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Rediff News  All News  » Cricket » Australia can't wait for return of Warne

Australia can't wait for return of Warne

February 04, 2004 20:19 IST

Australia's second-largest city Melbourne, with a population of 3.2 million people, likes to regard itself as the sporting capital of the world.

Home to Melbourne Cricket Ground, which hosts cricket Tests, Australian Rules (AFL) grand finals, rugby and soccer internationals, the 1956 Summer Olympics and the 2006 Commonwealth Games, the Victoria capital revels in its ability to draw crowds of 100,000 people to almost any sporting event.

On Thursday, Royal Melbourne Golf Club hosts the first round of Australia's biggest golf tournament of the year, the US$1.54 million Heineken Classic.

The following day, the MCG will host the first game of the one-day finals cricket series between Australia and India.

Naturally the local media have been focussing on the sporting celebrities associated with these two big events -- yet a man who is taking part in neither is hogging many of the headlines.

Shane Warne, Australia's leading wicket-taker completes a one-year doping ban on February 10. A spot in the pro-am for the Classic has put him firmly back in the public eye a week early.


Warne's popularity and profile in Australia continue to grow despite his bouts of bad publicity for lewd telephone calls, bribery and doping scandals.

On Tuesday, Melbourne's popular tabloid newspaper the Herald Sun ran a back-page heading "FITTER THAN EVER" with a large photograph of a grimacing Warne completing a stretching routine with his yoga instructor.

"Warnie is ready to go...Seven days and counting," the newspaper said.

Warne, 34, is Test cricket's second-leading wicket-taker with 491 victims at an average of 25.71 in 91 matches.

One of Wisden's five cricketers of the 20th century, the bottle-blond headline-maker has spent much of the past 12 months doing charity work, writing about himself and his local AFL team St Kilda in his regular Herald Sun newspaper column, and playing golf.

On Wednesday, Warne played in a pro-am the Heineken Classic with two-times British Open winner Greg Norman, two-times Melbourne Cup-winning jockey Damien Oliver and Australia's leading basketballer and former Olympic team captain Andrew Gaze.

Of course, the media wanted Warne most of all. Television news bulletins breathlessly revealed the solidly-built leg spinner had trimmed down to 85 kilograms in his bid to win selection for next month's test tour of Sri Lanka.

The first of three Tests starts on March 8 in Galle, and Warne has been packing in eight fitness sessions a week, including yoga, boxing, swimming, bike riding, running and a strict diet.

Not for the first time, Warne has trotted out the line that he is feeling "probably fitter than I've ever been".

The newspaper devoted another two-page spread inside its sports pages of Warne smiling during a boxing session, Warne skipping in a boxing gym, and pulling a face as he lets a leg break rip in the nets.

He will resume competitive cricket for Victoria's second XI against a Queensland second XI in suburban Melbourne next Tuesday.

It will surely be the biggest media attendance ever seen at a state second XI match, where there will be much international interest in the way the great man's flipper comes out.

Australia will also tour Zimbabwe and India later this year, host Sri Lanka in July for a Test series and the world champions will be the team to beat in the ICC Champions Trophy in England in September.

Warne, who announced before the World Cup last year it would be his final one-day tournament, withdrew after the doping scandal broke over a diuretic and did not play in the southern Africa tournament.

He is now considering a return to the one-day international arena.

Former England captain Michael Atherton says Warne will never be the great bowler he once was, but former Australia Test batsman Mark Waugh said in a newspaper column last week Warne would continue to pick up wickets at will.

Waugh, who scored 8,029 runs in 128 Tests, said: "Shane mesmerises opponents and has an aura that only great players have.

"I believe Warne will bounce back to his best," Waugh said in The Sunday Age.

Warne trails former West Indies paceman Courtney Walsh by 28 on the all-time wicket-taking list, but Sri Lanka spinner Muttiah Muralitharan is only six wickets behind Warne on 485.

Greg Buckle
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