Poker millions lure Warne away from Ashes

Instead of commentating on the Ashes, Shane Warne has spent the week blazing a trail at the prestigious World Series of Poker tournament in Las Vegas

Shane Warne and Matt Damon hang out in Las Vegas  •

Shane Warne and Matt Damon hang out in Las Vegas  •

All of the build-up to Sky Sports' coverage of this summer's Ashes has centred on the fact that they have landed the big one - Shane Warne is the face of their "Australian summer", with a string of high-profile adverts promoting the fact that he will be offering up his pearls of wisdom as one of the lead commentators for the series, alongside the likes of Ian Botham and Nasser Hussain.
However, the series is already into its third day, and while Warne's parents, Keith and Bridget, have made it to Cardiff to witness the first ever Test at the venue (a prospect that Warne himself denounced as "a disgrace" back in May), their errant son is nowhere to be seen.
Instead, he has spent the week blazing a trail at the prestigious World Series of Poker tournament in Las Vegas, where his renowned attributes of spin, showmanship, bluffing and opponent-reading have been standing him in impressive, and lucrative, stead. On July 8, just as Cardiff was becoming the 100th Test venue in the world, Warne was celebrating his progression to Friday's day three of the WSOP, as one of 607 survivors from his half of the second-day draw, and one of 2044 overall.
As many as 6,494 players stumped up the initial US$10,000 buy-in for the first round of the World Championship no-limit hold'em event, which was established back in 1970 and has gone on to become, much like the Ashes, the game's indisputed blue-riband contest. Past winners have included Phil "The Poker Brat" Hellmuth and Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, and the accompanying WSOP Bracelet is the game's most coveted badge of honour.
The final table of this year's tournament takes place on July 15 - which, coincidentally, is the eve of the second Test at Lord's. Sky officials remain adamant that Warne will eventually arrive to fulfil his contractual obligations, but he is reported to have a sizeable stack of 173,700 chips to carry him into the sharp end of the competition, having just missed out on the prizemoney in the 2008 event. Given that the 2009 winner is expected to take home more than US$10 million, by the end of the week, there may be no easy way to persuade him to return to England.
In between hands, Warne's schedule has involved hanging out with the likes of the rap star Nelly and the Hollywood actor Matt Damon, and he has caused further "tittle-tattle" - in the words of one Sky insider - with rumours of his off-table reconciliation with his ex-wife Simone Callahan and their three children.
On Sunday, ahead of the second round of the WSOP, Warne and Callahan were spotted at the Wimbledon Men's Final in London, after the couple flew back to Britain for a Twenty20 fixture between Warne's IPL side, Rajasthan Royals, and Middlesex. The match was billed as his final competitive fixture at Lord's, and Warne claimed four-over figures of 1 for 24 in a 46-run victory, but the idea of getting back involved in cricket could hardly have been further from his mind, as he revealed in his blog last week.
"On Wednesday night we had our 888 launch party at the Kingpin suite at The Palms," he wrote. "The room had a two-lane bowling alley and pool table which was awesome. I'll have to fly to London tomorrow for an exhibition cricket match and then will return on Tuesday morning for Day 2 - any offers of a private plane are welcome!"

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo