May 20, 2008

It's hard to say, Shane, but don't do it

Watching Warne bowl in Test cricket again is a tempting proposition, but he really shouldn't be thinking of coming out of retirement

Happy, satisfied and fulfilled: Shane Warne at the SCG on his final day as a Test player © Getty Images

Shane, nothing would be better than seeing you back for the 2009 Ashes. But don't do it. You might have retired too soon in Sydney last year and your enchanting magic is desperately missed. But stay in the corporate or commentary boxes next year in England.

It would be wonderful to watch you bowl in proper cricket again, atoning for your team-mates' sloppiness in 2005, or viewing your first Test century. Please remain retired. After a day of hopeful dreaming, it's already time to end the talk about maybe, possibly considering stepping in for a one-off series. If Ricky ever asks, tell him no (unless he offers the captaincy, then go for it).

Watching Australia in the field is much duller - but certainly more peaceful - without you. Your versions of variation and theatre were enthralling for more than a decade, and you changed the game. But for the clarity of all the outstanding memories, stop thinking about another course. Even if Ricky begs, or Stuey breaks his leg.

Previously, whenever you weren't injured, everything seemed certain. Now any return carries too much risk, even for someone so polished at comebacks. You would need to be better than before to justify the move. Any loose balls would lead quickly to judgments that the decision was a mistake. You know how hard prising wickets was in middle age - even against England - and the strain on your body was one reason for the departure.

So you're going really well in the Indian Premier League, and if it wasn't on so late more Australians might be convinced that your performances could translate into the longer game. But Twenty20 is like saying "yes" to a dance in a nightclub. To make it through a Test you've got to sway all day for a working week. The moves are undoubtedly still there, but the results are now unpredictable. You're 38, and looked far too good slouching on that couch at the SCG in March. This is not a gamble you'd consider at the poker table.

Jeff Thomson thought he could step in after two years away for the 1985 Ashes, and looked like a silver-haired grandpa, struggling to throw or bowl above medium pace. The two Tests were his last. He wasn't quite as great as you, but couldn't manage a reprise.

Looking back, the end of the Ashes clean sweep was the perfect time to bow out. Almost everyone wanted a little more, and you stepped down deaf with adulation. You hugged your children, and the supporters sent their verbal cuddles. There was no crying, like Justin and Matthew, just a sense that it was time. Glenn looked the same: happy, satisfied and fulfilled.

Retirement must be full of unsettlingly quiet times, and not beating England in 2005 must nag. Let everyone remember your 40 wickets and 249 runs. Only you could increase your reputation, an organism of stockmarket volatility, by so much in a shattering defeat.

Don't let thoughts of another Test series allow you to tarnish your playing legacy. Don't be the old man who didn't know when to stop. There are enough of those in boxing. Enjoy the IPL, the poker and the family. It's painful to write, because it would be so exciting to see you back and beating England, but it's wiser to stay away. Cricket's memories of your bowling are untainted. Please keep it that way.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo