Sunday, 9 September 2007

Greatest Test XI: Shane Warne

To continue our Greatest Test XI of the last century we pick our number nine.

What can you say about Shane Warne, “the finest legspinner the world has ever seen”, according to Richie Benaud? He has mastered the hardest of cricket’s arts, and continued to astound over a 15-year Test career. Yet, for all the flippers, googlies and top-spinners, his brillance lies in far more than these deliveries. Mentally, he is amongst the toughest players who have ever played the game, able to out-think the very finest batsmen and, famously, reduce an excellent Test batsman, Darryl Cullinan, to a man bereft of self-belief against him. He has not been able to display his captaincy skills internationally, but has proved an astute, innovative skipper for Hampshire, able to out-psyche the opposition and imbue copious self-belief in his team-mates.

Warne also has the rare ability to excel himself when up against it and the side need him most. That much was clearly in evidence during the 2005 Ashes when, with a depleted attack and, due to injuries, his own leg-spinning weapons much less than they had been during the mid-90s, Warne relied on his subtlety (not always his biggest strength) cunning to claim an extraordinary 40 wickets in the series. His reputation was made during countless Australian victories; but, if anything, he was even more impressive in defeat.

His achievement in bringing such long-standing consistency to this most enigmatic of arts is remarkable, the result of Warne’s constant desire for cricketing improvement, which saw him develop a number of variations within the leg-spinner (carrying angles and degrees of spin). He made his name with The Ball Of The (20th) Century; the dismissal of Andrew Strauss may just have been The Ball of the 21st except, because it was Warne, the feelings were more of awe than the astonishment that greeted the dismissal of Mike Gatting.

With the bat, Warne also bettered himself when his side most needed him, and should really have scored a Test hundred. His raw statistics – 708 Test wickets in an era of bigger bats and shorter boundaries – are incredible, but his genius has transcended numbers.

The side so far: Sutcliffe, Hutton, Bradman, Hammond, Sobers, Imran (captain), Gilchrist (wicket-keeper), Marshall, Warne

We now only have two players left to select. Share your views on the side by leaving a comment below.

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