Two chilling statistics are confronting England in their desperate attempt to save the Ashes. The first is that Shane Warne needs only six wickets to reach the landmark of 700 in Tests, the second is the growing conviction that Australia, far from being satisfied with regaining the great prize, are intent on a 5-0 clean sweep.
Cricketers try to be above mere figures - statistics being damned lies and all that - but the thought of these should freeze the blood. It is frighteningly simple for the tourists: the longer they can prevent Warne making history the more they can hope to avert the first whitewash against Australia since 1920-21.
With the score still at 2-0 in a five-match series, it might seem decidedly premature to be contemplating not only defeat but also humiliation. Yet if Warne manages to reach 700 in the third Test starting at the WACA tomorrow and propels Australia to another victory they may be impossible to resist.
The home captain, Ricky Ponting, made clear yesterday that they were not about to settle for simply securing the Ashes. "If we do win here the series is gone, but I don't think any of us are going to be happy with that," he said. "Over the years we've dropped a match or two towards the end but there is enough hunger around the team to make sure it doesn't happen again.
"There are other things we want to do, other games we want to win. We want to keep being the best team in the world, keep training harder than anybody else, and doing things slightly different from anybody else to try to give ourselves the best chance of doing that." It was almost casual in its delivery but if he had appeared at the door with an axe yelling: "Here's Shaney" he could not have been more horrifying. Australia mean business of the most compelling kind. For once, Warne was not of a mind yesterday to offer to the wider world his thoughts on impending further glory, but the testimonial of the man who is arguably his most important colleague served as well.
Adam Gilchrist has accounted for 58 of his 364 Test victims off Warne's bowling (39 catches, 19 stumpings) and if they are hardly buddies they are mutually reliant.
Gilchrist was virtually purring as he talked about Warne's magisterial bowling in Adelaide where he bowled 27 consecutive overs on the last day and took 4 for 49, mere stats that do not begin to impart his titanic part in a spectacularly improbable victory.
"He was at his brilliant best," said Gilchrist. "All I was encouraging him to do was stay patient. He knew assistance was there from the wicket, he knew England had shut up shop and he was like the vulture circling overhead. He couldn't get down to have a peck, so he had to remain patient and he did. And he did a great job in allowing pressure to build up for the guys to get results at the other end. He has given me most pleasure as a player to play with and keeping wicket to him is so exciting. He has changed the game and added so much." Nor is the desire evaporating. Indeed as the target of 700 approaches, the suspicion is that Warne is circling more menacingly than ever. "He has a real spring in his step at the moment," said Gilchrist. "He is quite vocal, vibrant, energising the group. Even this morning in training everyone was asking what's happened, what's he on." Realising that this was not the most advisable way to talk about a man who was once banned from the game for a year for doping, he corrected himself immediately.
"I suppose I shouldn't say that, but he'll know what I mean. That has been his way through the series and that really shone through the other day. He has led us and we all followed, and that's what good leaders do." England may take some solace from the fact that Warne has had lean pickings at Perth, which is easily his least successful Australian ground. His 32 wickets in 11 matches have cost 37.28. But the Perth pitch has changed character and this one is expected to turn.
There is also the fact that Australia are having to regroup after the shock retirement of Damien Martyn. Gichrist nipped that one in the bud, too. "I'm sure each player has got in touch with Marto, but you move on pretty quickly, "It's like a merry-go-round, it keeps going. If you're on it, you're on it, if not it goes round the corner and disappears from you pretty quick." He could have been talking of the Ashes and England.
Shane Warne Test adversaries
Tests 33 Wickets 181 Average 23.21
Tests 2 Wkts 11 Ave 27.27
v ICC World XI
Tests 1 Wkts 6 Ave 11.83
Tests 14 Wkts 43 Ave 47.18
v New Zealand
Tests 20 Wkts 103 Ave 24.37
v Sri Lanka
Tests 15 Wkts 90 Ave 20.17
v South Africa
Tests 24 Wkts 130 Ave 24.16
v Sri Lanka
Tests 13 Wkts 59 Ave 25.54
v West Indies
Tests 19 Wkts 65 Ave 29.95
Tests 1 Wkts 6 Ave 22.83
Tests 142 Wickets 694 Bowling average 25.44Reuse content