Peter Roebuck: Magician of the MCG at mesmeric best

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Shane Warne's 20th delivery was a leg-break. Nothing too surprising about that. He has spent an entire career sending them down. Nothing in the delivery suggested that anything remarkable was about to happen.

Clouds hung heavy over Melbourne and a chill wind blew across the ground. Hardly the sort of weather to encourage a chap to play forward and give the ball a flick. Also the pitch was coated in grass and the ball had been darting around like a chased buck.

Warne must have wondered whether his services would even be required. England's decision to bat first on a holding track had been daring, some thought foolhardy. Andrew Flintoff must have hoped to lose the toss but as the sporting gods smile upon some so they frown upon others.

Surprisingly, the pacemen did not scatter the Poms. It was not for the want of trying. The batsmen had more close shaves than Kojak. Brett Lee took the first wicket but his opening stint was otherwise unproductive. Glenn McGrath could not have felt more at home had a couple of wild pigs pottered across the ground but it was not his day.

Accordingly, Warne found himself called into the attack. Previously he had teased the crowd by removing his hat, a gesture prompting a roar sufficient to awaken a tortoise. Now he was sincere. Again came the roar, this time building towards a crescendo. Not everyone has tickets for the entire match. Many present did not expect to see the magician bowl again. Or his like. Warne had begun his Ashes career with the perfect leg-break. Could he repeat the feat? His opening offering was a full toss.

No wonder the blighter was retiring. Nothing much changed in the next two overs. England staggered to 101 for 2. Having switched ends, Lee struck again. Suddenly England were in trouble. Warne sniffed an opening. He has seldom needed a second invitation.

And so Warne began his fourth over. By now his blood was flowing. Andrew Strauss was his opponent. Betrayed by luck earlier in the series, the left-hander had reached a streaky, dogged, deserved 50. He set his jaw and prepared to face the spinner's 20th delivery.

Except in the mind of an obdurate batsman, the ball did not perform any unusual manoeuvres, such as loop the loop. Instead it contented itself with landing on a length and turning. What possessed an established batsman to attempt to clip the ball past square leg cannot easily be imagined. Warne creates confusion, crowds, tantalises and torments.

Strauss missed his shot and the ball struck middle stump. Warne celebrated. He has always enjoyed taking wickets. Then he remembered this one was special whereupon he went on a rampage. A ground rose to salute him. Not just any ground either; his ground, the mighty MCG.

Thereafter Warne was at his mesmeric best. Not even another mistake by his gloveman could stop him. Need it be said that England wasted their best batsman and threw away precious wickets? Need it be said that Warne took five wickets? Need it be said that he held the ball aloft and led the team from the field? As a banner in the stands proclaimed, "You Can't Teach That".