Surveying the latest damage to his brittle hands yesterday, it would have been quite natural for Nasser Hussain to find his thoughts invaded by images of Jason Gillespie, whose 90mph delivery into the England captain's left little finger has blighted yet another Test campaign for the man charged with wresting back the Ashes from Australia's fearsome grip.
One suspects, however, that the Australian bowler perplexing Hussain most may be one whose impact on the Edgbaston Test left Gillespie, Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath unexpectedly eclipsed. Shane Warne, we were given to understand after the mauling he took in India, was yesterday's man, a bit-part player even in his own estimation. After match figures of 8 for 100, a revision of that assessment is already required.
At 31 and bearing the scars of the shoulder operation he underwent three years ago, Warne is certainly not the bowler he once was but to have expected, to use his own phrase, that he would merely "pick up the odd wicket, here and there" in this series seems to owe a lot to English wishful-thinking. As his captain, Steve Waugh, emphasised in the wake of Australia's innings victory at Edgbaston, he is "still a great bowler".
What is more, he is still driven by the hunger to succeed and, in particular, the desire to return from England with the Ashes for a third time, which was brought home to him when he awoke on the morning of the first day.
"For the first time in a long time I actually felt nervous," he said. "It still means a lot to come here and there is that special anxiety in the build-up to the Ashes. For some of us, myself included, the likelihood is that this will be the last tour here and I would like to make it one to remember, so I'm really happy to have played such a big part in winning the first Test."
The bit-part remark, he claimed, was an exaggeration not of his own making, although one he clearly did not try too hard to discourage.
"I would like to clarify that," he said. "I did not say I was a support bowler. I said my role had changed, which I definitely think it has." It was something he had outlined after his five-wicket performance on the opening day.
"We always used to bat first but now we have three quicks we almost always bowl first, which has taken some adjusting to," he said. "I bowl on days one, two and three and people start to say I'm not bowling big turners any more. I say 'wait until days four and five' but we're winning in three days.
"To get five-for on day one I had to bowl really well and I thought I did bowl well. After 8 for 100 in the first Test I could not be much happier, really." The doubts about Warne's effectiveness are borne out by his figures. Since the shoulder operation, his Test wickets have cost 35 runs each, an average that rose to 50 during the India series that brought Australia's 16-match winning run to an end. But he came into the Ashes series with an average of 24.28 for his 87 England wickets and his appetite for more is not dulled.
Five more would make him the 11th Australian to take 100 Ashes wickets, a milestone he is certain to reach if he achieves the other in his sights, which is to become only the sixth bowler – and the first spinner – to total 400 Test wickets. His Edgbaston eight took him one in front of Ian Botham, who finished with 383.
He predicts, however, that it will be Gillespie who emerges as Australia's hero with the ball from this series. "I said before the start that he was the one to watch. What I like about him is that he bowls a McGrath type of length with Brett Lee's pace.
"When you put those two together it is a pretty potent mix and when you are at first slip, as I am, you feel you are really in the game, especially when he gets that steep bounce like the one that hit Nasser on the glove. He has had an unlucky run with injuries and to see him back and bowling well is a great sight for Australia."
But not nearly so good for England, as Hussain would testify, especially with Warne, whatever his purpose in the side, only too eager to seize his moment as well.Reuse content