Warne working hard in quest for the magic touch

Middlesex v Hamsphire

Warne completed the third-fastest hundred of the season in the second over of the second day of this game against Middlesex. He slogged the first ball of the day to the extra cover boundary, and two off the first ball of the second over brought up his second century of the season.

He had come in with the score on 176 for 6 and taken it to 342 for 9. It was a true captain's innings. He modestly raised his helmet to his teammates and with hardly a pause, edged Mel Betts to first slip on 101. His hundred took 79 balls, he was in for 91 minutes in all, and he hit three sixes and 12 fours.

But we had not come to watch Warne bat. He started to bowl with three overs left before lunch, and continued directly after lunch, clearly intending to make up for time consumed by domestic turmoil. Bowling unchanged between lunch and tea, he sent down 19 overs, with three maidens, and took two wickets for 52 runs.

The bowling was not quite as good as the figures. The first of his two wickets came from a stupendous leaping catch at square leg, by Shaun Udal, to dismiss Ed Joyce just when he was beginning to get the measure of Warne.

The second hit short leg on the back before ballooning to Dimitri Mascarenhas at square leg. But with overs under his belt, he had begun to settle and the middle order found him difficult to score off.

He is still fascinating to watch - and listen to, because he grunts as if he was playing at Wimbledon.

These days, the arm sometimes looks surprisingly low, especially when he wants the ball to bite. When he pitches the ball up, the arm comes across higher and, yesterday at least, he tended to over-pitch and a number of full tosses were belted to the boundary.

Warne versus Ed Joyce was the most interesting, and potentially important, passage of play. Joyce, the hero of Ireland, aspires to a place in the England team, though the International Cricket Council seems determined to obstruct a quick transfer. While he did not always look comfortable against Warne - he survived one passionate shout for lbw from the Australian - he took nine off one over, straight driving and pulling boundaries.

There were six fours in Joyce's fifty, and the delivery that dismissed him could just as easily have flown for four. This was Joyce's 11th score over 50 in 14 innings this summer and in this round with Warne, he would have won on points.

Whether Warne was lucky or not, he was leading Hampshire into a strong position against Middlesex on a wicket which is reputed to be the softest featherbed in England.

Not in this match. John Emburey, Middlesex's coach, asked for more bounce and carry, and he was getting it at the cost of his own batsmen.

Mascarenhas took 2 for 35 and two catches as Middlesex's sixth wicket fell when they were still more than 150 in arrears. And when the seventh wicket fell it was to a superb catch wide to first slip's left hand. The catcher? Warne of course.

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