"700 the right way"

Shane Warne kept his tryst with destiny as Australia rode roughshod over England yet again. Ted Corbett reports.

We should all be sorry to see the old rocker bow out. Shane Warne is the greatest bowler of any generation, with added charisma, the charm to tame an audience as well as a batsman or three.

I saw his first Test when he was nothing more than a kid in badly fitting, ill-matched cream and whites, when his length was erratic, his streaked hair a mess and his bowling without plan or strategy. India's batsmen, contemptuous of all but the finest spinners, took him apart.

Within a couple of years Warne was being hailed as the greatest. Coached by Terry Jenner but with a flair and power of wrist that no-one can teach, he destroyed Mike Gatting, made a generation of spectators turn from patriots into admirers and gained a whole bunch of new lovers.

No, not the ladies whose attention he sought with all the passion that you will associate with Mick Jagger and that ilk, but the cricket writers who pretend to be neutral but who are often the biggest fans.

They relished each Warne over with such enthusiasm that they could afford to be independent.

The Gatting ball, the hat-trick to finish off England, all those exotic words to summarise each trick — googly, zooter, slider and flipper lend themselves not only to tabloid copy but to broadsheet and sports magazine headlines — his miserable form, his great deliveries; combined it made him the most watched, most envied, most admired bowler of all.

Never mind the text messages, the mobile phone calls, the show biz life or the divorce, the talk about his kids, how Christmas is a time for forgiveness.

It is what rock stars do, isn't it?

"Don't ask me about social problems," said Noel Gallagher of Oasis, "I'm a rock musician." He meant he followed his instincts; so does Warne. The result is not always pretty, but his cricket is always passionate, determined, great to watch.

And, although he appeals a mite too often for my liking, he has never sold cricket short.

He's retiring from Tests and Australian first class cricket but he has a contract to fulfil with Hampshire so he is playing for them for two years. That is the action of an honourable man.

One of his mates makes a maiden century as Andrew Symonds did at Melbourne and Warne leads the applause with, on his own admission, a tear in his eye.

He would be one of Australia's finest captains but his life off the field makes authority feel uncomfortable, suggests he might pat the Queen on the backside as the Australian Prime Minister Michael Keating did, or fail to wear a tie at Lord's — although I would never have thought that of Warne — and so let the side down.

He never attained that high rank but he forgot the snub and got on with being the finest bowler.

How good?

Just about the best. Jenner sat on the stairs of a basement area of the MCG as England were being tumbled out for 159 in their first innings and Warne was taking five wickets and chewed on a packet of hot chips.

"He got everyone of those 700 with a straight arm, mate," he said. Another chip. "Never the slightest suspicion about his action. Nothing illegal. Nothing wrong. Just good, old-fashioned, bowling. Mate, that is Shane Warne. 700 the right way."

Another handful of chips and the container thrown expertly into the distant waste bin. "700 the right way. You cannot deny that, whatever you believe."

Those of us with cricket knowledge understand what he was saying and why he is — in a way he would admit is biased — saying what he does.

When Warne's records are pushed into the background we will not forget that he, of all bowlers, had the greatest of all virtues: line, length, control just like Wilfred Rhodes, Jim Laker, Clarrie Grimmett and Bill O'Reilly, Bishan Bedi and all the top spinners.

Not just a one trick pony either as he showed with his swashbuckling undefeated 40 — "cut off close to a Test century again!" he thundered at his press conference — in Australia's 419 and his four slip catches in this series.

He has taken over at first slip from Mark Taylor, one of the finest snafflers of all time — he and Mark Waugh together must be the most formidable fielding combination that has ever stood in close proximity — and there has been just a tiny drop in standards.

I think Warne has decided to quit — and this is also the decision of a man who looks beyond the narrow confines of his own profession — because the moment is so right.

He passes 700 — with or without the Super Test wickets — in what he calls his own backyard and waves to the crowd and delights in telling us how he came here to see Allan Border and Jeff Thomson try to defeat England, when the gates were thrown open and 40,000 came to watch the final morning which might have consisted of just one ball but which instead was made of the most dramatic finale to any Test.

At the MCG too he saw footie — or Aussie Rules, the AFL as it is now known — and played for the Vics, or Victoria and went on to Test cricket. So he became a legend and made sure Australia won Tests as comfortably as they won No. 4 in a row against an England side bereft of major stars.

