Special day shows God of leg-breaks still in his heaven

It took 20 balls spanning 27 minutes. Then, at 3.18pm on Boxing Day in front of his home-town fans, Shane Warne took his 700th Test match wicket. There was nothing fancy about the historic ball. It was a conventional leg-break - if anything could be described as conventional about the man - which turned through Andrew Strauss's slightly crooked bat and bowled him.

General tumult ensued. Warne went on a jig, pursued by his team. Doubtless, some of the 89,155, who constituted the official attendance, would have surged on to add their congratulations, except there was a ring of security in place round the perimeter to prevent such an occurrence.

It is sometimes possible to think that Australia will shortly come to a halt because of the number of petty regulations forbidding this, that and t'other, and they were certainly not going to overlook the matter of a potential pitch invasion. When the deed had been done, off they went again.

The dismissal was inevitable and turned out, hardly surprisingly, to have been preordained by the great man. "I have just been sitting there and I can't stop shaking my head that it's actually happened," he said, a few minutes after play had ended. "It's a pretty amazing day. How it's all panned out. I retire, the Ashes are in the bag, I'm coming to Melbourne with 699 wickets. To come on at 101 for 2, knock over Strauss and clean the rest up. There are special things in your life - getting married, the birth of your children, playing your first Test - but from an individual point of view that has got to be one of the best days I've ever had."

Then he hit us with the coup de grâce. He said it was coming. "After a few overs the fingers started to loosen up. Glenn McGrath asked me how I was going to get him out and I said that I was going to bowl him through the gate sweeping.

"That over I bowled him through the gate, not sweeping but driving. I tried to slow the pace up, but when that sort of thing happens to you, you know something's going right for you. I was going to keep running but I was knackered so I stopped."

It is not only as a master bowler that Warne will be missed. He is a dream performer in front of an audience.

Strauss will for ever be remembered as the man who provided the greatest leg spinner of all with the momentous wicket. He may come to be proud of this later in his life. Not yesterday.

"There are 699 other guys who have felt pretty bad after getting out to Shane Warne and I'm no different. It's a great achievement for him and something that will live long in many peoples' memories, but probably not mine."

He will, of course, never be able to forget it. Indeed, it was suggested by one of the more estimable reporters watching that Warne should host an annual dinner in future for the men who provided him with his landmark wickets, from the first, Ravi Shastri, to the 700th, Strauss, and whoever ends up as his final victim (to be decided over the course of the next 10 days).

What a gathering it would be: 11 men, enough to make a decent world team, consisting of two Indians, two South Africans, two Sri Lankans and four Englishman, chatting convivially about the part they played in a remarkable career. Warne had the sort of day when it was clear his scripts were being written by some divine power sufficient to persuade Richard Dawkins that God is not a delusion.

Strauss was his first wicket but there were four morethereafter, all earned with the eager assistance of the batsmen. Warne did not need to try to influence the umpires with overzealous appealing, his victims were happily ensnared. His return of 5 for 31 was the third time he had taken five wickets in an innings on the ground.

If England were wretched, the crowd were enthralled. At the end of one over, Justin Langer playfully took off his colleague's sun hat and the crowd, assuming, that Warne was on at last, roared and roared. Langer was just kidding. But the next over, Ricky Ponting summoned him at the Southern Stand End.

History was round the corner. Unless you were Andrew Strauss, it was a privilege.

Magic numbers: Warne's progress

SHANE WARNE'S WICKETS:

1st Ravi Shastri (Ind) 1992-93

50th Nasser Hussain (Eng) 1993

100th Brian McMillan (SA) 1993-94

150th Alec Stewart (Eng) 1994-95

200th Chaminda Vaas (S Lanka) 1995-96

250th Alec Stewart (Eng) 1997

300th Jacques Kallis (SA) 1997-98

350th Hrishikesh Kanitkar (Ind) 1999-00

400th Alec Stewart (Eng) 2001

450th Ashwell Prince (SA) 2001-02

500th Hashan Tillakaratne (S Lanka) 2003-04

550th James Franklin (NZ) 2004-05

600th Marcus Trescothick (Eng) 2005

650th Ashwell Prince (SA) 2005-06

700th Andrew Strauss (Eng) 2006-07

LEADING WICKET-TAKERS:

704 Shane Warne (Aus) 143 Tests

674 Muttiah Muralitharan (S Lanka) 110

556 Glenn McGrath (Aus) 122

538 Anil Kumble (Ind) 111

519 Courtney Walsh (WI) 132

434 Kapil Dev (Ind) 131

431 Sir Richard Hadlee (NZ) 86

414 Wasim Akram (Pak) 104

405 Curtly Ambrose (WI) 98

402 Shaun Pollock (SA) 103

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