Shane Warne urged England yesterday to pick two spinners to win the Ashes. The selectors must now decide how to treat this advice: as wise words from the best spinner and one of the smartest thinkers about the game who ever lived, or as a confidence trick by an Australian designed to create confusion and doubt.
But Warne, like everybody else, seems nonplussed by the improbable scenario in prospect. "I didn't think we'd ever see the day when England could possibly play two spinners in the first Test with Australia not playing one. That makes me a feel a little bit strange. It's weird."
Warne being Warne, of course, he named names and suggested that England should plump for Graeme Swann and Adil Rashid ahead of Monty Panesar. It is possible that his judgement is influenced by Rashid being a member of the leg-spinners' fraternity, but Warne was unequivocal.
"What England have done very well is not rush Rashid," he said. "They have let him learn his craft. He has been very lucky to play with Michael Vaughan for a limited period of time. I think he's ready now to make that step.
"He has performed very well in the limited opportunities he has had in Twenty20, which is really a spinner's game. I believe Rashid is ready to play Test cricket and that he should play in the first Test match with Swann. If I was England I would be preparing a flat wicket that turns and playing two spinners."
If England decide on an attack of four seamers and one spinner after that, then they will certainly believe that Warne is pulling their leg, and they may be wary of another Aussie dispensing opinions. As for Rashid, to have been given such a commendation by Warne is like being anointed by a messiah.
Panesar has been picked for England in their warm-up match against Warwickshire next week ahead of Rashid, who is playing for England Lions against Australia, but Warne repeated previous doubts about the left-arm spinner.
"He's a wonderful bowler, he has been fantastic for cricket, he's exciting. But he's stayed the same, he's one of those guys that has played one Test 30 times. You're all going to have your fluctuations in form but you want to see an improvement."
By now, England must have convinced themselves that Australia could be susceptible to spin. In the 12 Tests they have played since the start of their tour of India last autumn, Australia have lost 210 wickets, 70 of them to spin bowling. Not all of that has been of the highest quality.
It may depend, of course, how the captains in the forthcoming series respond. Warne, the best captain Australia never had apart from his other gifts, said: "I think the captaincy will be the deciding factor in the series, the way they use their bowlers, their fielders, their plans can get the best out of individuals. There are going to be a lot of tough times for both sides, a lot of expectations and pressures, all those sorts of things, and it will be about communication, understanding the role."
Especially the role of the spin bowler. Warne, who will commentate on the Ashes for Sky, recently led a spin bowling summit in Australia. The conclusion was not that there were no spinners any more but that they way were badly handled, lions led by donkeys.
"One of the most important things is captaincy of spin bowling," Warne said. "Most captains round the world actually use spin bowlers as afterthoughts. They bowl the quicks and then when they can't get wickets and two blokes are on 30 or 40 they give a spinner a bowl. That's how most captains see the spinners.
"What that means is that spinners are coming on at the hardest time to bowl, when two guys are set and you have got to try to find your rhythm or you have one over just to try and get a wicket, for a couple of runs. It's very hard and the thought processes using a spinner as an attacking option is something I have been trying to portray in domestic cricket the last couple of years."
The Aussie spin summit will present a report on the future of spin to Cricket Australia in the next few weeks. But as Warne said: "The mindset of the captain has to change. We know the spinners are going to go for more runs but there is more chance of getting wickets, especially when batsmen are attacking you. The quicks are likely to keep down runs more than the spinners."
It is precisely what England's strategy may be based on, of course. Rashid at one end taking plenty of wickets while going for a few and Andrew Flintoff keeping the other end bottled up.
Uncharacteristically, Warne made no prediction about the destiny of the Ashes but he said: "I don't believe England can win without Kevin Pietersen, but if they've got him and Flintoff and Rashid and Swann and Anderson, with maybe Sidebottom, that gives an unbelievable balance. If you lose the first Test it doesn't mean you can't win, as was shown in 2005, but I think, given the two teams, that first session on the first day of the first Test will tell us a lot about the series."
Shane Warne is commentating for Sky Sports during its live and HD coverage of the Ashes
13 days to go:
Remember the 2005 Ashes? Phillip Hughes doesn't, because at 16 he was too young to stay up and watch it back home in Oz. 'My dad kept telling me to go to bed,' he said.Reuse content