Monday, Dec 22, 2003
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MacGill subdues his character in order to concentrate upon his bowling. A firebrand by disposition he becomes a cerebral character at the bowling crease, anyhow when he is in the public eye. When a boundary is hit or a misfield performed he contains his emotions. Even wickets provoke nothing more than quick punch of the sort used by Muhammed Ali to floor Sonny Liston.
At times spectators wish he'd seize a stump and chase the batsman around as happened in Corfu some years ago. At times the same thought may well occur to the West Australian but he has put himself on a tightrope and does not intend to let go. Moreover it has worked. His record speaks for itself. Few leg-spinners in the history of the game have been as effective.
Contrastingly, Warne involves himself in every moment of a match and grabs the ball when the proverbial chips are down. He imposes himself upon batsmen, uses theatricals, words, looks and any other legal device to engage them in a contest. MacGill is a performer. Warne is a combatant. The same difference could be detected between Hadlee and Lillee.
Warne and his Test captain have been the great match winners of the age. Warne's sense of occasion was obvious from the start as Australia grabbed victory from the crocodile clench of defeat in a mysterious match played in Colombo. In England the leg-spinner introduced himself with a delivery widely regarded as `the ball of the century', a description that puts it alongside `the shot that rang out across the world' and `the hand of God' in the record books.
During the famous World Cup semifinal played in that country, he burst through the South African middle-order with a spell that brought his team back into the match. Infuriating as he may be, Warne is a highly skilled cricketer prepared to fight to the last and blessed with a mind that eats in the heart of a game that has been his living.
Warne also bats and fields like a proper cricketer. Hating the anonymity of fielding on the boundary, a location that suited neither his temperament nor his physique, he took the chance presented by Mark Taylor's retirement and by hard work turned himself in to a top-class slip fieldsman.
Sensing that his best days were behind him with the ball, he started taking his batting seriously and reached 99 in a Test match before clouting a catch as the rebel voice within demanded a hearing.
Of course, the Victorian is not the bowler he used to be. Since his shoulder and spinning finger started going awry, he has been unable to send down the big leg-break that sent shivers of anticipation around the ground whenever he marked out that impertinent run. Nor are the flipper or disguised googly any longer in his repertoire.
All Warne has at his disposal is a leggie craftily dispatched with various degrees of spin and several straight balls announced every year with the enthusiasm usually reserved for the latest vehicle off the conveyor belt.
Warne's powers of bluff, audacity and competitive instinct are confirmed by the mystery and mayhem he manages to create from material others might find mundane. He is a man for the occasion, a man who craves the limelight, a man immersed in the youth of sport because he fears the emptiness of life outside.
Test cricket suits him. He is not nearly as effective in State or club matches because he cannot use the pressure of the event against his opponent, cannot work his way through familiar batsmen. Warne feeds off tension, seeks the upper hand.
Regardless of form Warne will be taken to Sri Lanka. Ricky Ponting's predecessors were lucky to be able to throw the ball to the leg-spinner whenever a wicket was urgently required. Warne's stamina and resourcefulness allowed Australia to play four bowlers. His accuracy allowed captains to attack without fear of losing control. Ponting will play him as long as he can. Warne needs Australian cricket. Ponting's team needs him.
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