Warne, the greatest Test wicket-taker in history, set to retire

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The Independent Online

Shane Warne will announce his retirement today in his home town of Melbourne. The greatest wicket-taker in Test cricket history and quite possibly also the greatest bowler of all time has decided that at the age of 37 there are no more fields left to conquer.

Warne is poised to become the first bowler to reach a total of 700 Test wickets, needing only one more in the fourth Test against England, which starts here on Boxing Day. It was being cheerfully predicted that he would capture 1,000 such was his continuing potency. But he will go after the fifth Test in Sydney. The news, when it seeped out on Channel Nine Television here yesterday, was a shock but not a surprise. As he left the field on Monday after Australia's victory in the third Test in Perth, which secured the Ashes, he said: "These are the things you're going to miss and I'm a lot closer to the end than the bloody start."

Warne had to go sometime, and speculation was rife both about the state of both his shoulder and elbow after bowling 6,719 Test overs, and that he had decided to accept Channel Nine's offer of a place on its commentary team. Nobody at Cricket Australia confirmed the stories, but nobody denied them either.

The rumour mill being what it is, it was soon suggested that Warne's imminent retirement will be either accompanied or swiftly followed by that of his colleague, the fast bowler Glenn McGrath, who with 555 Test wickets has wreaked barely less havoc on opposition teams in the past decade.

Peter Young, head of corporate affairs at Cricket Australia, said: "These two players are masters of their own destiny and the owners of their own futures and when they announce decision on their futures is up to them."

Warne's career has been incredible. It has frequently touched the heavens but has been besmirched by controversy almost as regularly. Some eight years ago he began describing his life as a soap opera and could not get an argument.

He has been credited with reinventing the art of leg-spin bowling, and if that does a slight disservice to some Indian and Pakistani practitioners who prevented its extinction, Warne was unique. It was not simply the relentless accuracy, never seen in one of his type before, it was the showmanship and the guile which attended it.

He was first picked by Australia at the age of 22 in January 1992 and the legend was more or less secure within 18 months. A Test-winning display against Sri Lanka in Colombo and 7 for 50 against West Indies in his maiden Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, his home ground, were followed by "the ball of the century" when, in 1993 at Old Trafford with his first delivery in Ashes cricket, Warne pitched outside leg and hit the off stump of Mike Gatting.

Warne did not stop thereafter but he courted trouble, culminating in being sent home in disgrace from the 2003 World Cup in South Africa after a diuretic was discovered in his blood during a routine dope test. He was banned for a year and was fortunate that it was not two.

Ensuring he came back fitter than before, he has been astonishingly effective since. The latest weapon in his armoury has been the constant pressuring of umpires which was beginning to annoy many observers.

Hampshire, for whom he is contracted to play for another two years, hope he will continue as captain. It would be a peculiar sight, watching a man who has bamboozled the world's great batsmen, seeing out his declining years in the English shires.

Leading Test wicket-takers

Tests Wkts

1 S K WARNE (Aus) 143 699

2 M Muralitharan (SL) 110 674

3 G D McGRATH (Aus) 122 555

4 A Kumble (Ind) 111 538

5 C A Walsh (WI) 132 519

6 Kapil Dev (Ind) 131 434

7 R J Hadlee (NZ) 86 431

8 Wasim Akram (Pak) 104 414

9 C E L Ambrose (WI) 98 405

10 S M Pollock (SA) 103 402