Cricket: View from Down Under - The architect of a beautiful destructio n

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The Independent Online
When Shane Warne has the ball in his hand there is compelling reason to sit up suddenly and watch the cricket. When the batsman facing him has announced via a broad, swinging bat that he doesn't intend to be intimidated, then the prospect is even more inviting.

Alec Stewart's tilt with Warne on day two of this Trent Bridge Test was memorable stuff. We can take two views, yours - an England batsman intent on continuing to enjoy his run picnic; and, ours - the sleight of hand used by the magician Warne to make Stewart disappear.

It was a joy to see Stewart's attacking mindset, to appreciate his taking on the Australian bowlers; but just as rewarding was to watch Warne's planning as it unfolded. By my reckoning Warne got Stewart with the second ball of his ninth over, or the 22nd ball he bowled to him.

It was all such pure Test-match cricket - pressure building, minds bending. Yet its beginning was almost amateurish. When Stewart faced Warne for the first time, the first ball of his second over, he hit a half-volley for four, an on-drive that skipped over Reiffel's block at mid-on. Then it got better.

Stewart skipped down the pitch to the fifth ball and slogged it, with just an element of risk off a thickish inside edge, wide of mid-on for four. Eight off the over, but Warne had clearly taken heart from Stewart's aggression and, in the next over it was clear he had a plan.

The third ball is to Stewart, and it's the one outside the legs that can snake back and hit leg stump. Stewart pads. It's Warne's way of establishing superiority, however slight. Then, with the last three balls of the over and the first of his fourth Warne reminds us that he is the cricketing version of a demolition man laying explosive charges.

He floats one up, Stewart dances to it and it almost goes for six over mid-on, as sweet a hit as you'd see. The next ball is not defensive, as a novice might bowl, or even the tight one outside leg. It's loopy, high and slow, and invites an encore. Stewart blocks it, then offers Warne a self-satisfied grin. Warne responds with one of his own - one that seeks to deceive.

It was one of those delightful moments that signal there's a real battle going on. With the last ball Warne gives us a sighter of his trap. He delivers from wide of the crease, thus changing the line of the ball. Stewart blocks it. The first ball of Warne's fourth over is a replay, wide of the crease, slanting in.

By now Warne's line is exclusively middle, middle and off and his length is full, inviting the drive, seeking to satisfy Stewart's appetite to get on the front foot. Warne's plan is to beat him with flight, spin and line change, hoping for a miscued drive or an outside edge.

And, he almost does in over five. The third ball is up, and it seems to stop in flight as if pulled back and down by a string and Stewart, although deceived, does well to defend it. A plus for Warne.

Warne tosses the next a little higher and Stewart does what Warne hopes he will - he dances forward and in an attempt to regain authority, goes over the top again, but this time he's dangerously short of the pitch of the ball and the result is more a seven-iron than a three-iron. Only three runs, not a repeat of the earlier fours. Advantage Warne.

Stewart, mindful of the miscue, must quickly re-establish the mood that has been favouring his bravery, but he doesn't face a ball in Warne's sixth over. That may have been frustrating - after all, he was starting to get near a maiden Test century against Australia.

He faces the first ball of Warne's seventh over, a short one on his legs which he tucks for one and, the last ball produces an identical result. These short ones raise the spectre that Warne's well-worn spinning finger and/or the shoulder might be hurting. Can he be tiring?

Stewart, in the eighties, watches John Crawley take all of Warne's eighth over. Before Warne starts his ninth, Glenn McGrath bowls to Stewart. McGrath is at his most aggressive, body language screaming, bustling in, torso straining forward. Like a sniper drawing a bead. His pace is sharp, his length short, his aim clear: disturb Stewart.

At the first bouncer, Stewart plays a strange sort of ducking hook shot and Greg Blewett fields magnificently; Stewart gets no boundary, no runs, and what's more he can't get away from McGrath. The next bouncer, nearly takes off Stewart's head and McGrath's run-through finishes one intimidating yard from Stewart.

Another short one follows and Stewart carves it through the covers, but it's uppish and there's something about the shot that brings to mind the boxer Jack Dempsey's famous "kill the other guy before he kills you" tactic. You sense that Stewart's blood has been brought to the boil by McGrath.

Warne has seen it too. He begins his ninth over, Stewart on strike, and the first ball is from wide of the crease, high outside off and Stewart tries for a hard-hit drive which skews off the bottom edge. The next ball, too, is from wide of the crease, but higher, a touch wider but with much more top spin and dropping like a shot put.

Stewart aims another big drive, but he is well short of the pitch, beaten in flight and gets only an outside edge. The scoreline reads Stewart, caught Healy bowled Warne, 87. Somewhere, in brackets perhaps, we should mention, "with a little bit of help from his friend, Glenn McGrath".

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