Cricket World Cup: Warne has snipers spinning

Australia's much-maligned bowler has timed his revival to perfection, stumping his critics. By Jon Culley
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The Independent Online
AUSTRALIAN CRICKET at its best, Steve Waugh declared the other day, is about "inner strength". He could have been talking about himself, with special reference to that extraordinary sheer-guts innings at Headingley last Sunday which kept his country's World Cup challenge alive. Now he can use the phrase with equal conviction about Shane Warne.

Just when his detractors - and a few of his friends - were suggesting he was finished, a spent force after the shoulder operation that kept him out of cricket for six months last year, the fabled leg-spinner chose Thursday's semi-final to demonstrate that it is simply not so. He will take the field for tomorrow's final at Lord's having spun some magic straight from his golden years and fizzed out not only South Africa but several teams of critics lining up to pen his cricketing obituary.

Only last week, Bob Willis, the former England bowler turned television commentator, had written him off as an effective force, declaring that he had "lost 40 per cent of his repertoire". "His googly is now a rarity, and the top spinner hardly ever comes out of the cupboard," Willis declared, his words echoed by former Australian captain Ian Chappell, who said Warne "fails to spin the ball or curve it through the air as much as he used to and is missing a bit of fizz off the pitch." Even his team-mate Glenn McGrath, with whom Warne has worked in harmony on many a destructive mission, said he "should take some time to consider his future in the international game" once the World Cup was over. Meanwhile, riled by an intensively negative press back home, the 29-year-old player began a self-imposed media silence and a protective Waugh accused critics of trying to destroy him. But after Thursday's exploits, Warne is talking again and relishing the chance to hit back. First to be nailed was the idea that he should toss away the cricket ball and head for the beach. "I don't think I've ever bowled better in a one-day game," he said. "So I think that squashes any thoughts that my shoulder has gone or I'm no good any more. I'm getting back to the way I used to bowl in the golden years."

If tangible proof of that were required, look at the ball that leapt from leg-stump to off to leave Herschelle Gibbs in total bemusement, a delivery quite probably the equal of the Mike Gatting ball of 1993. Then Warne turned the snipers' fire back at them. "People can say what they like and everyone is entitled to his own opinion but some people haven't got any idea," he said. "Sometimes I pick up the paper and I wonder if those people writing have been at the same game.

"But I don't take notice of that and it is not something I need to get myself fired up about. I only worry about people I respect and what they say."

Even so, there is no disguising the evidence that Warne, dropped from Australia's Test side for the first time in seven years in the West Indies, had not enjoyed a profitable World Cup, at least until the first match against South Africa, in the Super Six, when 10 overs for 33 hinted that something was beginning to go right. Before that, his first 10 wickets had come at a high price. In the Super Six, he had conceded 49 in only 6.2 overs against India and then, still more humiliatingly, gone for 55 against Zimbabwe, when Neil Johnson struck him for four boundaries in one over.

Inevitably, tomorrow's decider will be billed as Warne's guile against Shoaib Akhtar's raw pace. Jokingly, Warne said he wished he "could bowl as quick" as Pakistan's young tearaway, but prepares for their showdown knowing that his own gift is fully restored. He can massage his well-being, too, with the knowledge that his captain backed him all along, even if few others did.

A week ago, Steve Waugh said: "He [Warne] will come good when the time is right. He'll bowl his best when the game hangs on his 10 overs." The shrewdest of judges as ever, he was absolutely right.

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