Warne applauds Pietersen talent
Shane Warne admits he had no answer on his final Ashes appearance in this country to the special talent of Kevin Pietersen - a cricketer he urges England to treasure as long as they have him.
Warne was a proud man on his 36th birthday as he reflected on the 40 wickets he took in this summer’s battle for the Ashes - including 12 in the final npower Test at The Brit Oval - but he insists England deserve their 2-1 victory over Australia.
The master leg-spinner singled out his Hampshire team-mate Pietersen from an England team he acknowledges may yet go on to oust him and his countrymen as the best in the world.
After Pietersen’s frenetic innings of 158 had finally finished Australian hopes on the final day of the series at The Oval, Warne said: “He is a guy who has something special about him - the x-factor - and I think he is a very dangerous opponent.”
There have been days and will be more, Warne predicts, when a Pietersen failure infuriates his fans.
“England supporters will probably have to put up with the odd rash shot and poor dismissal from him, and they may be thinking ‘why does he do that? Why doesn’t he just play normally?,” said Warne.
“But if he has a little bit of luck early - he is a pretty ordinary starter, he knows that - he can be very destructive against all types of bowling.
“I think you should just enjoy the fact you have a pretty special player.”
Warne sees proof positive of Pietersen’s importance to England in his maiden Test hundred when each of the other home batsmen fell short of the big innings required to save the match and therefore ensure their country regained the Ashes after 18 years of failure.
“Leading into this one here, he was under a fair bit of pressure,” said the Australian veteran, who dropped his friend and rival at slip when he had only 15 runs on the board - one of three chances Pietersen gave but survived.
“He got out a few times in the series trying to play those big shots. But we gave him three extra chances here - and you cannot afford to do that with someone as good as Kevin Pietersen.”
Warne has long acknowledged he will not play another Test match in England. But he still hopes he might be around to face the likes of Pietersen, England captain Michael Vaughan and Andrew Flintoff when the Ashes are again in dispute in Australia next year.
Having become the only cricketer in Test history to top 600 career wickets during the course of this summer, Warne reflected with pride on his own achievement - after a period of unrest in his personal life - but with a touch of regret that even his best was not good enough to beat England this time.
“You get knocked down and you just have to keep getting back up and do what you can in each situation,” he said.
“I am very proud of the way I have played. To come through what I have - and no one else can understand what that has been like - I am very pleased that I have bowled as well as I have. I don’t think I could have bowled any better.
“I could not have given any more than I have in this series. Unfortunately it was not good enough - but great credit should go to England.
“If they continue to play like they have in this series they will beat pretty much everyone they come up against.”
Warne’s presence this summer has delighted sell-out crowds who have exchanged their thoughts with him on many occasions - not least yesterday when it was pointed out to him that he had “dropped the Ashes” by failing to hold that regulation slip catch to dismiss Pietersen cheaply.
He has no complaints, though, about the behaviour of English supporters.
“The crowd should always get behind their side and give the opposition some stick,” he said.
“Deep down I have been able to enjoy the part played by the crowd. They are entitled to have their time in the sun. They said to me they wished I was English.”
Warne has always been a favourite target for Test crowds in England - and he added: “I would like to think I have entertained them over the years.
“They have given me a lot of enjoyment. I have wonderful memories of this country ever since I first came here.”
He is still considering the possibility too that he may be able to give the English a few more reasons to remember him by continuing his international career long enough to take part in the 2006/07 Ashes.
“I am not going to rush into those decisions. I will just keep playing and try to keep enjoying myself,” he said.
“In 18 months’ time if I am still around I would love to try to regain the Ashes in Australia.”