Seeking an update on international affairs, his attention was captured by what he considered to be the curious inability of England's cricketers at Lord's to smite apparently innocuous bowling into the next parish.
"What's the matter with those guys?" he asked on the telephone. "It looks as though a kid could murder that stuff."
The proposition that Shane Warne is capable of causing even the very best batsmen a great deal of embarrassment and would be unplayable in conditions favourable to him was met with staggered disbelief.
"I don't get it," my friend said. "I thought the idea was to throw fast."
"Bowl," I said. "Throwing isn't allowed.
"OK, you bowl it. But surely, unless the guy with the bat is a complete dummy, the slow bowl is easier to hit."
"Not if the slow bowler is an artist, especially if he is a leg-spinner.
"A leg what? But go on. Explain the art."
"Difficult. Basically, the idea is to induce a false stroke by making the ball turn sharply when it bounces. This can result in the batsman being bowled, caught, given out leg before wicket, or, if utterly bemused, stumped."
"Stumped? From what I saw most of them looked stumped."
"Yes, well that's a matter for a fellow called Duncan Fletcher, a wily old pro, who is trying to persuade England's batters that a lot of it is in the mind."
"The pitcher's - sorry the bowler's mind?'
"No the batter's."
"So Warne is not only a class act but he's put a hex on the England batters?"
"When he's in top form, as he was at Lord's, batters everywhere find him difficult to deal with. There are times when his wiles don't work but one of his biggest strengths is accuracy. Another is confidence. It all began 12 years ago when Warne bowled out one of England's best players of spin bowling, Mike Gatting, with a delivery that turned almost at right angles. From that moment it became clear that Warne would probably go on to become, which he has, the greatest leg-spin bowler in the history of the game."
"So explain what Warne does," continued my friend.
"Well, it's all to do with the energy he imparts to the ball with his fingers. By gripping the ball one way he can make it fizz off sharply from left to right, the orthodox leg-spinner. But he has more than one way of gripping the ball, more than one way of delivering it. Sometimes the ball goes straight through, keeping low. Batsmen try to 'pick' the ball by watching Warne's fingers but he is a master of concealment."
"Is there no solution to the problem?"
"Practice would help, but unfortunately there is no longer much call for leg-spinners in English cricket. The preference is for medium-pace seamers and a handful who are genuinely quick."
"So Warne will go on giving England problems?"
"Seems so, although if one or two managed to make a big score against him it might clear some of their anxiety."
"Could that undermine Warne's confidence?"
"That's unlikely. At 35, he is so well established as the finest bowler of his type nobody will get after him in a big way."
"Is there a point in history where a spinner caused England so much consternation?"
"Several. However, the death in 1994 of a truly great England batter, Peter May, recalled his marvellous innings of 285 in 1957 that saw off the West Indies' fiendish spinner, Sonny Ramadhin. It more or less ended Ramadhin's international career."
My friend paused to gather his thoughts. "Warne has the look of a pitcher," he said. "Big guy. You'd think he would want to throw it, I mean bowl it fast. Use all his power."
He sensed he was running into trouble. "I need to see more this guy," he said. "When are they putting him on again?"
"This week," I replied. "Second Test starts Thursday. Same times, same channel. Watch for his slider."
"Forget it," I said.
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