Warne heights

Shane Warne, the Australian leg break bowler, gets it right every time he bowls as his haul of wickets proves; as his rightful place in the top five cricketers of the 20th century indicates; as 1,000 shell-shocked batsmen will testify, writes TED CORBETT.

LEG SPIN bowlers are freaks. They perform their art against all the ways of nature, spinning the ball out of the front, the back and the side of the hand instead of the ball facing the batsman, as the gods intended. It is a difficult skill too. Few succeed because it needs more strength than a fast bowler to get the ball up in the air slowly, down the pitch on the right line and length and then to make it turn from leg to off. And as for all that twisting involved in producing a googly, don't even think of trying.

Why do they attempt these unnatural practices when they could have an easier, quieter life rolling the ball the other way? I'll tell you why. Because in the main leg break and googly bowlers are ornery, awkward, troublesome cusses who would rather fail as they try the impossible every day than succeed with an orthodox method.

Once in a blue moon, whenever an Eskimo yearns for an ice cream, each time Miss World rings to ask if I fancy a tete a tete round at her place, the ordinary leg spinner gets it right and the feeling, I promise, is magnificent.

I did it once; the moment lives with me now although it is half a century ago. We had one good batsman at my village club and one night he came down to the nets and there was only me to bowl at him. Leg breaks, of course; he was a sophisticated league batsman, I was 14 and ambitious. My first ball fizzed out of my fingers, dropped on the line of leg stump, bit and turned and bowled him on the defensive forward shot. It knocked back his off stump and he glared at me. "I bet you can't do that again," he said. And he was right. I never did, although I once hit the square leg umpire with a googly.

Shane Warne, the Australian leg break bowler, gets it right every time he bowls as his 603 wickets (at the end of the first innings of the third Ashes Test) proves; as his rightful place in the top five cricketers of the 20th century indicates; as 1,000 shell-shocked batsmen will testify.

We all know the details of Warne's life in the limelight. What more is there to say about the finest, most mesmerising, most tantalising, cunning, devious wrist bowler who ever lived? Because he is one of that peculiar breed who chooses to get batsmen out with trickery we should try to find what makes him different from, and better than, Grimmett, O'Reilly, Benaud, Dooland, Ring, McCool, Bob Holland, all of Australia where they have always had more than their fair share; Freeman and Wright (both of Kent) and Hollies of Warwickshire; Abdul Qadir, Mushtaq Ahmed, Danish Kaneria from Pakistan, Anil Kumble (although heaven knows Kumble has great figures too); to name only some of the obvious.

The answer is spin, not the spin he imparts to the ball but the spin he imparts to the magical art, the conjurer's trickery, the master illusionist's craft.

In other words Warne is as good a talker about what might be possible as he rotates that huge wrist as he is at delivering the goods. But then, in the practice of beating the fairground drum, as well as delivering his wide selection of different deliveries, he had a wonderful adviser.

Terry Jenner holds his own degree in distraction as well as coaching leg break bowlers old and young and he was the perfect tutor for Warne, a ready pupil.

To begin with it was Jenner who told him to forget beer if he wanted to be a sportsman. Bobby Simpson, then the Australian coach and a leg spin bowler as well as an opening bat and just about the best slip anyone ever saw, made him understand that he had to be fit and lean to achieve the same result after his Test debut.

I saw that Test and although Warne was badly turned out, with a beach bum's bronzed looks and dyed hair and bowled as might be expected from a youngster — against India whose batsmen know a thing or two about spin — you could smell the talent.

A diet, abstinence, more hard practice and in 1992 Warne was off to Sri Lanka with the full Australian side where the talent was turned into results and the world began to sit up and take notice.

In the last 13 years Warne has done most things. We'll forget the peripheral naughtiness; this piece is in praise of his skills as a bowler not his personal life.

He has stuck with Jenner, who has grown in fame, as he has guided Warne to the top. It is a fruitful partnership partly because Jenner has had his own share of trouble and might have been grateful for a paternalistic telling-off in his dog days. He taught Warne how to bowl, corrected his mistakes, instructed him in all the skills needed if you are to be a great Test bowler and gave him a hint or two on one subject which has no place in the MCC coaching manuals.

Jenner's greatest gift to Warne was in what I will diffidently call propaganda. I could call it the art of lying but that would be insulting. It is a politician's way with words. They call it spin and the word could hardly be more appropriate.

Let's face there are only three ways a cricket ball can move. Straight on. Right to left, or leg to off; and left to right or off to leg. To hear Warne and Jenner describe his "slider", his "zooter" and his "flipper" you might suppose that Warne could make the ball turn inside out, go beyond the stumps and return, or disappear into the ground and come up singing, dancing and giving off a strange scent.

The words had their effect. For most of his ten great years from the moment he bowled Mike Gatting with a gigantic leg break at Old Trafford until his recent shoulder operation he regularly made reference to other mystery balls, magic bullets that would hop, skip and jump all over the pitch.

