The first of ten favourite moments in cricket: Adelaide 2006, a match that turned from dull to dazzling in an instant
It was an awful moment. Perhaps - at least in terms of pure sport - it was the most awful moment I've experienced watching cricket. That's why I've chosen it to kick off this collection of my ten favourite moments in cricket. It isn't on the list because it was jolly and joyful. It's there because it got to me really rather deeply. It was incomparably vivid, telling me all sorts of truths - some of them unwelcome - about cricket, sport, humankind and myself.
It happened in Adelaide in 2006 during the second Test match between Australia and England. A year earlier England had beaten Australia and won an Ashes series for the first time in 18 years, so the return series was always going to be pretty intense. The hero of 2005, Andrew Flintoff, was now England captain. And if England had been hammered by 277 runs in the first Test, in Brisbane, they were going great guns in the second.
Suddenly I felt sick. It can't really go wrong from here, can it? Not after England had declared on 551 for 6
Flintoff declared with England 551 for 6. Paul Collingwood made a double-century and Kevin Pietersen was unstoppable. Even Shane Warne was helpless against him, running up the white flag and bowling wide outside the leg stump. He finished on 167 for 1. It was going to be all right.
Australia's first innings had a dodgy start but they got back into it, which was a disappointment, but hey, the point had been made, the match was going to be a draw, and England would go into the third Test remade, restored and ready to battle back.
Then Warne took over.
It was an extraordinary demonstration of the way one man can, by an immense detonation of the will, change the course of events. England should have drawn this match, but Warne decided otherwise. The powerful overflow of his will affected everyone around him: team-mates, opposition, umpires, and all of us who were at the ground.
See you later, "Shermanator": Ian Bell, having already endured a famous Ashes sledge, is run out by the man who coined the name
© Getty Images
See you later, "Shermanator": Ian Bell, having already endured a famous Ashes sledge, is run out by the man who coined the name © Getty Images
The match was going nowhere. The last day began with England 59 for 1, batting comfortably but without much purpose. Australia were bowling in much the same manner. The match, like the pitch, was flat: 1123 runs for 17 wickets. It was a situation that infuriated Warne. So he changed it. And won the match. In one single moment.
Mike Hussey held a looping catch off Andrew Strauss, and Warne, the one truly intense person on the pitch, appealed as if the future of the planet depended on the outcome. Strauss had missed it by a mile, all pad, no bat, but Steve Bucknor unfathomably and uncharacteristically raised his finger in that apologetic way of his. Warne had made him a co-conspirator.
The match, like the pitch, was flat: 1123 runs for 17 wickets. It was a situation that infuriated Warne. So he changed it
Suddenly I felt sick. As if the pilot had just announced: "There is absolutely no cause for alarm." It can't really go wrong from here, can it? Not after England had declared on 551 for 6. That first shiver of fear in my mind was an extension of what was happening in the hearts and minds of the England players.
So then a dozy run-out. Another wicket induced by Warne's intensity, aided by the sudden doubt that he had created in English minds. The ball went to Michael Clarke's left. Had they forgotten that this was his throwing arm? Not that it was a great throw, but Warne was somehow right behind it to relay the ball onto the stumps with a deadly underarm chuck.
Never mind. Here was Pietersen. Pietersen who had mastered Warne in the first innings. He'd put everything right, wouldn't he? He played a lavish sweep at Warne. Warne his dupe, Warne his fall guy, Warne the man he had mastered. It was the definitive confrontation in their long history as opponents.
Round two: Warne gets even with KP
© Getty Images
Round two: Warne gets even with KP © Getty Images
The ball pitched outside leg stump, hit the footmarks, dived back in and clipped off stump. Just. Bowled behind his back. Humiliated. In this desperate passage of play England lost three wickets for four runs in three overs. And the match. And the series. Five-nil, as it happened.
England were bowled out for 129. Warne's figures of 4 for 49 look almost modest, so they gave the Man-of-the-Match award to Ricky Ponting. Why do the people who give out these awards lack all imagination?
A match that should have been drawn was won by Warne's overwhelming nature; by the powerful outpouring of his chi or life force. It was deeply distressing to me on the level of partisanship, but partisanship is only one way of understanding sport, and the coarsest of the lot. It was time to move beyond it and admire.
One man's sporting fantasy had been turned into reality by all those around him, almost as if they were humouring him. Warne had all the skills, but skills are never quite enough on their own. They need a certain force behind them. One dodgy decision, one mad run-out, one moment of hubris - all induced by Warne. All a tribute to the force that lay behind his excellence, that underpinned it, that made him one of the greatest cricketers of them all.
Simon Barnes is a former chief sportswriter of the Times and the author of more than 20 books
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