Cricket: Warne and peace

Alisdair Ross talks to a master spinner finding contentment at last
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The Independent Online
The Bleached, blond hair is just the same. The ready, infectious smile has not changed, and neither have the boyish good looks. But Shane Warne has - rather a lot.

Australia's master of spin is still turning the girls' heads as often as he rips a leg-break out of the rough. But although he is long accustomed to both, Warne is maturing and has come to terms with far more than his fame and a considerable fortune.

Relaxing before the First Test against South Africa which began at the Wanderers in Johannesburg on Friday, Warne explained the inner changes that have made him a stronger character and will in time, he says, make him an even better bowler.

Propping his bare feet up on an empty chair he said: "This will be my 50th Test appearance but not so long ago I was wondering whether I'd still be around at the ripe old age of 27. Now, when I look back at my early days in the Australian team, it almost makes me wince. In those days I was pretty naive but with the passing years I've learned a lot and, I believe, the difference is beginning to show at last."

Which means that despite the remarkable matter of some 231 Test wickets at just 24 runs apiece, he insists the best may be yet to come.

Warne picks his words almost as carefully as each delivery in every probing over and clearly wastes conversation reluctantly. He has a clear message to get across, however. "I'm a lot more mature. I think about things more than I ever used to and I've not just got cricket on the brain. So many other things occupy my mind. Life in general, I guess, and there's a lot of reasons for that.

"Obviously I'm not getting any younger and with age has come a new sense of responsibility. Now I've suddenly become one of the senior players in the Australian side and that has made me aware of the example I must set the younger players.

"Becoming captain of Victoria was also a very important part in my growing- up process. That was a tremendous honour and one that I am convinced has brought the very best out of me. Marriage has also settled me down and brought home the realities of my responsibilities to other people. I know I have only a short time at the top and for the well-being of my family's future I must make the most of that while I have the opportunity."

Warne is certainly doing that off the field, through his lucrative contracts with Nike, Just Jeans and Australia's Channel Nine TV network, which is where he sees his long-term future panning out. "I'm doing more and more work for Channel Nine and enjoying every minute of it. I even went out with Ian Chappell to work at the Masters in Augusta last year. That was a fantastic experience and has given me the appetite to build a career in television."

Part of this new focus stems from the injury which so nearly ended his career a year ago. Surgery on his bowling hand last May was the only cure for a long-term finger problem, and gave him pause for serious thought before he returned to the Test scene. "There were times when I thought I might not get back," he said. "I guess it's inevitable that you start to think all the worst possible scenarios when you're out with an injury like that. Now the hand is stronger than ever and that's down to all the physio work I put in when I missed our tour to Sri Lanka and India. That was a very tough time for me but now I'm reaping the benefits."

After South Africa, of course, comes the six-Test Ashes series against England. "That tour will be very special for me," he said. He added ominously: "There is still so much more I want to do in the game and the England trip will provide me with the perfect platform. I'm smart enough to realise that I only have a certain amount of time left to achieve all the targets I have set myself. I aim to get it all done before I'm through." England, you have been warned.