Marriage splits, kiss-and-tells... and why Pietersen must play

Shane Warne may have his problems off the field, but he will soon be adding to England's in his last Ashes here

Warne has every hope that Australia's dismantling of England will continue, and yesterday he was even offering the England selectors detailed advice on the sort of side he and his team-mates would like to see them pick. But before his words of wisdom to the chairman of selectors, David Graveney, he insisted that his private life had not fallen apart quite as badly as England one-day hopes.

The Australian leg-spinner, 35, recently separated from Simone, his wife of 10 years and the mother of his three children, but he stressed that they are still on speaking terms and that his family, who moved from Melbourne to Hampshire earlier this year, will continue to support him throughout the series. "I'm very lucky actually, we're still very good friends. We speak every day or just about and I speak to the children every day, so I'm sure she will be very supportive."

Warne's problems have cost him his commentary contract with Australia's Channel Nine, worth £128,000 a year, and he acknowledged how difficult life has been. "It's obviously been a tough time for me. Having your private life splashed all over the place is disappointing, and it's tough, but my major focus is on the Ashes. I think that is one of my strengths as a cricketer. Over the years I have just been able to overcome any obstacle."

But he denied that all the unwelcome coverage was getting to him and affecting his form. "I'm not sure the off-field stuff and the publicity is getting me down. As far as I am concerned I am actually doing OK and I am looking forward to the first Test."

His mood is backed up by statistics. Warne, the highest Test wicket-taker in history with 583, has 41 first-class victims so far this season, putting him third in the English list. He has also hit two centuries.

"I suppose over a period of time, whatever happens to you in your life you just have to deal with it and move on. It's no use labouring on an issue or dragging your behind around across the floor. You have to get up get on with it. My job now is to play the best cricket I possibly can."

And before he starts doing that, of course, it is time for the ritual of talking up the opposition and, in particular, his friend and county colleague, Kevin Pietersen. "For the first time since 1989 I think England can compete for the Ashes. This time they have a legitimate chance. If Kevin Pietersen plays they will have three or four match-winners in their team."

It was the overture to an aria in praise of England's one-day wizard. "I think they [the England selectors] just have to make room for Pietersen. He is the most destructive player in England. He and Andrew Flintoff are two of the most destructive players around, but I think KP has just got that X-factor, that something extra. I expect him to play in the Test series.

"I played against him a couple of times last year and I have seen him play first-hand for Hampshire this season and there is just something special about him, something that sets him apart."

He was highly complimentary about the England captain, Michael Vaughan - "I think he gives them a bit of a calmness and a touch of class" - and Graham Thorpe - "a wonderful player", although he did add: "From my perspective I think I have got him out more times than any other English player I have played against, or at least it would be him, Nasser Hussain or Alex Stewart. So, of course, I would rather see Thorpe playing."

Finally he went the whole hog and did the England selectors' job for them. "I'd play Thorpe at five, Pietersen at six, Flintoff at seven, Geraint Jones at eight, Giles at nine, then the two quicks. That gives you Flintoff as your third seamer, plus Giles, that gives you four bowlers, and you've got Ian Bell with his medium pace and Vaughan's off-spin as well."

Warne does yearn for a competitive series, because he wants to go out a bang, not a whimper. "It is probably going to be my last Ashes tour in England. I don't think I will be around here in four years' time, so I would like to go out on a high in England."

And rather ominously for England, Warne pointed out: "I have never played in a losing Ashes series." And he clearly does not intend to start now.

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