Magician labours for happy ending

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The Independent Online

Great expectations can sometimes weigh heavily on the strongest shoulders. Most people in England, and even more in Australia, thought Shane Warne would tear England's batting apart at The Oval.

It is true that he finished with his 19th Test match haul of five or more wickets in an innings and took his tally past 400. This was above all a reward for persistence as much as anything because for long periods during the day he was noticeably below his best, even if he does still nag away like a dentist's drill.

He made a great start, too, when he bowled Mike Atherton with a good one on Friday evening. If his confidence needed a further boost, Marcus Trescothick did the job for him with a poor stroke in the first over yesterday morning.

When, a little later, Mark Butcher edged the ball on to his pad and from there to Justin Langer at short leg, it was a wicket from a ball which should have been put away for runs. At this point, Warne had taken 3 for 39 in 11.1 overs and he would be the first to admit that these figures were mildly flattering.

Bowling from the Vauxhall End, he found a lot of turn, perhaps too much, but for once his usually immaculate control was not at its tightest. The odd ball was dragged down for the batsmen to cut, there were more balls to drive than usual and the Englishmen were able to use their pads with more safety than usual.

There was also a greater degree of resolve in the England batting than there has often been of late. Although two tiring days in the field may have dampened some of the enthusiasm they brought down with them from Headingley, they knew that the Australian bowling was not quite the irresistible force it had seemed earlier in the summer.

After all his shoulder problems, Warne does not nowadays have such a wide variety of tricks up his sleeve, which makes him more dependent than ever on his control.

The googly is a thing of the past; there is not the same zip off the pitch and nor is he able to make the ball dip so dangerously in its flight. This last was never better illustrated than by that ball which bowled Mike Gatting all those years ago at Old Trafford.

He will have longed to be able to call upon his old repertoire, and perhaps he suffered also from trying too hard. It was not going according to plan, and that predatory, seven-pace walk at the start of his run-up seemed almost too deliberate. As he strived for success, that lovely, easy, rhythmical approach became a little more stretched, not to say stressed. There were occasions when he went round the wicket for a few balls to alter his line of attack but it did not work and one could feel him growing more frustrated.

He will not have enjoyed giving way after lunch to Mark Waugh and, worse still, to see an innocuous off-break take the wicket of Hussain which he had worked so long and hard to take himself.

Back at the Vauxhall End after tea, though, he may have been lucky to be granted a catch behind against Alec Stewart, his 400th victim. There was some doubt, too, about Andy Caddick's lbw decision to the next ball which pitched outside the leg stump. It was a day when Warne should have been grateful for his good fortune.