Some batsmen, wondering whether to play him by watching his hand position, or through the air, or off the pitch found they were even more confused. Not the great batsmen who played him according to line and length and moved forward and back based on their judgement. But the half good and the tail-enders were totally bewildered. Was this ball the top spinner, the slider or one of (supposedly) half a dozen types of leg break? Perhaps it was the off spinner, the flipper or the googly. By the time the wretched batsman had made up his mind he was usually out.

Take Alec Stewart, a brave opening batsman who feared no fast bowler and would stand up and hit their short balls whether they came at his knee, his waist or his head. He made 8,463 Test runs at nearly 40; no mug with the bat. Spin he did not like and it is a symbol of Warne's mastery over Stewart that he was his 250th victim in the 1997 Test at Old Trafford. He was also Warne's 400th victim on his own home ground at the Oval in 2001.

It was not so much that Warne could deal with Stewart but that he had a jinx on every good batsman although Brian Lara survived better than most. If Lara survives runs come in huge numbers and for all West Indies have often been under the cosh to Warne, Lara has sailed on.

It was at Manchester too that Warne bowled the ball of the century, which was far from being one of his fancy deliveries. Instead, first ball of his spell, Warne produced a leg break that turned so much it left Gatting stranded, not playing a shot to a ball well outside leg stump, which bowled him behind his back while he stood there looking as if he had just been thunderstruck. People tease Gatting about that ball every so often and he still looks as if he feels he was not so much bowled out as mugged.

Gatting is not alone. Wherever Warne has played Test cricket there have been a trail of batsmen who seem to be in a daze, whose self-belief has suffered the sort of dent we find — mysteriously — in our cars, who know they have met their match.

Matchless; that is the word I have been looking for. Warne has no one who can equal him, whether it is a fast bowler, a medium pace purveyor of seam and swing; no off spinner nor slow left arm bowler; as well as none of the odd balls who pretend, like Muttiah Muralitharan and Saqlain Mushtaq, that they are off spinners but really have an extra delivery, often on the borders of illegality.

No one can match Warne for skill, for variety, for control, and especially not for being able to do every day what the rest of the spin bowling world hopes to do once in a lifetime.

AP

Opponents M Balls Md Runs Wkts Ave. Best 5i 10m S/R R/O

England 29* 8407 428 3360 149 22.55 8/71 8 3 56.42 2.40

India 14 3925 139 2029 43 47.19 6/125 1 - 91.28 3.10

New Zealand 20 5770 252 2511 103 24.38 6/31 3 - 56.02 2.61

Pakistan 15 4050 192 1816 90 20.18 7/23 6 2 45.00 2.69

South Africa 18 6130 303 2257 101 22.35 7/56 6 2 60.69 2.21

Sri Lanka 13 3167 132 1507 59 25.54 5/43 5 2 53.68 2.85

West Indies 16 3284 132 1581 49 32.27 7/52 1 - 67.02 2.89

Zimbabwe 1 319 13 137 6 22.83 3/68 - - 53.17 2.58

TOTAL 126 35052 1591 15198 600 25.33 8/71 30 9 58.42 2.62

Wkt Victim Opponents Venue Season Test No. 1st Ravi Shastri India Sydney 1991-92 1st

50th Nasser Hussain England Nottingham 1993 14th

100th Brian McMillan South Africa Adelaide 1993-94 23rd

150th Alec Stewart England Melbourne 1994-95 31st

200th Chaminda Vaas Sri Lanka Perth 1995-96 42nd

250th Alec Stewart England Manchester 1997 55th

300th Jacques Kallis South Africa Sydney 1997-98 63rd

350th Hrishikesh Kanitkar India Melbourne 1999-00 80th

400th Alec Stewart England The Oval 2001 91st

450th Ashwell Prince South Africa Durban 2001-02 101st

500th Hashan Tillekeratne Sri Lanka Galle 2003-04 108th

533rd Irfan Pathan India Chennai 2004-05 114th*

550th James Franklin New Zealand Adelaide 2004-05 117th

600th Marcus Trescothick England Manchester 2005 126th

* World Record

All records are updated up to the first day of the Manchester Test match (11-08-2005).

— Compiled by Mohandas Menon (Player, Matches, Wickets, Average, Best)

M. Muralitharan (SL): 93 549 22.47 9-51-

C. A. Walsh (WI): 132 519 24.44 7-37-

G. D. McGrath (Aus): 110 508 21.01 8-24-

A. Kumble (Ind): 95 461 28.23 10-74-

Kapil Dev (Ind): 131 434 29.64 9-83-

R. J. Hadlee (NZ): 86 431 22.29 9-52-

Wasim Akram (Pak): 104 414 23.62 7-119-

C. E. L. Ambrose (WI): 98 405 20.99 8-45-

I. T. Botham (Eng): 102 383 28.40 8-34-

Compiled by V.V. Rajasekhara Rao