Why Warne had a Prior engagement

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The Independent Online

So, Shane Warne has been insulting a young English cricketer. And there the world had been all these years assuming that when the great man spoke in the middle it was to offer avuncular words of advice and encouragement, sometimes accompanied by an invitation to tea.

So, Shane Warne has been insulting a young English cricketer. And there the world had been all these years assuming that when the great man spoke in the middle it was to offer avuncular words of advice and encouragement, sometimes accompanied by an invitation to tea.

No, the only surprise about the information that Warne had been sledging Matthew Prior, the Sussex keeper-batsman, was that it had upset the Sussex captain, Chris Adams. Indeed, Adams was perturbed enough to tell Bruce Talbot, of the Brighton Evening Argus: "I have lost a lot of respect for him because of the way he behaved in the match."

There is no question that Warne attempted to browbeat Prior and that Prior proved to be a sitting duck. The details and the timing may be disputable but it happened, and Warne achieved the desired effect of cajoling Prior into a misguided, mistimed and ugly shot which caused him to be lbw. Just another day at the office for Warne.

One of the umpires in the match, Ian Gould, commented in passing on the tactics of Warne (and of Hampshire's other Australian, Simon Katich) after the thrilling draw last Saturday. Gould did not underestimate the power of the Aussies' outbursts, but he was equally aware of what they were up to.

Sure, there was a Championship match to be won, and sure the overseas duo may have been put out by some perceived slight visited on them by Prior. But Gould knew what was almost certainly at the root of it. Prior is one of the coming men in English cricket and might be in line for a Test place should the selectors eventually ditch their plans for Geraint Jones to be the next Adam Gilchrist.

Warne, being the cutey he is, was no doubt softening him up just in case, despite his attempts later to suggest he was getting his own back. This, sonny boy, is what you can expect if you get to mix with the big lads. Adams's decision to make his displeasure public also seems to have stopped in its tracks the notion that the Australians have reformed.

Since Ricky Ponting took over the national team's captaincy, he has repeatedly emphasised that his team were cleaning up their act. He has begun to make a point of saying so in almost every interview. Indeed, as soon as he had heard of Adams's allegations against Warne, he said he would be trying to find out more.

Ponting added that in the past couple of years all the players had tried to change, and Warne had not been a problem. "Everyone we speak to in the game has been really impressed with what we have been able to do with our on-field attitudes."

Maybe, but Australia also had a long way to go. Their previous captain, Steve Waugh, was a great player who also subscribed - triumphantly - to the theory of mental disintegration. There was something in this, but it made Australia less appealing. Warne devotes a chapter of his autobiography to sledging, though he ends it by saying he tends not to say much now. "Generally, I let the ball do the talking." "Generally" covers a wide area.

None the less, sledging is the sort of thing that professionals keep to themselves. They might be upset, but they usually do not bleat. The reason that Adams chose to do so this time may be found in early June of 1997. He was playing for Derbyshire then, and when given out lbw to Warne in the first innings of a match against the touring Australians he stood his ground in disbelief. Replays (the match was on Sky) showed the decision was wrong, though his action could not be condoned. The Australians were aghast, and let Adams know it. He got his own back by scoring a lovely 91 to propel Derbyshire to victory the following day. Next thing you knew, England had won the First Test. It did not last, of course, but Adams had done some softening up on his own.

As Warne hinted in his book, and despite Ponting's noble intentions, it is probably safe to assume that if Australia think they need to sledge to win the game this summer or, to give the procedure its Sunday name, to practise mental disintegration, they will. All England must do is resist, which with Warne doing the practising as well as bowling unreadable balls is less likely than succumbing to some arcane form of oriental water torture. Sledging will never entirely disappear.

The ICC will continue to monitor it and perhaps Ehsan Mani, their president, may have something to say on it in his third year of office. His original tenure was for two years, but he has been asked to stay on. Percy Sonn of South Africa will have to wait a year, but will have the consolation of being the head honcho during the 2007 World Cup.

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