Cricket: False dawn exposed by Warne

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The Independent Online
After the breathless drama of Edgbaston and the unanswered questions of Lord's, this threatens to be the moment that sees English cricket facing a charge of false euphoria.

On a day of rare sunshine in this dank summer, the harsh chill of reality made an unwelcome comeback in this Third Test. Once the embers of Australia's innings had been extinguished, a crowd eager to share more English glory witnessed a classic war of attrition the home side seemed to be winning.

The pitch had lost a good deal of Thursday's spice but England were not to be tempted into any liberties, determined by care and correctness to be its absolute masters. And despite Michael Atherton's early departure, at 74 for 1 everything seemed to be going swimmingly.

Then came the unpleasant realisation that all those re-assessments of Shane Warne, those confident assertions that he was no longer the feared phenomenon of old, were somewhat wide of the mark. His very first delivery, turning sharply out of the rough, instantly recalled the so-called Ball from Hell with which he announced himself here four years ago.

Perhaps it let loose demons in the minds of the England batsmen for they never again played with their initial assurance. "I tried to do something special with the first ball, just like in 1993," Warne admitted, "although it didn't quite work out this time."

Asked whether his five wickets took a weight off his mind, Warne denied there had been a problem with his form. "I don't really worry about what people say. The only thing that concerns me is the way the ball is coming out and it seems to be coming out pretty well right now."

Warne now has 248 victims in Test cricket, equalling the total achieved by Richie Benaud, Australia's most successful slow bowler of all time.

The England coach, David Lloyd, applauded Warne's bowling but criticised his own side for letting him dominate. "He bowled well but we should have been posing the questions, not the other way around. We allowed ourselves to get becalmed when we should have been more positive. It was disappointing because it is today and tomorrow that batting conditions are likely to be at their best."

Exempt from criticism was Mark Butcher, who followed his 87 at Lord's with a half-century of not inconsiderable merit, an essay of studied defence and impeccable judgement. One lost count of the number of subtle "leaves" as the Australian pace trio sought in vain to induce a false stroke. It was well into the afternoon before he allowed himself the liberty of a hook, so often the shot of his undoing in the past.

Indeed, it was an innings marred only by his one, fatal error. Even then it took a brilliant piece of work by Ian Healy to ensure the one mistake was costly.

It was the critical dismissal of the day and happened to be the 100th in Ashes Tests for the 33-year-old Australian wicketkeeper, a milestone achieved before him only by Rodney Marsh and Alan Knott, in whose company he is by no means out of place.