The indomitable showman has his appeal heard at last

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The official from Pakistan will not be the last arbiter in receipt of such a hostile response from a man who perceives every rejection as a personal affront. Though the home crowd howled at the displeasure of the spin showman, and mocked Warne in his misery on his final visit here, it was but brief respite for them on a day when England's pretensions of living with Australia were placed in harrowing perspective. All but the terminally partisan would have acknowledged that it was this remarkable cricketer who ultimately turned this from a contest which appeared still to offer England comfort to one which by close of play was slipping inexorably from their ineffectual grasp.

At the conclusion of a week in which rather too much information on the Warne's alleged sexual proclivities had been forthcoming from under the tabloid microscope it was his forensic examination of his opponents' shortcomings that preoccupied us here yesterday. Not only did he garner the wickets of Marcus Trescothick, Ian Bell and Andrew Flintoff, but he demonstrated his qualities as a catalyst for England's almost certain downfall later today.

He may be a changed man in many ways from the character who, with his first ball of the 1993 series, left a fine player of spin, Mike Gatting, a bemused man. Then, Warne's delivery from outside leg nicking the top of the batsman's off stump. Here, his three wickets for 10 runs in 32 balls resulted from maintaining a relatively straight line. Like his team-mate Glenn McGrath in Australia's first innings, he will have relished answering those who had questioned his ability to confound top batsmen at the advanced age of 35.

"I had a pretty good rhythm," Warne said with typical insouciance. "But we bowled well in partnerships. I know they got off to a good start but the quicks [Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath] bowled in good areas - you have to give credit to England."

Before tea, England's openers, Trescothick and Strauss, had withstood the Australian attack resourcefully enough to convince spectators that a home victory may still just be a plausible option. After it, Michael Vaughan's men appeared in a catatonic state as a result of the Australian spinner's arrival. The mere presence of Warne appeared to stimulate his own team and perturb not just that opening England pair but those who followed as well. Even rejected appeals are apt to place doubts in the opposition psyche.

It had been the ball immediately before tea which had been the particular cause of Warne's ire, although several were the subject of his impassioned inquiries throughout his lengthy spell - and in fairness to the Hampshire-based bowler, that particular delivery could not have been more accurately locked on to the centre of Marcus Trescothick's middle stump when it struck his pad had one of those 2012 Olympic archers, due to play here, struck a bull's-eye. Dar, who, it must be stressed, had been previously proved correct by television over a number of borderline decision, was unmoved.

"I thought I had a couple of pretty close shouts," ruefully reflected the world's finest spinner who finally forced his nemesis's digit to raise when he inveigled Trescothick into yielding a catch to Matthew Hayden at first slip. "That's one way of putting it." Fortunately, there could be no dispute regarding the subsequent removal of Ian Bell, dismissed lbw when he padded up to a Warne delivery; nor that of Flintoff, caught off his bowling by the wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist. That brought to the wicket Kevin Pietersen, who renewed acquaintance with his friend and Hampshire team-mate by cutting the second ball from him for four before proceeding to amass an undefeated 42.

If only the England élite was capable of producing performances comparable with Pietersen, who had attempted to strike a pose of defiance when he declared on the eve of yesterday's third day that "we are in a good position to go on, win this game, and change history." As exhortations go, that may not be quite in the category of David Steel's appeal to the Liberals, "Go home and prepare for Government", but in its own way the appeal had just about the same likelihood of success.

Australia ensured that the pavilion luncheon yesterday was taken with a subdued air that contrasted hugely with Thursday's euphoria, thanks to Simon Katich who, in tandem with the tail-end charlies, Jason Gillespie and Glenn McGrath, prolonged England's distress.

It was a situation that would have appealed to one distinguished visitor. Around lunch-time, there was an appearance of a chipper Australian Prime Minister, John Howard. When last observed attending a significant Anglo-Australian sporting event in Sydney, he had been not entirely gracious in his presentation of medals to the rugby World Cup victors. Here, he could afford to be geniality itself. With England's expectations diminishing by the second, you sensed there was no likelihood of an appearance by his English counterpart.