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It'd be nice to reach world record in India: Warne

By S. Dinakar

Shane Warne gets ready to hone his batting skills. - Photo: V.V. Krishnan.

CHENNAI, OCT. 12. Shane Warne got those leg-spinners humming at the nets, took a few swigs from his mineral water bottle, trotted up to have a chat with a mate, flashed a smile as he walked past the media, and appeared to be relishing the late afternoon sunshine even as the Chidambaram Stadium buzzed with pre-Test fever.

But then memories of an unhappy kind were swirling around the Aussie, now reminding him of an unhappy over, now transporting his mind back to a near miss, now pinching him about a dream that went wrong.

Or a dream that so nearly came true, until it went crashing down on a dramatic March evening here.

"I have bad memories of Chennai. We lost the series from 1-1 and I played terribly," he said wistfully on Tuesday, mulling over Steve Waugh's unconquered Final Frontier in 2001.

One dream dies and another begins.

Now, three years hence, the cricket caravan is back in Chennai, with Australia leading 1-0 in a four-Test series, and Warne finds himself just one short of Muttiah Muralitharan's tally of 532 wickets as he gears up for the second Test of the TVS Cup series for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, beginning at Chepauk on Thursday.

Top priority

Warne the team-man emerges forcefully: "Winning the series is the top priority. We executed most of our plans in the first Test. A score of 474 in the first innings was a good one, and we created the pressure."

He also realises the significance of the world record. "We are all individuals in a team game and it would be nice to reach a world record, in a country where cricket is such a passion."

Warne, the match-winner, then dwells on how his role in this series could change according to the situation. "The Indians play spin well. The faster bowlers generally perform better against the Indian batsmen. The pacemen had removed the top three by the time I bowled in Bangalore and I kept it tight, bowled quicker through the air. If they do not strike then I might try a lot more things, flight the ball a lot more, attack more. It is not a set game-plan, but a flexible one."

The ace leg-spinner believes he bowled well in the first Test, although, he went for runs in his last five overs of the Indian second innings. "I created quite a few half chances, took a few wickets, and thought I played my role pretty well."

He admitted scalping Australia's bogeyman V.V.S. Laxman twice in the Test was extremely satisfying. "Guys like Sachin (Tendulkar), Laxman and Dravid, you need good deliveries to get them out. Dravid got a beauty from McGrath in the first innings. You have to produce such balls, otherwise these guys will keep getting runs."

Simple plan

His plans for the second Test are simple — "Grab a few wickets, slog a few runs, take a few catches," but beneath those mischievous green eyes, and that endearing smile is a resolve that has enabled this Victorian soar over several barriers.

"Winning (a Test series) in India means much to a bunch of guys like us, who have won everywhere else," he says, and it becomes evident that this Australian campaign is being fuel-driven by the desire to achieve an elusive triumph that made a fleeting appearance in 2001 before vanishing in the horizon.

The competitor in him wants Tendulkar, grappling with a tennis elbow injury, to figure in the second Test. "It would be nice if Sachin plays, it would bring in more crowds." The Tendulkar-Warne face-off scorched the turf in the 1997-98 series when Warne zeroed in on the rough outside the leg-stump, and Tendulkar responded with audacious pulls.

The Aussie is now 35, but feels he is at the peak of his powers. "Since I have come back (from a one year ban for consuming a banned substance), I have been bowling better than ever before. I am still enjoying the game, which is important because if you do not enjoy the game, you have to make way for somebody else."

Soon it is time for the whirring cameras to stop and the reporters taking notes to put pen back in pocket, as Warne, the legend, leaves. Come Thursday, and he would be seeking to exorcise the ghosts of Chepauk.

Shane Warne is still chasing that elusive Indian dream. Some dreams just don't die.

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