Cricket: Surfie riding the crest of a wave

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WHEN Shane rode into that valley in Montana, to protect the homesteader against the local cattle baron, the soundtrack recalled an old Western song, 'Song of the Faraway Hills'. When Shane Warne rode into this first Cornhill Test in Manchester, England may have been hearing the sound of the faraway Ashes.

Warne, with his shock of blond hair and nose and lips daubed with white zinc cream, may look like a loose forward from Paramatta but he bowls leg-breaks like an angel. His first ball to Mike Gatting, pitching outside the leg stump and hitting the off, was the wondrous event of the year and gave ageing leg-spinners everywhere a fleeting glimpse of heaven. Gatting wore the look of a man who had suddenly had a jet of ice-cold water spurted up his trouser leg.

Australia's coach, Bobby Simpson, warned: 'He can bowl better, as he did in New Zealand. He's still the best 23-year-old leg-spinner I've seen; he's so accurate and he's already developed a flipper, much sooner than did Richie Benaud. The ball that bowled Gatting was psychologically very important to the series. Shane won't get many surfaces like this to bowl on in England - I can't think of one that has turned like this since 1956 - but he's learning quickly. He's a lad with a huge amount of determination.'

England's manager, Keith Fletcher, conceded Warne was a threat but pointed out England have two spinners to Australia's one. 'He bowled well but his third wicket (Gooch) was from a full toss. We've got a chance while the ball keeps turning. This is a rogue wicket; when the first ball from a leg-spinner turns that much it's a shock to everyone.

'I think that 250 will take some getting in the last innings and I don't think there will be too much left of the match on Sunday evening.'

The day's play was made more exciting by the performance of the spinners and the authorities should be grateful for Manchester's rain. If the pitch had rolled out as truly and as bland as most modern Test pitches then both sides would have used four seamers and the spinners would have been restricted, modern style, to a few overs before the intervals.

Whatever the result of this Test, there has already been enough excitement and interest engendered to set up a series that was already on the way to becoming a sell-out. Lancashire had taken pounds 711,000 before the first ball was bowled and with a fine weekend promised and a suspenseful Test match in balance, this ground may be testing its new 21,350 capacity. There are 4,000 tickets remaining for today.

The only disappointment has been the reluctance to buy the more expensive seats in the 2,520-capacity new stand.