It is the same old story and I apologise for repeating it but England without Michael Vaughan and Simon Jones and a fully-focussed Ashley Giles are not the side that won the Ashes in 2005.

Imagine Australia without Ricky Ponting's 531 runs in this series and Stuart Clark's 21 wickets and you begin to see the real reasons that England have deteriorated so badly.

Vaughan hit 326 runs in the 2005 Ashes games — and 633 with three centuries in 2002-3 in Australia — and Jones claimed 18 wickets. How could we expect to win this series without them, especially in the maelstrom that is Australia determined to win a sporting event.

By better organisation, by having a captain other than Andrew Flintoff — yes, I know I supported his appointment — by ignoring the clamour for 5-0, by living like monks and leaving their families at home and finding a better formula and by not tinkering with the side because TV experts said they should and by keeping their plans away from public gaze.

Is it fair to expect so much of a 21st century cricketer? I think so.

Oh, and by finding someone with Warne's talent for bowling leg breaks and his other varieties and by looking after him and sending him to the right tutor and by making sure he bowled at the right time and in the right circumstances.

Not the least of the faults of English cricket at the moment is the news that tiny, frail Adil Rashid, who promised leg breaks for England and powerful batting has had to have an operation on his back because he has been bowled too often aged 18.

Jenner had finished his lunch. "That is disgusting," he said. "That lad was a talent." You will note the "was."

The Scores

Fourth Test, Australia v England, Melbourne, December 26-28, 2006. Australia won by an innings and 99 runs.

England — 1st innings: A. Strauss b Warne 50; A. Cook c Gilchrist b Lee 11; I. Bell lbw b Clark 7; P. Collingwood c Ponting b Lee 28; K. Pietersen c Symonds b Warne 21; A. Flintoff c Warne b Clark 13; C. Read c Ponting b Warne 3; S. Mahmood c Gilchrist b McGrath 0; S. Harmison c Clarke b Warne 7; M. Panesar c Symonds b Warne 4; M. Hoggard (not out) 9; Extras (b-2, lb-1, nb-3) 6. Total: 159.

Fall of wkts: 1-23, 2-44, 3-101, 4-101, 5-122, 6-135, 7-136, 8-145, 9-146.

Australia bowling: Lee 13-4-36-2; McGrath 20-8-37-1; Clark 17-6-27-2; Symonds 7-2-17-0; Warne 17.2-4-39-5;

Australia — 1st innings: J. Langer c Read b Flintoff 27; M. Hayden c Read b Mahmood 153; B. Lee c Read b Flintoff 0; R. Ponting c Cook b Flintoff 7; M. Hussey b Hoggard 6; M. Clarke c Read b Harmison 5; A. Symonds c Read b Harmison 156; A. Gilchrist c Collingwood b Mahmood 1; S. Warne (not out) 40; S. Clark c Read b Mahmood 8; G. McGrath c Bell b Mahmood 0; Extras (lb-6, w-1, nb-9) 16. Total: 419.

Fall of wkts: 1-44, 2-44, 3-62, 4-79, 5-84, 6-363, 7-365, 8-383, 9-417.

England bowling: Hoggard 21-6-82-1; Flintoff 22-1-77-3; Harmison 28-6-69-2; Mahmood 21.3-1-100-4; Panesar 12-1-52-0; Collingwood 3-0-20-0; Pietersen 1-0-13-0.

England — 2nd innings: A. Strauss c Gilchrist b Lee 31; A. Cook b Clark 20; I. Bell lbw b McGrath 2; K. Pietersen b Clark 1; P. Collingwood c Langer b Lee 16; A. Flintoff lbw b Clark 25; C. Read (not out) 26; S. Mahmood lbw b Warne 0; S. Harmison lbw b Warne 4; M. Panesar c Clarke b Lee 14; M. Hoggard b Lee 5; Extras (lb-12, w-1, nb-4) 17. Total: 161.

Fall of wkts: 1-41, 2-48, 3-49, 4-75, 5-90, 6-108, 7-109, 8-127, 9-146.

Australia bowling: Lee 18.5-6-47-4; McGrath 12-2-26-1; Clark 16-6-30-3; Warne 19-3-46-2.