Warne likes to raise the stakes. He bowls better when he is in danger, writes Peter Roebuck
In the previous contest his bowling had lacked energyWarne created an atmosphere of hostilityThe old conviction was back, and the decisions went his way In the previous contest his bowling had lacked energyWarne created an atmosphere of hostilityThe old conviction was back, and the decisions went his way
Shane Warne had no business bowling out the South Africans on the last day of the Durban Test match. Traditionally it has been the role of the great spinner to run through opponents on a wearing surface, tormenting them with deliveries that grip in a breaking surface and jump like popcorn from a pan. But this was no ordinary pitch. As had been predicted by locals, it improved as the match went along.
Moreover, time was tight. All and sundry spent most of the day scanning the skies. The elements were widely expected to prevent play after tea. Instead the rain stayed away till 30 minutes after the last wicket had fallen.
Accordingly Warne was under extreme pressure. As usual he had put a price on his head, provoking spectators and opponents alike with numerous remarks that cut to the bone. Warne likes to raise the stakes.He bowls better when he is in danger.
In the previous contest his bowling had lacked energy. Signs of life had been detected in the first innings at Kingsmead. Although he had only taken a couple of wickets, his rhythm was returning.
As soon as Warne was belatedly introduced on the fifth morning it was clear that he was on top of his game. He was strong at delivery and giving the ball a rip. The mood of the match changed in his very first over. Warne created an atmosphere of hostility. Suddenly the batsmen sensed that the game was on.
Warne's first wicket was a beauty as A.B. de Villiers was fooled by a dropping ball that resembled a half-volley till the very last instant. Determined to attack, the gregarious opener tried to drive to leg and was let swishing at thin air. Gilchrist removed the bails and the batsman did not even wait for the bad news.
Now the teasing spinner set his sights on the home captain. Smith was batting steadily and scoring quickly. Warne was an altogether different proposition. He can bowl to almost any field. Without his accuracy he'd be half the bowler. He can crowd the best players without fear of taking heavy punishment. Accordingly he has men stationed to catch every trifle.
Determined to continue playing his shots, Smith swept the leg-spinner and the ball flew off arm or glove to leg-slip where Justin Langer pounced. Smith looked miffed and the replays were inconclusive.
Warne's appeal was raucous and convincing. Since returning from England with their tails between their legs, the Australians have been appealing more aggressively. Afterwards the South Africans felt that, once again, Warne had been helped by the umpires. Over the years he has, it is true but in recent times he has not had much luck. Beyond doubt senior umpires had collectively decided that he had been getting away with manslaughter. Warne had become frustrated. Here the old conviction was back, and the decisions went his way.
Kallis's was the critical wicket. He swept and survived a fierce appeal as the ball rebounded to silly point. Two balls later he repeated this stroke and was taken in front of his stumps. He could hardly have hoped to survive the appeal. It was a poorly calculated offering.
Hereafter Warne encountered resistance from the lefthanders and began to tire. Fortunately the pacemen picked up a couple of wilting opponents. But Mark Boucher was not for moving.
With the light fading, Australia took the second new ball but soon Warne was bowling again alongside Symonds.
Then Warne played his last card, trying his luck at the Umgeni End for the first time in the match. As with Harbhajan in Kolkata, the change worked. Andre Nel's valiant innings was curtailed by a hard-spun leg-break delivered from a high arm. Makhaya Ntini was welcomed with the best googly Warne has delivered for years and somehow survived.
Now came the coup de grace. As the light grew even worse and rain clouds gathered on the horizon, Warne sent down another wrong'un. Ntini offered no shot and was dispatched by a usually cautious umpire. Warne had done it again.