Cricket: Australia to gamble on Warne's spin

Ashes tour: Recall for controversial bowler and talisman for final Test as jubilant England celebrate famous triumph
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The Independent Online
THERE IS a good deal of bluff and bluster involved in the Australian psyche and no sooner had Alec Stewart's team won a Test match than Australia's selectors went knocking on Shane Warne's door. Suddenly this series has got serious and it is Australia, panicked into change by an England side fired by passion and renewed purpose, who appear to be under pressure.

Warne may be Australia's talisman, but he has not played a Test since the tour of India last March following surgery to his right shoulder. Instead, when he has not been dodging questions over his meeting with Indian bookies, he has been easing his way back into the limelight with the Victoria state side.

Yet, if he has got through an impressive amount of overs, the wickets have come in dribs and drabs, and those who know him and have seen him bowl say that the arm speed of old has not yet returned and that playing him now would compromise both the bowler and the man.

Warne, however, feels he is ready for a return to the big time, and he comes into the squad in place of Matt Nicholson and not of Stuart MacGill who, despite a hamstring tweak, is almost certain to play. That means Australia have three spinners and two pace bowlers in their squad, an indication that they clearly expect the Sydney pitch to turn big and early.

"There's no drama in my shoulder injury any more," said Warne after he had been picked for the final Test, which starts on Saturday. "It feels good and I'm ready. In fact it's got to the stage now that if Tubs [Mark Taylor] wants me to bowl as many overs as possible, I can. Mind you, getting picked and going back to Sydney feels like my first Test and obviously I'm a bit anxious about it."

Shoulder operations are notoriously fickle, and there were times during his rehabilitation when Warne felt that his playing days might be over.

"After I got out of the sling and nothing was happening I started to think what I might do. I'm not qualified at anything. Basically I've dedicated my life to cricket and I wouldn't know what to do. Maybe I could start coaching or go to England to teach leg-spin bowling.

"If you look at the pure stats, England do not play leggies that well. But I'm sure they'll be coming out with a point to prove. They are on a bit of a roll and with their tails up, they might come out and try to attack us a bit in the last Test."

Warne, has been one of the great draw cards of the last decade and only the most one-eyed England supporter would not wish him well. Cricket needs players of his calibre to generate interest in the game.

"Good luck to the lad if he's ready to play," England's coach, David Lloyd, said. "I know he'll be itching to get going again.

"Whenever we play teams like Australia, they hit us with two things - big pace and wrist-spin. In fact they've got the option of playing two leggies in Sydney.

"We've got big pace but we haven't quite got the wrist-spin yet. Hopefully either Ian Salisbury or Chris Schofield, Lancashire's young leg-spinner, will give us that in the future. In fact the sooner we get Schofield involved the better. It may sound daft but, if it were me, I'd pick him for Sydney."

Schofield, who has been playing grade cricket in Melbourne, is no stranger to the England team. Drafted in to bowl in the nets, he has travelled with the team to Adelaide and Hobart. With only two first-class games under his belt, he is still a novice, and playing him in Sydney would be a risk distinctly un-English in its daring.

Far closer to home were the ritual celebrations that tend to follow any extraordinary victory. Lloyd, like most of the England players, looked shattered, a mixture of hangover and ebbing euphoria still coursing through their bodies.

Only Test cricket can provide stomach somersaulting moments like those on Tuesday evening. As the nerves of both players and spectators were wound tighter and tighter, the pain becomes almost blissful. If the lows can be disheartening, and heaven knows this England team have endured more than their fair share of them, the highs are vertiginous.

"Considering it was over in four days, it was a really memorable game," Lloyd said. "We were several overs down on the run rate, but because it was such a brilliant contest, with spectators on the edge of their seats, the match referee scrubbed the lot.

"Also we had their coach, Geoff Marsh, come into our dressing-room and shake everyone's hands, to say fair dinkum and well done. It's little things like that which made it a really top day."

Like Taylor, Lloyd felt that the superb catch taken by Mark Ramprakash was the moment that turned the tide England's way.

"We've been bemoaning the fact that we couldn't hold on to any of the half chances, those little reflex catches that can change things. When Ramps took that catch, it gave us all a hell of a lift. Mind you, he'd been pumped up all tour and he, along with Nasser Hussain, have been outstanding both as players and individuals."

Aware of the speculation that has recently appeared regarding his job, Lloyd denied he was thinking of standing down. "It's not my intention to stand down, but then it won't be my problem as it's out of my control anyway," he said.

"I'll keep working until someone says we're going to change tack. As far as I understand it, my contract is until the end of 1999 season and I've got the full support of the people around me."

After the debacle in Hobart, it would not have been surprising if Lloyd had been caught at an emotional low point. But for him as well as everyone else involved with this England team, Melbourne has changed all that.

Lloyd added: "What I really enjoyed was for new players like Alex Tudor and Warren Hegg to see a game like that. That's what Test cricket is all about, and what you play and make all those sacrifices for. It's just that, sometimes, it goes the other way."

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