Can Shane Warne still cut it at Test level?
Photo: Getty Images
Shane Warne is a master of spin, so it's no surprise that his proposed Ashes comeback is gaining legs by the day. Like any great politician, the leg-spinning legend is simultaneously talking down and feeding the hype, telling fans not to get their hopes up and then raising them anyway.
Observe his comments from the Melbourne Stars' family day on Sunday:
"It's a bit of fantasy at the moment," Warne said initially.
"At the moment I am just worried about the Big Bash and trying to land a few where I want to and get back on the winning track for the Stars. We'll worry about that later whether it is going to be serious or not."
Pressed further, he added: "There will be a time soon when I physically can't move my arm over, I can't move and I can't do anything of those things and even playing club cricket with some friends is not even an option.
"At the moment while you're still doing it, and still bowling really well, which I am, then I suppose anything is possible."
While he's not out-and-out declaring his interest in a return to the Test team, the fact that Warne won't categorically rule it out either suggests he is, at the very least, mulling it over.
If that is the case, here are a few questions Warne needs to ask himself.
Is he good enough for Australia?
The first-hand evidence so far consists of two overs in the Big Bash in which he was spanked for 41 runs. He also dropped a catch, contradicting his reputation as one of the safest hands in cricket and giving more ammo to those who would tell you that Warne has lost it.
What we've mostly got is speculation from Warne himself. He's confident he could get the job done. He says he is fitter than he has been in years and is happy with the way he is bowling in the nets.
That isn't enough. Unfortunately, the Big Bash – the only peek we will get at Warne's form this summer – won't be enough either. Declaring that Warne isn't the bowler he was because of two overs against the Renegades is foolish. But so is the opposite. If Warne takes a bag of wickets against the Hurricanes next weekend, it will prove just as little. The Big Bash is not an accurate gauge of talent for the Test team; we all know this.
Ideally, Warne would be judged on the back of a number of performances at Shield level, but he seems less keen to devote that amount of time to his cause, and the Bushrangers have already said they wouldn't have him.
So what does Australia do – pick him on his word? That seems incredibly reckless. Picking him based on Big Bash form would be just as careless, and Warne is kidding himself if he thinks he will walk into the team because he's got Michael Clarke's ear.
Does the Australian side need him?
Warne's record in the Ashes is superb – 195 wickets in 36 Tests at an average of 23.25. If the Warne of old was available, of course you'd put him in the side. But we don't know if Warne still has 'good stuff', as they call it in baseball.
We do know that Australia has Nathan Lyon. The off-spinner has taken 54 wickets at an average of 30.64 in 16 Tests, and is starting to come on as a seriously good bowler. Against South Africa, Lyon proved himself capable of bowling tight lines and restricting runs. His spell opposite Peter Siddle on day three turned the second Test in favour of the Aussies, and he finished in Adelaide with match figures of 5/140 (while Imran Tahir went for 0/260 on the same pitch).
Lyon has earned the right to be Australia's first-choice spinner, and he will prove handy – if not devastating – against England. Will that leave Warne playing second fiddle and carrying the drinks when the Aussies want a third paceman? We can't see that sitting too well with the Sheik of Tweak.
What does Warne stand to lose?
More than he stands to gain. Instead of asking himself if he could help win the Ashes, Warne needs to ponder if he can stomach the worst case scenario – being humbled by a game that has passed him by. Imagine him getting smashed back into retirement to the titters of the hated English, as Kevin Pietersen lights him up the way Aaron Finch did. Is Australia willing to have its pride wounded so? Is Warne?
The comeback is fraught with danger. It will put Warne's legacy at stake. If he stinks it up, it may further sway the argument for best-ever spinner in favour of Muttiah Muralitharan. Michael Jordan came out of retirement too, and while he didn't disgrace himself nobody remembers His Airness running around in a Washington Wizards jersey.
Australians fondly remember Warne bowing to the SCG crowd after his final Test match, having overseen a 5-0 obliteration of the Poms. Remembering him retreating from England with his tail between his legs just wouldn't be the same.
What do you think – is Warne crazy for considering a comeback, or should he make a go of it? Post your reply in the comments below.
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