Warne keeps part of his heart in Hampshire

Shane Warne has no worries, mate. Even if Hampshire are a Second Division side in 2002, the Australian leg-spinner would be happy to play for them. "I would love to come back, if wanted," he said after picking up the final Derbyshire wicket to seal a fine victory in the penultimate match at Northlands Road. "I have enjoyed it here."

Shane Warne has no worries, mate. Even if Hampshire are a Second Division side in 2002, the Australian leg-spinner would be happy to play for them. "I would love to come back, if wanted," he said after picking up the final Derbyshire wicket to seal a fine victory in the penultimate match at Northlands Road. "I have enjoyed it here."

And at least Hampshire are going out with a bang. If, as seems inevitable now, they begin the new season at their new home on the edge of the city in the Second Division of the County Championship - Kent need just a draw with Yorkshire today, or to pick up a couple of points in their final match at Leicester next week, to made relegation a certainty for Warne and Co - at least they are starting to show their teeth.

As Warne pointed out: "We have gone close in maybe half- a-dozen games this season; we lost by two runs to Surrey and 15 runs to Kent, for example. If we had won half of those we would have been challenging for a place in the top three - and we are not down just yet."

Barring injury, accident and any other unforeseen incident, Warne will be on the Ashes tour here next summer. As Robin Smith, the Hampshire captain, said: "There is an incentive to win promotion at the first attempt so that Warney can return to a First Division outfit." Smith and Warne had a chat about the great man returning. "We've spoken loosely about it," Smith admitted. "I know he would love to return and we would love to have him."

Meanwhile Hampshire have to find a replacement for next season, and the word is that they have approached the Zimbabwe all-rounder Neil Johnson, who has experienced the county scene with Leicestershire. According to the rumour mills Johnson, who has been approached by at least three other counties, is demanding the same thing from them all, a three-year contract.

That would not suit Hampshire, or Warne, so they may have to look elsewhere. But they will have to look very hard to find someone like Warne, who appears to have taken the county to his heart.

His brilliant catch to dismiss Luke Sutton illustrated his commitment to his adopted county. The ball flew off the edge like a shell, hit the base of his right thumb and smash-ed into his mouth; as he toppled backwards with the momentum one of his knees came up and smacked him hard enough on the nose to make it bleed. Meanwhile, the ball came to rest, none too gently, in his lap.

"I held the ball up and thought, 'My luck is in'," said Warne. It was a crucial moment, triggering the first of two Derbyshire collapses. Rob Bailey went shortly afterwards for a typical half-century.

James Pyemont and Simon Lacey dug in either side of lunch, but after 40 painstaking runs Shaun Udal and Warne whipped out the remaining four wickets in just 29 balls. Udal took the honours with his first five-wicket haul of the season, Warne stole the limelight for his catch, two wickets and his vow to return.

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