If only England had treated Shane Warne with such casual, lip-curling disdain when he was bowling, history might have been different. Or even offered a bat as dead as that they displayed yesterday.
As it is, his 708 Test wickets and readiness to have a word have granted him a status where he can shoot from the lip and regularly does. But the tourists, whose recent predecessors were invariably undone by his one-pace run-up and intimidating body language, saw him coming a mile off this time. Warne’s disparagement of more or less all things to do with the England team were greeted with a “There he goes again” refrain as they prepared to play Australia A tomorrow in their second, perhaps most significant practice match before the Ashes series begins.
It is hopeless for the purposes of those self-respecting observers trying to promote the phoney war but that is what England prefer. Ian Bell, whom Warne once dubbed “The Sherminator” after the geeky character in American Pie, could barely suppress a smirk. In fact, he didn’t.
“It’s quite funny at times and I’ve certainly learnt over time that there’s no point wasting energy trying to find compliments from Australians,” Bell said yesterday when informed of Warne’s latest piece of mischief.
“It’s just not going to happen. We could win 5-0 and still have negatives from Australia so I’m not going to waste any energy any more worrying about it and I don’t think the other lads will either. That’s how we feel. At the end of the day we’ve just got to go out and do what we do and look after the team and environment we have and go out and win.”
Warne does not bother sledging Bell these days, recognising that things have changed a bit, irrevocably so after the England batsman’s three hundreds in last summer’s Ashes series. But the latest, beautifully calculated tirade included a tilt at Alastair Cook’s captaincy and Joe Root’s position as opener.
According to Warne, Cook has to be more imaginative and, if he is not, England will lose the forthcoming series, which starts on 21 November. “He lets the game drift, he waits for the game to come to him,” he said. Of Root Warne claimed: “I don’t think he’s an opener because his technique isn’t tight enough.”
Root did not rise to the bait. One Ashes series behind him and he knows how it works. “I don’t know why he said that. I think typically when they toured England they had a very distinct way of attacking us in the media and that’s one way they go about things – well, he goes about things,” he said.
“And that’s not for me to worry about I can only prepare for what I’m going to be doing and it would be wrong for me to look at things like that. I can only concentrate on my cricket.”
England’s reputation for being whingeing Poms has been built on sand for at least 20 years. Throughout the Nineties and Noughties, they took their beatings in Australia like men and now that they have the upper hand they are careful to be invariably polite and uninvolved. Off the pitch, at least, they are fastidious in avoiding sledging.
Butter not melting in his mouth, Root said: “I can only look to improve my technique and my game. I don’t know how things are going to pan out. I don’t think Shane Warne’s ever said a nice word about an England touring team so I think it would be wrong for me to listen to everything he says, but I’ll definitely be making sure I prepare well going into that first Test match.”
England’s young opener has another little local difficulty to face in the coming tour. His surname happens to be Australian slang for sexual intercourse and is thus a gift from the gods for would-be sledgers, whether in the crowd or the Australia team.
“That’s been mentioned a few times,” said Root. “I could get a bit of stick about that in the next few months and I’m quite looking forward to seeing what they come up with. It will be quite interesting.”
England really do need to improve their phoney-war tactics. Or maybe they have them just right.