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Warne-Ing Shane!

The Sheikh of Tweak is reduced to a squeak by Sachin. But the real Test is still to begin.

Warne-Ing Shane!
outlookindia.com
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THE Australian hype machine has gone deathly quiet for the moment after the hammering Sachin Tendulkar gave Shane Warne in the tour-opener in Bombay. And as the real battles loom—in Madras, Calcutta and Bangalore—Mohammed Azharuddin, Saurav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid must be hoping to swat a softened-up Shane for good.

"Australia, we have a problem," wrote Malcolm Knox in an SOS in The Melbourne Age, describing what he called "the first time an Australian attack featuring Warne has been put away with masterly precision." As Tendulkar totted up a maiden double-ton for the Ranji champ versus the world champ, he hit all panic stations.

 "If Tendulkar can repeat in the Tests the type of innings he played, the Australians can say goodbye to their hopes of winning the series and turn their thoughts to saving it," Knox added. "The question of how to dismiss him must be shuffled backwards. The immediate concern is how to contain him."

 In other words: instead of hollering "Bowling Shane!" from behind the stumps, Ian Healy could well end up shouting "Warne-ing Shane!" That's some comedown for the Aussies whose spin-doctors, led by chief surgeon Warne, 29, had touted the Shane v Sachin sideshow as a must-see. "From a personal point of view, I'm looking forward to doing battle with him," taunted Warne on arrival. Tendulkar didn't join the verbal joust. He went physical.

Beaten only twice by Warne's wrong 'uns, Sachin scored 43 off the 44 balls he faced of Warne in his unbeaten 204. And proved once again to his team-mates that Warne—a little myth, a lot of magic—is certainly not unplayable. Just what Sachin's guru Ravi Shastri had shown seven seasons ago in Warne's debut Test in Sydney, taking 60 runs off him en route to a 206. "The greatest leg spinner of alltime" (Richie Benaud's surmise) could still bamboozle India. Point is, Sachin and Shastri have shown the way. And Azhar & Co go into the first Test on March 6 knowing that Warne's bowling fig-ures against India are pretty unflattering.

In his only two Tests against India: 68-9-238-1. In his four one-dayers: 39-1-182-5. And this: 16-1-111-0. Six wickets at a combined rate of 88.50 apiece.Against Warne, who bowls as much with his arm as with the aura around him, that's a big psychological-plus.

That is, if the Indians can forget that from 62 other Tests, Warne has 302 wickets. That he picks up one every 11 overs. That purely on form, he's the world's number one bowler right now. That he can bowl three kinds of leg-breaks, three kinds of flippers, sliding inswingers, zooters, bouncing legbreaks, googlies and the ones that don't turn. And that he can always—always—bowl that unplayable "mystery ball" that only the old firm of Richie, Tony & Ian can spot. Hello Keith! Hello Thommo!

ATTACK: Dilip Sardesai has no doubt how the Indian batsmen should approach Warne: "They should look towards our Bombay boys. They hammered him to pieces. They massacred him." That is the most ominous sign for Taylor, Test match-eve. For, not only did Tendulkar get on top of his key bowler, so did Bombay's rookies.

India under-19 captain Amit Pagnis took eight and 15 off Warne's first two first-class overs in India. Warne was ineffective on a pitch on which Nilesh Kulkarni took seven wickets, and his famed accuracy—"he can strangle one end up even when he isn't taking wickets" (Bob Woolmer)—deserted him. "Will they come after me?" Warne had asked. "I hope they do. That's the best chance of getting wickets. I hope they come after me and hit me for a six every ball. That'll be nice." But when Tendulkar did, there were no comebacks from the beach blond battling a right ring-finger operation.

What's in store? Much will depend on the kind of wickets that are laid out. Two fine Indian leggies B.S. Chandrashekhar and L. Sivaramakrishnan say Warne will be able to turn the ball square even on the "deadest tracks", but India's newest TV commentator Sanjay Manjrekar feels: "He may not be very effective and dangerous on flat Indian pitches."

 After seeing the Indian spin combine (Anil Kumble, Rajesh Chauhan, Venkatapathi Raju) Warne is said to be anticipating "raging turners" of the kind that the Aussies got for the one-off Test in Delhi in 1996, a tour the leggie couldn't make. But Brijesh Patel says that even on designer pitches, Warne won't be much of a threat, although there's another leggie in the touring party: Stuart McGill.

SACHIN, Saurav, Rahul, Azhar are all capable of using their feet to handle him. They can watch his hands and detect the flippers and googlies. This is difficult for batsmen of other countries to do," says Patel. "Warne may certainly be Australia's main bowler but for India, he isn't anything to be scared of." Ajit Wadekar too says Warne will not find wicket-taking as easy against Indian batsmen accustomed to playing leggies. Vinod Kambli took 22 off Warne's ninth over in Sharjah in '93-94; Manoj Prabhakar and Sachin took 19 off his first over in Dunedin in '94-95; and Kambli cracked a run-a-ball 18 in Colombo the same year.

The Indian top order will also draw comfort from Warne's career record. He has taken a lot more lower order wickets than contemporaries. Of his six Indian wickets, two involved Nayan Mongia; Prabhakar and Ajay Jadeja one apiece. He got Shastri out after he had scored 206. And Sidhu after he had scored 80.

But Warne points to his 18-wicket haul in Pakistan three years ago and moderate success in Sri Lanka to show he can bowl on any kind of wicket, on any continent, against any kind of bats-men. Which is why Tendulkar isn't underestimating Warne: "I'm more eager to score against Australia than Warne."

Traditionally overseas legspinners (Abdul Qadir, Mushtaq Ahmed, Bruce Dooland) have met with little success here. But, aided by a fine captain and the finest first-slip fielder of all time, Warne is a bighearted aggressive competitor "who can make things happen, not merely waiting for the batsman to make a mistake" (Ashley Mallet). Chandra strikes a timely note of caution: "If the batsmen can sort out Warne so can he sort out the batsmen. "

RIGHTHANDERS BEWARNED: Ted Dexter quotes Ian Chappell as saying right-handers are on a loser against Warne unless they score off him on the leg side, which means breaking the old taboo of not hitting against the spin by employing the sweep and the pull. But none of the Indians is comfortable with the sweep shot.

Cricket writer Rajan Bala says he's seen Azhar sweep a ball on to his middle stump. Dravid, who might get to face Warne in Vizag, is known to have only recently added the sweep to his armoury. So a left-hander's presence in the lineup assumes importance. How Ganguly handles Warnie's leggies spinning into him from on and outside the offstump, and for how long, will decide Warne's impact.

Still, Atithi Devobhava demands that we remain indebted to this genius-guest merely for coming here to show us his skill. Several greats have avoided playing on backbreaking Indian pitches, "citing every pretext except the monthly periods" (Chris Old). Not Warnie. He'll stand at the top of his bowling run, still, very still, eyes focused, as if to hypnotise the batsman, wrists locked around the ball. The calm before the storm. No fizzing loop from hand to hand (Kumble/ Mushtaq). No hop, skip or jump (Qadir).Then, he will stride up calmly to the crease, and release the red cherry with a Monica Selesesque grunt, in an enormous surge of power.

Then, he will do one of many things. Appeal in ecstasy, right arm thrust to the sky. Pout in agony, left arm tousling his hair. Ponder in disbelief, as the batsman wins a small victory. And sometimes, he might even rush to hug his partners in crime Ian Healy and Mark Taylor. Enjoy.


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