In the end England were stuck somewhere between a leg-break and a flipper. Had Andrew Flintoff's side retained the Ashes in Australia this winter the spectre of Shane Warne would have continued to torment his batsmen until 2009. But had England not won the Ashes in 2005 Warne would have retired from the game after the Oval Test. In the end, from an English point of view, it was probably a fair compromise.
For the last month Warne has bowled like a man on a mission. Losing the Ashes hurt him deeply, and he was not prepared to leave the game he loves, and to which he has given so much, without its most prized possession back with Australia. And now, having completed his quest, he can walk into the sunset a proud and contented man, as he should.
Warne confirmed yesterday at a sweltering Melbourne Cricket Ground that he will retire from all international cricket and all cricket in Australia after the Sydney Test, which begins on 2 January. English cricket fans, however, are in for a treat after the 37-year-old said that he would honour his contract with Hampshire and play for the county for two more seasons.
"I would probably have retired after the 2005 Ashes series had we won," he admitted. "But it left me with some unfinished business to deal with. Since a young age I have not wanted the English to win anything, so it became a mission to get those Ashes back, no matter how long it took. I sit here now a very happy man.
"I think you can tell that I have been pretty determined to do this from the way I have bowled. It has been hard work at times and the body will enjoy not having to play again for a while after Sydney. The back has been pretty stiff, but when the game has been on the line I have been able to deliver.
"It is something that is in me, I don't know why, but the tougher and harder it is, the better I do, and the more I want the ball in my hand. I am glad I am like that. I know down the line there will be a time when I can't deliver but I have managed to in this series.
"Once the Ashes had been regained it was my time to go. My career has been an unbelievable ride. I do not think I could have written my script any better. I know I am extremely lucky and I have a lot of people to thank.
"When I thought about sitting here and making this announcement, I imagined I would be sad but a lot of people have said to me, 'you'll know when your time is up'. I used to doubt those comments, but I sit here now knowing exactly what they meant. I sit here with every single trophy that is available in international cricket resting in the Cricket Australia offices. As a player I would like to think that I have played my part in helping get the trophies in those offices."
Six hundred and ninety-nine Test wickets, at an average of 25, suggest that Warne has made quite a significant contribution to Australia's success. But not everyone was happy to hear the news of his retirement.
"I told my children and they were a bit disappointed," he said. "They thought it would stop me playing backyard cricket with them too. They asked me whether I would carry on playing with them and I said I would. I am looking forward to spending more time with them in the backyard."
It is to be hoped that Warne is a bit more sympathetic with his children than he has been to Test batsmen since his debut at Sydney 15 years ago. Warne made an inauspicious start, taking 1 for 150 against India, but in his third Test appearance he took the last three Sri Lanka wickets in Colombo to set up a remarkable Australian win. And figures of 7 for 52 against the West Indies on Boxing Day in 1992 soon followed.
"I never dreamt that my cricket career would go as well as it has," he said. "I have been very lucky to play in an era when Australian cricket has been successful. I have had the opportunity to play with some great players too. Playing for Australia has provided me with the most enjoyable moments of my life.
"I don't think I could have given any more to cricket. I have never walked away from an issue whether I have been knackered, tired or couldn't move. I have still turned up and played and given it everything I have.
"I like to think of myself as an entertainer. I like to go out there and put on a show. I admit that I probably go over the top a bit with the appealing and the other stuff, but that is me expressing myself. I am trying to do anything I can to win a game. I'd like to think that I have made cricket more enjoyable, more fun for the people who have turned up."
It is hard to know whether England fans have looked on as Warne has dismantled their team and thought it was fun, but the Ashes has always brought out in the best of him, ever since he bowled that "wonder ball" to Mike Gatting at Old Trafford in 1993.
"It is one of the things that was meant to be," said Warne modestly. "As I have said a thousand times before it was a fluke. You are just happy to get the first ball of any spell down the other end, and I am just thankful to Gatt that he missed it. I look back at it now and I realise it was a special moment."
Warne cited Ian Chappell, the former Australian captain, as the biggest influence in his career. It was Chappell who gave him the best piece of advice when he was contemplating retirement after Australia's victory in Perth. "He said, 'Better they say, 'Why are you?' than 'Why don't you?' and that was pretty spot on. If it was about statistics and money, I would keep playing because I still think I am bowling well enough.
"It is about knowing the right time and I would like to go out on top. I am going out on my terms and I think I have earned that right. I have nothing planned and that, in itself, is exciting. I will focus on the next two Test matches and complete the job here. We want to win 5-0. I will then sit back have a few quiet beers and a couple of smokes and work out what the future holds."
Wait a minute, Shane... I'm just getting started at 36
While a certain 37-year-old was confirming his retirement yesterday England were making public the surprise call-up of a 36-year-old to their one-day squad for next month's series against Australia and New Zealand.
The wicketkeeper Paul Nixon joins Chris Reid as one of two glovemen, which represents a dramatic fall from grace for Geraint Jones.
Nixon, who plays for Leicestershire, has acted as England's reserve keeper on two tours - to Pakistan and Sri Lanka in 2000-01 - but he has yet to make his debut in either form of the game. "You just keep believing, but it's a funny old game," he said.Reuse content