Strauss main target of Warne's '600' spin

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The Independent Online

But which England batsman will become Shane Warne's 600th Test victim? Warne has 599 wickets to his name and, after he claimed 16 scalps in the opening two matches, there is a good chance that No 600 will arrive during the third Test at Old Trafford which starts tomorrow.

At the start of the summer Warne nicknamed Kevin Pietersen, his Hampshire team-mate, "600" because he believed he would become that victim, but after dismissing Strauss twice in the second Test the great leg-spinner may have altered his target. At first there seemed very little Strauss could do about the delivery which bowled him behind his legs in England's second innings at Edgbaston. Warne has built a career around bamboozling batsmen, yet nobody expected a ball that pitched 18 inches outside Strauss' off-stump to spit back and collide with leg.

Warne will tell you that the dismissal was part of a plan and, such is the confidence of the man, it possibly could have been. One thing for sure is that he believes he has the measure of Strauss.

"If Strauss is still in after five or six overs I might be thrown the ball earlier than usual," Warne said. "I thought in a county game [against Middlesex] earlier this season, when he tried to reverse sweep me, that he did not have a plan. Nothing has made me change my mind. Some of the batsmen tried to be more positive in the first innings but it becomes harder after day one, and to finish with 10 wickets suggests I didn't do too badly.

"Old Trafford does take spin and it will play a part. People have said that the way I am bowling it will rag square on days four and five - but I wonder if we'll get to day five. At the moment someone seems to have a finger on the fast-forward button."

Strauss is an intelligent young man with an excellent Test record. He admits that he has not looked at his best during this series, but he is a strong, gutsy cricketer who will not be undermined by Warne's statements.

He will not admit it but he knows Warne is causing him problems, and that his record at Old Trafford - 17 wickets at an average of 14.59 in two matches - is impressive. Strauss struggled to play him at the Rose Bowl in May and again at Lord's, but he will have been working hard with the England coach, Duncan Fletcher. At 6.30pm last night he could be found in the Old Trafford nets facing Merlyn, a bowling machine which attempts to imitate Warne's wizardry. In the second Test England's batsmen took the game to Warne, with Strauss and Trescothick hitting him over his head in his first two overs. "At Edgbaston we made a decision to be positive against him ... and it worked pretty well in the first innings. But when he tosses it into the rough you have got to be careful because you know he's doing it for a reason, as I found out twice to my cost. Warnedeserved his 10-wicket haul and I am sure he is going to be a major threat at Old Trafford. But whatever happens over the next three games, I know I'm going to be a better player for it."

Strauss avoided becoming McGrath's 500th victim at Lord's; that dubious honour did go to Trescothick. Strauss will be determined not to become Warne's 600th victim, but in years to come there will be only one person who can tell his grandson that tale.