Middlesex sense Warne on wane as Weekes seals win

It also prompted some heretical thoughts about the world's leading Test wicket-taker (583 at 25.51) and whether he was not just beginning to show signs of age.

True Warne, who will be 36 in September, arrived as one of the leading first-class wicket-takers this summer, but it was his Hampshire team-mate Shaun Udal - six months older but wearing rather better - who had Middlesex worrying whether they would make it two wins in a row.

Certainly Udal's match figures, 6 for 78, made for better reading than Warne's 4 for 165, but there were other indications as well. The leg-spinner's arm was lower in delivery here, and the googly, one of Warne's many potent weapons, was not in evidence. And there were too many poor balls, long hops in the main, that were easy to punish.

"My boys thought Udal was a bit of a threat," the Middlesex captain, Ben Hutton, said after his team's victory, a win which moves them up the First Division table. The unspoken statement being that Warne was not feared.

And the Middlesex coach, John Emburey, who played on well into his forties, did see a difference in the Australian. "He has been under a lot of pressure recently because of his private life. It has been pretty tough. But he is still a match-winner, he gives you control of one end." But when pushed Emburey added: "Your body does slow down as you get older. I played the game until I was 45 and although you don't like to admit it you lose that snap and you don't quite get through the action as you used to do."

He could not quite bring himself to apply that to Warne, but the implication was clear. On the evidence of this match there was more of a frisson when Middlesex's rookie slow left-armer, Chris Peploe, and Jamie Dalrymple, their raw off-spinner, were wheeling away in tandem. Warne is not over the hill, but he is not that far away either.

The one thing Middlesex did have was time on their side - they wrapped up the game with 63 overs to spare in the day - thanks to the seasoned campaigner Paul Weekes, who kept his head and his wicket as the upper order wobbled dangerously and flirted with defeat.

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