How to explain Warne

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The Independent Online
An American at present on holiday in London, a man of keen perception and wide sporting interest, came across something on television the other night that baffled him completely.

Seeking an update on international affairs in the early hours, his attention was captured by what he considered to be the curious inability of England's cricketers in Melbourne to smite apparently innocuous bowling into the adjoining parish.

"What's the matter with those guys?" he asked on the telephone. "A kid could murder that stuff."

The proposition that Shane Warne is capable of causing even the very best batsmen a great deal of embarrassment and probably would be unplayable in conditions favourable to him, was met with staggered disbelief.

"I don't get it," my friend said. "I thought the idea was to throw fast."

"Bowl," I said. "Throwing isn't allowed."

"OK, you bowl it. But surely, unless the guy with bat is a complete dummy, the slow bowl is easier to hit."

"Not if the slow bowler is an artist, especially if he is a leg spinner."

"A leg what? But go on. Explain the art."

"Difficult. Basically, the idea is to induce a false stroke by making the ball turn sharply when it bounces. This can result in the batsman being bowled, caught, given out leg before wicket or, if utterly bemused, stumped."

"Stumped? From what I saw they all looked stumped."

"Yes, well that's a matter for a chap called Raymond Illingworth, an old spinner who is trying to persuade England's batters that a lot of it is in the mind."

"The pitcher's - sorry, the bowler's - mind?"

"No, the batter's."

"This Illingworth. He's some sort of a guru?"

"You could call him that."

"So Warne is not only a class act but he's put a hex on the England batters."

"Absolutely. It began last year when he bowled one of England's best players of spin bowling, Mike Gatting, with a delivery that appeared to turn at right angles.

"Ever since, Warne has held such a tremendous psychological advantage it wouldn't surprise me to learn that the England players are sprinkling Valium on their cornflakles."

"Is there no solution to the problem?"

"Practice would help, but unfortunately there is no longer much call for leg spinners in English cricket. The preference is for uninspired trundlers."

"So Warne will go on making England look foolish?"

"Seems so, although it would be interesting if one of England's batters managed to make a big score against him. It might clear some of the anxiety from their minds."

"It might also affect Warne's confidence."

"Possibly, though barring injuries he is likely to become the finest bowler of his type in history."

"Has anyone ever before caused England's batters so much consternation?"

"Yes. The death this week of a truly great English batsman, Peter May, recalled his marvellous innings of 285 in 1957 that saw off the West Indies' fiendish spinner, Sonny Ramadhin. It more or less ended Ramadhin's international career."

"Destroyed him mentally."

"Unquestionably. Never the same again. That's it with spinners. When up against things, they can't resort to physical intimidation. They need courage to go with their guile."

My friend paused to gather his thoughts.

"Warne has the look of a quarterback," he said. "Big kid. You'd think he'd want to throw it, I mean bowl it fast. Use all his power."

He sensed he was running into trouble.

"I need to see some more of this guy," he said. "When are they putting him on again?"

"Tonight," I said. "Same time, same channel. Watch for his flipper."

"His what?"

"Forget it," I said.