Plenty of fun left in the dizzying blond

Third Test: Warne weaves his familiar spell and proves one of the cricketers of the last century still has a big future
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The Independent Online

England could not resist the pressure. It came from Steve Waugh and Adam Gilchrist at Edgbaston, Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie at Lord's and from Gillespie again and Shane Warne at Trent Bridge.

Warne was the architect of Australia's victory – indeed he was named the man of the match – but the engineer was Gillespie, who shared the last 20 overs on Friday with Warne and took no wickets while Warne snatched five. Yesterday morning, when the pair of them ripped through England's tail in 8.1 overs, Gillespie got three and Warne one, but Warne ended with 6 for 33, his best figures in an Ashes Test in England (8 for 70 in the match).

Warne argues that bowling partnerships are no less important than batting partnerships. "When two of us are bowling well and there are maidens, just the odd single and you're beating the bat, something's got to give. Whether it be a run-out or a great catch, something's got to give." Something indeed gave.

In particular, England's Mark Ramprakash gave. Having batted circumspectly for 95 minutes on Friday afternoon and taken his score past 14 runs for only the second time in seven innings, he had scored 26 when he suddenly charged down the wicket to Warne, missed the ball and was easily stumped.

That was the fifth wicket to fall and it was a significant moment in England's latest collapse – in this case the last eight wickets added a mangy 47 runs. The Trent Bridge wicket rewarded batsmen who survived some torrid opening overs. "That's why Mark Ramprakash was such a big wicket. He was set, he'd got to 26. To play a shot like that at that stage of the game was a big plus for us," says Warne.

He is still a remarkable figure, one of Wisden's five cricketers of the 20th century. He is now only five short of 400 Test wickets, and when he gets those at Headingley or The Oval, he will be only the sixth bowler to do so. He has survived two operations on his shoulder and finger, as well as a tendency to put on weight. (When he first played for Australia he weighed over 15 stone.) He has been fined for talking to an Indian bookie. By the age of 34 he has lived such a full life that there are already two autobiographies – the second will be published in a couple of weeks' time.

Warne is a piece of goods. This summer he is, by his standards, a slimline figure. His latest hair colouring has him as a bleached blond – so much so that you wonder if the barber didn't make an error. His trousers look better cut than those of his colleagues, and he wears original-looking boots with black toes and heels. When he arrived this summer he was no longer part of the public establishment of the touring team. A year ago he was exposed for talking smut to a nurse on the phone. This cost him the vice-captaincy, and the evidence is that he took it badly. When the tourists posed for photographers before the first game, Warne stood almost ostentatiously at the side of the back row.

Some commentators wondered if the game was up, but not his colleagues. Warne is still a member of the inner circle that meets in private to discuss team strategy and tactics. His behaviour might occasionally appear aberrant, but there is nothing wrong with his cricket brain.

At close of play on Friday Warne's press conference was the work of a man who is still top of his trade. "I thought I bowled really well. I bowled a short one that got a wicket. That was Stewart. I bowled some very good balls that didn't get wickets, but I'm happy. I've been happy all tour."

Since the finger operation a couple of years ago, the flipper has virtually disappeared, but he remains a ferocious spinner of the ball, as Mike Atherton discovered at Lord's and again on Friday, when a leg break turned sharply across the face of the bat. Atherton thought he had not touched it; Warne thought he heard "a good little noise". Whatever, umpire Venkat gave Athers out. And the lights began to go out all over England. The Ashes would not be regained, and for the third time in a row in Ashes Tests in England Shane Warne's role was decisive.

On Australia's victory Warne turned to his neighbour and hugged him. It was no coincidence that the beneficiary was Jason Gillespie.

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