There have of course been many fine bowlers throughout Test cricket’s rich history, bowlers of pace and spin alike. But in the eyes of many it is Shane Keith Warne, the blond-haired Australian leggie, who stands among, if not above, the list of all-time greats. Despite his exemplary statistics, Warne has his superiors in terms of bowling average – his long-time team-mate Glenn McGrath for one – and is second to the great Muttiah Muralitharan in terms of overall wickets taken. Yet his career was not just about what he achieved on the field, but the way he did so. To be a great Test bowler you need to beat the top batsmen regularly; Warne left them completely bewildered. The greats have to show they can perform even in the most unhelpful conditions; Warne could turn the ball square on the green wickets of England and the hard pitches of Australia as much as on ones that traditionally take spin. The knowledge that he was capable of ripping a delivery clean past a helpless batsman’s bat and pads and straight into the stumps made every Warne ball worth watching for even the most casual of spectators. This article takes a look at five of his great Test match performances, though there were a huge number to choose from.
Australia vs West Indies, Melbourne, 1992
(7 for 52)
Despite his abundant natural talent, Warne had suffered something of a torrid time in his first few Test matches. He returned poor figures of 1 for 150 on his debut, and performing somewhat inconsistently throughout his first 4 games, leading him to be left out of the first Test against a touring West Indies side. After a disappointing draw he was recalled for the second Test, but would have known that he was running out of time to make a lasting impression. He struggled to do so for most of the match, only taking 1 for 65 in the first innings, but it was in the West Indies’ last-innings run chase that Warne proved what a valuable asset he could be. With the tourists looking comfortable at 143 for 1 in their pursuit of 359, it was Warne who dramatically changed the game. He bowled a brilliant flipper to West Indies captain Richie Richardson, who had been expecting the ball to bounce and turn – it didn’t, and crept low between his bat and pad to bowl him for 52. Clearly emboldened by this dismissal, Warne ripped through the rest of the West Indies’ batting line-up, taking another six wickets to skittle his opponents for 219, leading his side to victory by 139 runs. This showing also earned Warne the first of many Test Man of the Match accolades, and ensured he became a regular fixture of Australia’s Test team.
Australia vs South Africa, Sydney, 1994
(7 for 56, 5 for 72)
By early 1994 Warne was well established as perhaps the best spin bowler in the world, a reputation cemented by his bowling of the ‘ball of the century’ to dismiss Mike Gatting for his first ever delivery in Ashes cricket. The South African side that were touring Australia were playing Warne for the first time, and would have formulated some plans to help deal with him. Clearly, however, none of them seemed to work. In the second Test of the series at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Warne spun rings around the tourists, taking seven first-innings wickets to engineer a collapse from 91 for 1 to 169 all out. If this were not proof enough of his ability, he followed up his first innings effort with another five wickets in the second, to take test-best figures of 12 for 128. Among his victims in both innings was Daryll Cullinan, who would famously go on to be one of Warne’s ‘bunnies’, being dismissed 12 times by the leg-spinner throughout his career. Despite Warne’s heroics, however, his side went on to lose a thrilling match by just five runs, being bowled out for just 111. This disappointing result, however, demonstrates another important characteristic of Warne’s career, namely his ability to maintain a high level of performance even when the rest of his team is struggling.
Australia vs England, Brisbane, 1994
(3 for 39, 8 for 71)
Throughout his career Warne built a well-deserved reputation as a big-game player, and for any wearer of the Baggy Green, there is no bigger game than an Ashes Test match. Warne was part of a side that regularly dominated their English opponents for over a decade, during which time Warne put in countless performance worthy of mention. None, however, were finer than his showing in his first home Ashes Test at the Gabba. After bowling well in the first innings, claiming 3 for 39 as England were bowled out for just 167. Despite being on top throughout the game, though, the home side looked as if they let their opportunity for victory slip as England fought back on the final day. Although Warne removed both English openers, middle order batsmen Graeme Hick and Graham Thorpe seemed to be guiding the tourists towards a draw when they reached 219 for 2. Warne, though, chose his moment perfectly, dismissing the two batsmen in quick succession and running through the rest of the batting order with tremendous ability to claim 8 wickets in the innings and 11 in the match. England succumbed before tea as Australia took the first step towards yet another Ashes victory, thanks largely to their premier spinner.
Australia vs South Africa, Cape Town, 2002
(2 for 70, 63, 6 for 161, 15 not out)
Warne marked his 100th Test cap, in the second Test against South Africa in 2002, in the most characteristic way possible, proving himself the difference between the two sides in what was otherwise an extremely close encounter. He performed respectably with the ball as Australia bowled first, taking 2 for 70, before showcasing his considerable ability with the bat in the lower order. With the match in the balance Warne made a skilful 63 at almost a run a ball, putting on a partnership of 132 with centurion Adam Gilchrist. He followed this up with an equally vital contribution as South Africa batted again, taking 6 wickets at regular intervals while his team-mates toiled against a rejuvenated batting order. If he had not done enough already, he put the cherry on a match-winning performance as he accompanied Ricky Ponting at the crease for the 29 runs needed to give Australia a four-wicket victory. Even in a game featuring a number of world-class performances, Warne distinguished himself from the rest, making significant contributions in all four innings to see his team home.
7 for 94, 4 for 94 vs Pakistan, Colombo, 2002
Australia’s hard-fought battle against Pakistan in the neutral venue of Colombo was another venue for some vintage Warne magic. This time, however, he contributed aboslutely nothing with the bat, being dismissed for a pair courtesy of Pakistani paceman Shoaib Akhtar. Yet he was not deterred from putting in a fine performance with the ball. He took seven wickets in Pakistan’s first innings to ensure Australia took a commanding lead in the game, and then chipped in with crucial wickets after his side’s batting collapse left Pakistan chaseable target of 316. In particular, he trapped the dangerous-looking Younus Khan lbw for 51 as one of his four wickets in the innings, as Australia bowled out their opponents to win by just 41 runs. Warne, as was so often the case, showed he was able to hold his nerve and see the game through even when tensions ran high, one of the multitude of reasons why he has gone down as one of the all-time great players to play at Test match level.
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