Finale is the biggest Test of our careers, says Warne

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The Independent Online

"It's my last Test match I'll ever play in England," Warne said at The Oval, where Australia need to win the final Test beginning tomorrow to retain the Ashes. "I love England. I always have, ever since I first came here in 1988. I live here now and I play for Hampshire. I enjoy playing over here and I'll have mixed emotions playing my last Test match here. I won't be coming back in four years' time."

Although 36 next week, Warne has played some of his best cricket in the past two months. In his first Ashes series here he took 34 wickets in six matches at 25.79 runs apiece; in the first four Tests of the current series his 28 wickets (nine more than the next most successful bowlers, Andrew Flintoff and Brett Lee) have cost an average of just 19.67 runs.

Warne described himself yesterday as "a bit of a hack" with the bat, yet he has been one of his team's most reliable batsmen. He averages 31.12, better than Matthew Hayden, Damien Martyn, Simon Katich and Adam Gilchrist. Only Flintoff has scored at a faster rate.

"I thought Glenn McGrath put it pretty well the other day," Warne said. "He said that if a 25-year-old is struggling people say he's out of form. If a 35-year-old is struggling they say he's too old. You're as old as you feel and if you're doing well your age is irrelevant. There was all that rubbish people came out with about players not being able to stand up to back-to-back Test matches earlier in the series. I think I'm the oldest player and I think I've done OK. This has probably been my best ever series... But nothing that's happened so far in this series matters now. It all boils down to five days here. How well I've been bowling or batting is irrelevant. It's the same for both sides. It's basically a one-Test-match series now."

Warne's performances have been all the more remarkable considering the turmoil in his private life. He hoped to have put marital problems behind him when his family joined him in England this year, but his wife, Simone, faced with more reports of his alleged indiscretions, returned to Australia with their three children. "What I've had to go through off the field this year in my private life has been the toughest thing that's ever happened in my life," Warne said. "I've been very proud of the way I've played in this series. It hasn't been easy. It's been tough. I've got three weeks now until I go home and see my kids. This is my last series here, so I want to make it something special."

Warne describes the Ashes decider as "the biggest Test match of all our careers, for both England and Australia". With 12 of the touring party the wrong side of 30 it is also likely to be their last match together. "That's quite sad, but the prospect of what's at the end of it if we play well is also quite exciting. I think 2-2 would be a pretty good reflection of the series and it would be a nice way to go out on a high.

"It's a huge game. It's uncharted waters for both sides. England have never been in this situation against Australia, where they've come into the last Test knowing they only have to draw it to regain the Ashes, and for us every time we've come here the Ashes has been over. In 1993 and 1997 we lost chasing small totals and in 2001 we won comfortably and it didn't matter. This is the first time The Oval Test counts for something in my time, and this is my fourth tour." He has enjoyed the spirit in which this series has been played. "I think I've been one of the most aggressive players. I like throwing the ball at batsmen's heads and things like that. But you can also play in the right spirit. We've celebrated together after every Test match. We've drunk together in the changing rooms, whether it's water, Coke or Freddie opening bottles of beer with his mouth."

Not that the leg-spinner could resist one parting shot. Asked whether the series represented a change in cricket's world order, Warne replied: "If England want to become the best side in the world it's not about one series. It's about a period of time. That's why we've been so good for 10 years or more. We've beaten everybody at home and away."