Warne sacked over sex calls

Brilliant on the field, obnoxious off it, Shane Warne was dismissed yesterday as vice-captain of Australia following revelations that he bombarded a British nurse with obscene telephone calls.

Brilliant on the field, obnoxious off it, Shane Warne was dismissed yesterday as vice-captain of Australia following revelations that he bombarded a British nurse with obscene telephone calls.

The incident involving Donna Wright, whom Warne met in a Leicester nightclub, was the most recent of a series of "indiscretions" - as the Australian media has politely termed them - by the flamboyant 30-year-old leg-spin bowler, now playing county cricket for Hampshire.

Yesterday the Australian Cricket Board finally lost patience with Warne, announcing that he is to be replaced by the wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist and confirming that his off-field behaviour cost him the job.

Warne, together with the batsman Mark Waugh, was fined by the ACB in 1995 for accepting money from an Indian bookmaker to provide pitch and weather information during a tour of Sri Lanka. Last season he was criticised for swearing at a 15-year-old boy who photographed him smoking in the players' enclosure during a tour match in New Zealand. Warne, who tried to snatch the boy's camera, was under contract with a commercial sponsor to quit smoking at the time.

Most damaging to the clean-cut image of the game was the disclosure concerning 22-year-old Ms Wright, which occurred when Warne came to England this season to play in for Hampshire. After the allegations were first aired in June, Warne - who is married with two children - admitted in an Australian television interview that he had engaged in "dirty talk" with her on the telephone.

However, he claimed that Ms Wright had initiated the conversations and denied slipping his hotel room key into her back pocket. In one memorable exchange, the interviewer asked him: "You actually performed a sex act while you were on the phone with her?" He replied: "Wow... as I said before, there was a bit of dirty talk and, ah, she did talk dirty to me and I was reciprocating with her. Um, you know, it's not something that you like to do, but unfortunately things happen." The sacking will have come as a bitter blow to Warne, who was playing for Hampshire at Derby yesterday. He made 12 before being bowled by Simon Lacey.

Informed a week ago of his likely fate, Warne said: "I am disappointed, but I'm going to take it on the chin and fight back." The ACB chairman, Denis Rogers, said that while the Australian selectors had favoured retaining Warne, the ACB was obliged to "take wider considerations into account".

Rogers said: "I believe the board has been very understanding and very tolerant of some off-the-field issues, but it's got to the point where we think it's time for a change."

Despite Warne's failings as a role model - he is the archetypal Australian "lad", with his earring, bleached, blond hair, cocky demeanour and fondness for a drink - he has a loyal following.

Warne's British agent, Michael Cohen, said yesterday that the dismissal would not impair his performance as a cricketer. He added: "I've not come across a nicer, more easy-going man than Shane. People should see the work he does visiting hospitals to see sick children."

Warne can console himself with the thought that his sporting talent is not in doubt. Earlier this year he was named by Wisden as one of the last century's five best players.

For Gilchrist, the appointment marks a meteoric rise. Nine months ago he was not even in the Test team. Now he is on course to be the next Australian captain.

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