Shane Warne is back. And how, it is all but superfluous to add. He arrived in England last weekend and has already overseen two Hampshire victories, one improbable and the second witnessing him take seven Middlesex wickets for 99. He then happily held court at the Rose Bowl on a range of cricketing matters covering this, that and the other.
For going on 15 years, Warne has been like this, first mesmerising batsmen and then talking about the game with unbridled enthusiasm. "Cricket is my hobby," he said. "It's my passion, it's what I love doing. It's what I am, I am a cricketer, I don't pretend to be anything else, I just love playing, I love talking about it."
The phenomenon is not diminishing. Since his enforced absence for a drugs offence which involved a prohibited slimming medication, he has taken 194 wickets in 33 Test matches, 40 of them magnificently in last summer's Ashes, another 62 in 12 Tests since.
In between he has moulded Hampshire into something approaching a force. All this is largely because as well as being a bowler with an exceptional talent, Warne himself is a force of nature.
He is here, make no mistake, to win the Championship for Hampshire this summer and to retain the C & G trophy. He is proud of the team he has moulded at the Rose Bowl - in his image in more ways than one, to judge by the peroxide rinses. "I want to groom these guys, give them ideas about how to enjoy it."
A crammed season in England will not permit much time for planning, but he is cute enough to know that the subject of the Ashes is unavoidable. England, he said by his estimation for the four millionth time, deserved to win last summer.
But things were different now. Australia had reassessed themselves. "Sometimes you have to lose to become better," he said matter-of-factly. "I'm not sure England are used to being favourites. It demands a different mindset. They are going to Australia to retain the Ashes. Australia have lost once at home in 14 years I think, and if England lose they then have to wait another couple of years, and who knows who will be around then?"
But Warne is not one for merely indulging in the propaganda and psychological gamesmanship of some of his compatriots. He recognises good cricket and good cricketers. "They were two evenly matched sides last year but England's bowling was very, very good. Flintoff, Harmison and Jones all bowled above 90mph, swinging the ball normally and reverse-swinging it, as well as nipping the ball around.
"The last time I faced that was in the early Nineties, probably from Pakistan or West Indies. Then it got to a stage where all the fast bowlers retired and there were none. You got through the new ball and the medium-pacers came on and we made that many runs and were that far ahead that it was just a matter of how many days it would take."
On the subject of his own future Warne was barely less effusive. He reckoned that the idea of taking 1,000 Test wickets - he has 684 - was far-fetched. "I am 36, my kids are about to turn nine, seven and five. You obviously start to think about retiring. You don't want a tap on the shoulder and a 'thanks mate, your time's up'. But I am bowling well enough to warrant a spot in the side, the flipper's coming out well, I am bowling a few wrong 'uns and taking wickets with them. I have got no right to say it will be my last Sydney Test this year; who knows, I might make another Ashes tour here."
While English batsmen have apoplexy, it might be better to offer Warne's opinion on the C & G Trophy, in which Hampshire, having won their opening matches, resume business today.
"It was a knock-out tournament, which is good, because everything is on that game. With this new league format I would like to have seen the top two teams from each group going through to semi-finals rather than just a straight final between the winners. It's a big deal for a county to have a home semi-final. It also provides much more drama."
And Warne knows everything there is to know about drama.Reuse content