Eye on the Ashes
I so enjoy watching Warne bowl that it’s almost a shame to spoil it by writing: it’s like explaining a magic trick.
When you’ve as many Test wickets as Shane Warne, I suppose you can afford to be philosophical. But if ever a bowler deserved more for his dedication, it was Warne yesterday, who ended the day with 1 for 100 for 31 fierce, feisty and fun overs.
Great as he is on days like the last at Adelaide, where his self-belief fuels an entire XI, I somehow relish him more in situations like this, where he shows the depth of his character, competitiveness, obstinacy and optimism. I’ve tried to convey some of those depths in a couple of pieces for the Guardian today, although I so enjoy watching Warne bowl that it’s almost a shame to spoil it by writing: it’s like explaining a magic trick.
Warne simply never lets a ball go without expecting a wicket. When some do not, he is obstupefied. He reminds me of a story that John Rutherford told me about that ornery all-rounder Cec Pepper, who some will know as a pioneer of the flipper.
Pepper was bowling one day to Frank Worrell, and released a delivery with a cry of: ‘That’s it!’ It was: Worrell was bowled. When team-mates gathered excitedly round Pepper and asked about the ejaculation, he explained simply: ‘As soon as I let it go, I knew there wasn’t a man alive who could play that ball.’
At the press conference after yesterday’s plan, Glenn McGrath paid Warne pointed treatment: his late wickets were Warne's as much as his own. Standing at the back of the presser as I usually do, I also saw a nice moment as Cook left, McGrath entered and most of the crowd were fussing over their tape recorders. As they passed, McGrath shook Cook’s hand warmly: ‘Well batted. Great effort.’ It could have been two blokes from rival clubs after a Saturday game; the Australians' magnanimity where opponents are concerned is one of their most endearing qualities.
Maybe I should have asked McGrath what he thinks of Rudi Koertzen, seeing he was another batsman who received a distinctly speculative decision from him on the first day. Or Michael Clarke whom he fired at Lord’s, and at Sydney during the Super Test. Or...well, I could go on. Just so we’re clear: there’s nothing partisan in my low opinion of Koertzen’s umpiring. Nor am I rushing to judgement. Yes, umpires do make mistakes: replays showed that Steve Bucknor sawed Strauss off in Adelaide, but Bucknor's umpiring this summer has otherwise been excellent so criticism would be unwarranted. Umpires, though, are also open to criticism. The whole idea of the ICC Elite Panel is that some umpires are better than others. How else are we to know this than by critical evaluation of their performances? For the record, I think the best umpires in the world at the moment are Mark Benson and Simon Taufel. What a shame neither will umpire an Ashes Test.
Gideon Haigh is a cricket historian and writer