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Facing an over from Shane Warne and living to tell the tale
Now that Michael Vaughan's crocked, now that the Ashes odds are tipping towards Australia, now that there are question marks over Simon Jones and Ashley Giles, England are in need of something of a boost. I'm more than happy, then, to step up to the plate and do my bit for their campaign to keep the urn later this year.
And if being hit all around the Rose Bowl by a girl dents Shane Warne's confidence a touch, then hurrah for that, I say. The fact that he was barefoot, bowling at less than half his normal speed, and wearing jeans, while I was just about getting the lolly dollies off the square is surely quite irrelevant.
A few days before the big day I had the good fortune to bump into Nasser Hussain in the Sky commentary box and so I took the chance to ask him for some hints on facing that legspin.
When I ask the question, Hussain raises his eyebrows and smiles, but only a little bit. "I'm probably not the best person to ask, as I got out to him 37 times," he says, deadpan, every one of those dismissals etched in his mind, like notches on the bedpost - er, perhaps that's not the right phrase.
He brightens. "Try to play like Kevin Pietersen!" He mimes a wristy flick. "Play him like KP, not like NH" - he nods at his Sky colleague Mike Atherton. "Nor like MA!" Atherton nods knowingly.
I pick up my air-bat and get ready to play. "You've got quite long legs," Hussain observes - although I'm wearing heels which will no doubt be kicked off when facing Warne. "So, take a big stride, and use your bat not your pads." Okay, with you so far. "Don't leave your crease - ever - or you'll be stumped." Gotcha. "Oh, and..." And? Here comes the biggie. "Get ready for his sledging." A-ha, of course. Cheers Nass, I'm ready.
The day dawns and I head to Southampton to meet Warne. The whole thing is part of a publicity session for his new gambling website Pokercricket.com. When I arrive, I'm informed that the nets have been dismantled and so our over will now happen out in the middle. That's fine... but there's a smattering of a crowd, including the Hampshire and Nottinghamshire teams milling around on the balcony - it is the day before their Championship match. So this is what pressure is.
On the other hand a jaunty Warne, dressed in jeans and a white polo shirt, seems highly undaunted by the prospect of being shown up by a girl. We head down the steps and saunter onto the pitch, him smiling and at ease while I lift my bat and try to focus, Nasser's words echoing around my mind: "Don't leave your crease, don't leave your crease."
So this is it. He takes a few steps, keeps his trademark tongue in his mouth, and lets rip with his first ball, a sighter which I push easily towards cover. Confident now, I get a headrush with the second and, oops, come down the track. Not very wise, sorry Nasser. But I did use my bat - just; a big inside edge. Not out! Um, the third ball may have done for me had there been any stumps (oh, did I not mention?) Even though it was just some poxy ball lobbed casually my way, it fizzed like a bad `un. "What was that?!" I call out, still blinking.
"The wrong `un," Warne gleams. Yes, gleams. See, even though it's only me, he does care (a little bit), and this ball said: "Don't you know who you're messing with?" I do, I do! Except I wasn't messing, I was deadly serious. He may have been messing. We'll skirt over that.
The next was a full-toss which I swatted through square leg, and then the fifth and sixth balls passed in a bit of a blur. I remember charging both times, eek, but I did connect.
We head back and Warne moves to the poker table, where he proves a dab hand at the game, all the while chatting warmly to all and sundry, including the promo girls. Everyone's happy, including me, because I've done my (tiny little) bit for mental disintegration. Get me Duncan Fletcher on the phone.
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