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Inspector Gadget, cheese toasties... Warnie's back

Posted in npower Ashes Series 2009

Shane Warne

Shane Warne was not shy in offering his opinions from the Sky commentary box

There was a painful memory of Ashes series gone by when Shane Warne appeared on the outfield at Lord’s this morning.

The sleep-deprived members in the pavilion - a distinct possibility; some were queuing from 3 o’clock in the morning for tickets - could have been forgiven for breaking out in a cold sweat at the sight of England’s old tormentor.

Fortunately, Warne was dressed in a suit rather than whites, and enjoying his first commentary stint of the Ashes for Sky Sports.

It was all very civil as David Gower welcomed him to the team, Warne apologised for missing the first Test in Cardiff (the poker and cricket authorities really should synchronise their calendars), he congratulated England on their efforts in saving the game, and Nasser Hussain wondered out loud why Warne hadn’t made himself unavailable for the opening Test during his playing days.

It was very much the Warne we all knew and loved/hated (delete as appropriate, according to nationality). The hair was as blond and as spiky as we remembered. The tan hadn’t faded a jot. And the white teeth glistened as brightly as ever.

Never shy with his opinions, there was even a gentle dig at the England selectors: he would have gone for Hamison ahead of Onions on this Lord’s pitch. But then we didn’t honestly think Warne would have mellowed, did we?

There were echoes of the great Richie Benaud when Warne finally made his way up to the commentary box, greeting his former adversary and new colleague Mike Atherton with a congenial “Good morning, Athers”.

It was not long before Athers was tapping into Warne’s inside knowledge of the Australian camp, and the two were exchanging good-natured jibes over the microphone moments later.

Shane Warne

The tactical brain which Warne utilised to such good effect during his playing days was in evidence once more at Lord's

Warne revealed to viewers that Mitchell Johnson has a tendency to “drop his bundle” when things aren’t going his way with the ball, prompting Athers to dig out his imaginary Anglo-Australian dictionary.

When it comes to a battle of words, you suspected Athers - a Cambridge graduate and respected journalist - might have the upper hand over his old foe for once, but Warne put up significantly more fight than the Australia players were managing out on the pitch.

Warne provided the translation for us - it means throwing a tantrum - before putting Athers in his place with a well-timed: “Same dog, different leg action.” Perhaps mindful that it was some way before the watershed, Athers refrained from asking the obvious.

I won’t bore you with a transcript of the first half hour’s commentary, but it included a brief discussion of London Zoo, Warne’s love of England - his second home - and no shortage of suggestions for Australia’s bowlers.

Clearly the great man’s cricketing brain works as well as ever - let us not forget that he still captains Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League - and age has not blunted his competitive edge, judging by comments urging the tourists to give Andrew Strauss “a bit of verbal to let them know they want a piece of him”.

Warne took a breather before returning - with immaculate timing - at the same time off-spinner Nathan Hauritz was introduced into the attack.

Hauritz is the latest player to attempt to fill Warne’s enormous boots, and as the master passed comment from up on high, it was impossible not to use the analogy of God looking down on his minions.

Inspector Gadget

Inspector Gadget was afforded a mention during an entertaining first day for Warne behind the microphone

When Warne was playing, anything seemed possible, which breeds a perculiar kind of optimism. Nevertheless, it seemed somewhat out of place as England’s openers ran riot in the face of a worryingly ineffective attack.

“I like the start that Australia have made after the break,” said Warne, not long into the afternoon session. Not that outlandish, you may think, but Hauritz had just been swung over midwicket twice in an over by Alastair Cook, and the scoreboard read 134 without loss.

He is surely the first cricket commentator to mention Inspector Gadget live on air, and the famous Lord’s lunches were also discussed after the interval. Warne prefers cheese toasties, we learned, while Ian Bothan managed to sneak in a dig about Mike Gatting and his appetite. Poor Gatt wasn't even there to defend himself.

All the while, Australia’s bowlers toiled away, and Warne’s tactical brain went into overdrive. Like a kid with a Playstation, he tinkered with the field, suggested bowling changes and pondered angles of attack from over and around the wicket. Even Beefy struggled to get a word in.

There was no shortage of advice for Hauritz - he didn’t invite Strauss to “drooyve” enough for Warne’s liking - and he could barely contain the frustration in his voice as the left-handers made merry en route to a record England opening stand at Lord’s.

Warne had a few teething problems as he tried to circle the midwicket fielder on the screen, but, much like long hops when he was bowling, they were few and far between during an otherwise assured debut.

Normal service was resumed when Nasser piped up from the corner of the commentary box. “I think you were my first wicket with a wrong ’un,” said Warne, quick as a flash.