Warne has time to give history a few more twists yet

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The Independent Online

In Shane Warne - My Autobiography, the author wrote: "Maybe I can reach 500, who knows." It was not an observation that exactly exuded confidence in his ability to reach the milestone of Test wickets, but a quick rewrite is now required.

In Shane Warne - My Autobiography, the author wrote: "Maybe I can reach 500, who knows." It was not an observation that exactly exuded confidence in his ability to reach the milestone of Test wickets, but a quick rewrite is now required.

Warne can pick his own figure. Maybe 600, maybe 700, who knows. Pretty much anything is possible now. His return, against Sri Lanka at Galle last week, in which he took 10 wickets and took his tally of Test victims to 501, was both remarkable and predictable. He has made a career out of making the extraordinary appear routine.

In his most recent 20 Tests Warne has taken wickets at the rate of 5.85 a match. If he manages to play another 40 - hardly improbable, since he is only 34 and has just had the benefit of a year's rest - and drops the level, say, to five a match, he will comfortably reach a total that was once unimaginable.

The great leg-spinner will be matched every twirl of the ball - and may even be headed - by the great off-spinner of the age, Muttiah Muralitharan. Indeed, although Warne's five wickets in each innings in the First Test against Sri Lanka ensured Australia's victory, Muralitharan took 11 wickets in the match.

The difference was that Warne, as he has been so often before, was supported by a monumental batting effort. Australia have learned to score so many runs at a rate that was also unimaginable a generation ago that Warne has time to go about his work. Murali, who has to carry the Sri Lanka attack, was, in contrast, badly let down.

The astonishing events in the First Test at Galle, where Australia conceded a huge first-innings lead and then went on to win by 197 runs, reinforced that we are living in a cricketing era that has been truly blessed. Warne and Muralitharan have added a lustre that had vanished from the great game. Before they came along in 1992 to alter everybody's preconceptions, pace was king. They are now the second and third leading Test wicket-takers and soon, in whatever order, will become first and second. The last spinner to be the leading wicket-taker was Lance Gibbs, since when the mantle has passed through five seamers.

As their hauls inexorably grow, it is also inevitable that controversy will stalk both players: Murali because his idiosyncratic action will always raise doubts about its legitimacy, Warne because his life, as he regularly muses, is a combination of soap opera and fairy tale, and something is always lurking round the next corner.

When Warne was banned by Cricket Australia for having taken a prohibited diuretic which could have been used as a masking agent, it was possible to believe that he would settle for the easy life. He had achieved enough at that time to last most mortals several lifetimes. Maybe it was the prospect of 500 that kept him going, maybe he felt he could not go out on that note.

Sri Lanka prepared a rampantly turning pitch in Galle, perhaps banking on the possibility that Warne would not be what he was. Murali or no Murali, they had now better think of something else. "My philosophy is quite simple, I want to take as many wickets as possible," Warne said. That is one bit of the book that will not need a rewrite.

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