Shane Warne is at it again - getting into trouble, then wriggling off the hook. This time it's not a nurse in a bar who is on the receiving end of his behaviour, but the Australian coach, John Buchanan.
Warne, still smarting from being hauled off to Queensland for a boot camp, was widely quoted last week as saying that Buchanan "over-complicates issues" and has sometimes "lacked a little bit of common sense". He even queried the point of Buchanan's existence. "I'm a big believer," he cheerily remarked, "that the coach is something you travel in to get to the game."
The remarks were widely reported and soon Warne's mobile was showing two messages received, both from numbers in Malaysia. (What an interesting life that phone leads. One day, it will surely write its memoirs.) One was from Ricky Ponting, the other from Buchanan. Ponting was sufficiently incensed to talk to the press as well, saying he wanted to find out if Warne had really "come out and said these things".
Warne shifted the blame on to the media. We know this not from Warne, but from a Cricket Australia spokesman, speaking after Warne and Buchanan had enjoyed a ten-minute phone call. "Shane believes he was quoted completely out of context," the spokesman explained. "He said he was very positive about the boot camp and remained very committed to the idea of team solidarity."
So he didn't say he hadn't said it. Nor could he, as the offending comments are up on the BBC website for ayone with a broadband connection to hear. Instead Warne claimed he had been quoted "completely out of context". When you have spoken to one reporter, this ploy may work. But Warne was speaking to several at the launch of his latest ghosted book. And although he did make some more generous remarks as well, he left nobody in any doubt as to his overall opinion of Buchanan. In the book, too, he manages to make any praise for Buchanan very faint: "Fair's fair, some people respond to [his ideas] fairly well."
The back-pedalling was just being reported around the world when out came another quote, picked up by the Daily Telegraph's girl-about-town diarist, Celia Walden, at a benefit do for Liam Botham. "These boot camps are a big waste of time," said Warne, allegedly. "We were forced to push a car uphill, and after a bit I just turned to the coach and said: 'I'm as weak as p---, I hate your guts and I want to go home. You're a d---head.' "
Taken out of context again, no doubt. But all these quotes do sound like Warne. Phrases like "big believer" and "big waste of time" have the ring of strewth. The message is clear: there is a widening rift in the Australian camp, between the brains of the team off the field (Buchanan) and the brains on it (Warne). It puts the man who is supposed to be running the show, Ponting, in a very awkward position.
Buchanan has only himself to blame, to an extent. To drag Warne across the world to push cars uphill when he could have been driving Hampshire towards the county championship was a provocative thing to do, which certainly lacked common sense. The exercise has left one of his legspinners apoplectic and the other, Stuart MacGill, injured. The purpose of the thing - team bonding - has backfired spectacularly.
Warne, in turn, shouldn't have shot his mouth off, or shot the messenger. Buchanan had treated him like a teenager, and he was, not for the first time, behaving like one, knowing that Australia need him more than they need Buchanan, who is stepping down after the World Cup. Both men were being silly. As Elton John sings in one of the better moments on his new album, "The common sense I sometimes lack / Has opened up a seismic crack."
Meanwhile, England's senior spinner was also talking to the press. The key to their Ashes victory, Ashley Giles told Mike Atherton in the Sunday Telegraph, was team unity. "Last year it was our togetherness that broke the Australian team. We applied pressure as a unit and it created big divisions within their outfit. They've got pretty much the same team as last year, so if we can apply the same pressure we can create the same divisions." Right now, the Aussies are doing it for themselves.