders in generous mood - Mohammad Kaif reprieved him at point after Lehmann's gaffe - he blazed away to a 29-ball half-century. There's a big difference between clouting Yusuf Pathan and taking on Warne though. Once again, the variation was key, and one that was held back a little prompted the sweep from Yuvraj. A hint of turn did the rest.

"I like to think I have a smart brain, and 20 years worth of knowledge in first-class cricket," said Warne, and figures of 3 for 19, on the back of stellar performances from Glenn McGrath and Shaun Pollock, made a mockery of the idea that Twenty20 is a young man's game.

Despite his heroics, Warne didn't get the Man-of-the-Match award. That went to another blond Shane, and at $125,000, Watson is already a candidate for best-value signing. Having conceded 39 with the ball, including 17 in the final over, he came out and gave the capacity crowd an exhibition in clean striking. Two sixes landed on a makeshift cloth roof, and there was also a monstrous straight hit off his Queensland team-mate, James Hopes.

The two Shanes are hardly unknown quantities though, and it was only right that Warne preferred to focus on the youngsters who played such a big part in the victory. "We identified him as a special talent straight away," he said about Ravindra Jadeja, and his view was backed up by Watson, who shared in the match-winning fifth-wicket partnership with one of India's Under-19 stars. "He was hitting it wherever he wanted, against bowlers of the quality of Brett Lee," he said, before Warne upped the stakes by referring to Jadeja and Salunkhe as "two superstars in the making".

A couple of days ago, Jaipur were being mentioned as likely wooden-spoon winners. But with Graeme Smith and Younis Khan arriving soon, and Warne spinning his magic, only a complete fool would write them off. On May 7, assuming Sachin Tendulkar is fit, the DY Patil Stadium in Nerul will witness the resumption of one of the modern game's great rivalries. If you live in Mumbai or happen to be there at the time, don't be stupid. Just go out and buy that ticket.