Warne fears arthritis in spinning finger

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The stress of being the world's biggest spinner of a cricket ball is beginning to take its toll on Shane Warne. He admitted at the World Cup yesterday to long-term concern that at the age of 26 his body - in particular his spinning finger - is rebelling against the freakish demands he puts upon it every time he bowls.

"Everybody's got little niggles, but this is worse than a little niggle," he said, revealing that he will be having a bone scan on the finger - the third on his right hand - which forces the ball to behave so dramatically. "The doctors think it's a little bit of arthritis and that there are some torn and stretched ligaments in there, but no one really knows the full thing," he said.

Warne, who was described by no less a figure than Abdul Qadir as the best leg-spinner in history last week, became the first bowler in Test cricket to take 50 wickets in a calendar year three years running in December. He also passed 200 Test wickets in just his 42nd match in the same month, but admitted that the finger was causing him increasing difficulties throughout the series against Sri Lanka.

He had two cortisone injections during the Australian summer and another just before setting out for the World Cup.

But they have not stopped him playing in pain, and neither does resting the finger work. "It doesn't necessarily help," he said. "I think rest helps the body, but it doesn't help the finger too much. I think the more I keep going the better. When you leave it and come back it's really hard. At the moment it usually takes seven or eight balls to start warming up and once it's done that it's OK.

"It was a big inconvenience last summer, I suppose in the latter half of the year the effect of the cortisone was beginning to wear off."

It requires such a lot of effort and such bodily contortion to be a leg- spinner, particularly one who turns the ball as sharply as Warne does, that they always face the chance of permanent damage, though the joints most obviously at risk are the shoulder, which comes under enormous pressure as the bowler tries to get his arm in exactly the right position to spin the ball, and the wrist, which has, at speed, to flex and rotate far beyond its normal limits. The fact that it is Warne's finger which is suffering shows how much purchase on the ball he extracts from it.

As almost the first of a growing generation of big spinners, Warne's injury - particularly if it is long-term damage like arthritis, will be alarming news to many others, not least the 19-year-old South African left-armer Paul Adams, whose unorthodox action puts his body under more strain even than Warne's.