Warne the master of belief

<preform>Hampshire 197 and 275 <br> Gloucestershire 221 and 203 <br> Hampshire win by 48 runs</preform>
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The Independent Online

By the time this summer is done, Shane Warne may well have inflicted yet more damage on the psyches and the wickets of England's cricketers. The prospect is as alarming and real as it has been these past 12 years.

By the time this summer is done, Shane Warne may well have inflicted yet more damage on the psyches and the wickets of England's cricketers. The prospect is as alarming and real as it has been these past 12 years.

Yet in the same summer, paradoxically, it is also clear that the great man can do a great deal to advance the game and its players in this country. That much was evident yesterday when Hampshire won by 48 runs a game they had looked like losing for much of its course.

Warne took six wickets in the match, which was a significant contribution for a leg-spinner on a seaming pitch in the chill of April, and shows why he is the leading bowler in the world. But his inspiration and his enthusiasm were also key factors in the victory, as they will be in Hampshire's season.

He brings much more to the Rose Bowl than merely his bowling and his shrewd grasp of tactics. His presence alone lifts the players, but Warne takes it a crucial stage further by expressing his belief in them.

The unlikely victory obviously moved him, and he talked about it infectiously as something wonderful to be involved in, something that you would always recall and look back on fondly in 10 years' time. This, remember, was a man who has taken 583 Test wickets and done almost everything possible in the game talking about a Championship match at the start of the English summer.

He was adamant that Australians generally - and there are dozens of them playing in this country - were here to improve the county game, not to use it as a springboard for match practice so the Ashes could be retained. "We have the best domestic cricket in the world in Australia, and if you can get us here we bring a good work ethic, some spunk, a never-say-die attitude and are positive in everything we do," he said. "Young English county players are improving by playing with [Australians]. I like to think I've brought a belief in everybody's ability at Hampshire. I back my players all the way."

Warne was jubilant at the efforts of his team. Billy Taylor, a journeyman swing bowler who played in Sussex's Championship-winning side two years ago, had career-best figures of 6 for 45 which ensured that Gloucestershire fell well short of their target. He achieved movement and bounce in conditions to suit. Could he be one of the few to appear in title-winning sides for two different counties?

It is not to demean Taylor's endeavours to suggest that Gloucestershire's batsmen had already been softened up by Chris Tremlett's disconcerting speed and lift. Tremlett was a handful from the moment he took the ball at the Pavilion End in the morning, and although this is his sixth season he is only 23.

Warne has no doubts that he can fit into the England team as a first-change seam bowler sooner rather than later. He was also generous in his praise of Jonathan Lewis, and for a moment his ebullience was in danger of persuading him to dish out too much praise.

For a little while at the start of proceedings it seemed that Gloucestershire had decided to romp to victory. After being 129 without loss in pursuit of 252 to win they had stumbled to 145 for 5 over-night. But Stephen Adshead and Alex Gidman began at a gallop as Warne, of all people, dropped repeatedly short, probably because his cold fingers made it difficult to grip the ball properly early on.

But there was an air of panic to their method and Tremlett deserved his reward when, on 181, Adshead edged an outswinger which leapt at him. Warne himself took the next wicket by deceiving Mark Hardinges and then took a stunning reflex catch at second slip to demonstrate that the cold was no longer affecting him.

When Taylor removed Gidman's off and middle stumps any semblance of hope was gone, although there was just time to ponder on whether Steve Kirby is the worst No 11 batsman in county cricket at present. He was haplessly leg-before to Taylor for a duck, and had been fortunate to survive that far.

Hampshire have some strength in depth - they were without their star recruit Kevin Pietersen and last season's leading wicket-taker, Dimitri Mascarenhas - and Warne is patently thinking of silverware.

He has already worked out that his Ashes duties this summer will still enable him to play 11 of the 16 Championship matches, and that his fellow Australia player Simon Katich will play 10.

Warne has not come cheaply to the Rose Bowl, a ground of potential magnificence which remains irritatingly unfinished, like the Gaudi cathedral in Barcelona. But he means business. All the signs are that he will illuminate the summer from the very start to the very finish, with some terribly exciting bits in between.

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