Warne farewell hijacks Ashes
by Cricket Archive Staff Reporter
DateLine: 23rd December 2006
The farewell appearances of cricketing great Shane Warne threatens to
sidetrack Australia's bid to chase history against England in the
fourth Ashes Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground from Tuesday.
The master leg-spinner's shock decision this week to retire from Test
cricket after the fifth Sydney Test next month has dominated the
lead-up to the Boxing Day contest, in part because Australia have
already regained the Ashes. Warne, 37, is poised to become the first
bowler to capture 700 Test wickets in the fourth Test, his 144th. He
needs just one wicket before his hometown fans to achieve that target.
Warne, who has tormented England batsmen with 186 wickets in 34 Tests
over 13 years, is expected to receive an emotional send-off in
Melbourne and Sydney. The Australians meanwhile are trying to emulate
Warwick Armstrong team's 5-0 Ashes sweep here 86 years ago. The
showpiece Test of Australian cricket is likely to create a new world
record for a single day's attendance. All tickets have been sold for
Boxing Day to surpass the 90,800 for the second day of the fifth Test
against the West Indies at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in
Warne says the job is half-finished as Ricky Ponting's Aussies eye a
humiliating series sweep. "As far as I'm concerned we've got two Test
matches to play and I just want to finish the series on a high," Warne
said. "I think if we can win 5-0 that would be a fantastic achievement
for a great team."
But coach John Buchanan is anxious the commotion over Warne's exit may
prove an unwanted distraction. "With a range of news around us it might
be a bit of a distraction but hopefully we are a better team than
that," Buchanan said Friday. "That's something we will talk about at
training - dealing with the distractions that will continue over the
next two Test matches, and really try to finish on a high note. Our
mission here is not only to win the Ashes but also establish a huge gap
between us and England."
Australia took just 15 days to seize the Ashes, rebounding
spectacularly from last year's series loss in England where they
relinquished them after 16 years. The much-anticipated series has been
a huge let-down with Australia romping to massive wins over Freddie
Flintoff's England team in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. Australia have
only been dismissed twice in six innings, highlighting England's
inability to take 20 wickets after terminating the Australians' innings
eight times in the 2005 series.
The sorry England performance has triggered recriminations. Coach
Duncan Fletcher is under intense scrutiny over the team's preparation
and selection, amid conjecture that his job will be under review. One
casualty is likely to be wicketkeeper Geraint Jones, who registered a
pair of ducks in Perth and has scored only 63 runs at 10.50 in the
series. Chris Read is expected to be behind the stumps in the fourth
Skipper Flintoff is determined his side will bounce back in the
Melbourne and Sydney Tests. "It hurts a lot, but we have to get over it
and we've got two big Test matches still to play," he said. "There are
a lot of lads who want to prove they can win a Test match in Australia
and prove they can play against Australia."
The Ashes series may be over as a contest but that hasn't dampened an
insatiable appetite by cricket fans. Officials are anticipating a
record attendance for an entire Test. Crowds of 95,000 are likely over
the opening three days' play and the record of 350,354 - set in the
vast arena in the third Test of the 1936/37 Ashes series in the Don
Bradman era - is under threat.
England, sensing a changing of the guard with Warne likely to be
followed by great pace bowler Glenn McGrath into retirement, are
looking to regroup for future Ashes battles.
"We've got another two years before we play these guys and it's kind of
starting now," batsman Paul Collingwood said. "I'm sure the boys in the
dressing room will want to put their hands up and see where they've
gone wrong individually, and regroup and restart, starting in