Biggest. Choke. Ever.
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As Australian cricketers start their tour of Sri Lanka next month, Shane Warne will recall his transformation from a battered bowler to a spinner to fear in Sri Lanka in 1992.
Credit should go to skipper Allan Border. His trust to give Warne a ball at a crucial point in the August 1992 Colombo Test did wonders to boyish-looking podgy Warne’s confidence.
Warne’s Test debut was a disaster. Against India in the January 1992 Sydney Test he took 1-150.
The selectors persevered with him but his performance dipped further. In the next Test in Adelaide he could manage 0-18 and 0-60 before being replaced in the final Perth Test.
His series average was a terrible 228.00.
Still the selectors persevered with him and included him in the squad for Sri Lanka six months later. Selected in the first Test in Colombo (SSC) he failed again in the first innings. His figures were 0-107.
His Test bowling average then was a horrendous 335.00.
The transformation came in the second innings, thanks to Border’s trust in the floundering spinner. It was a Test to remember, not only for Warney’s mutation from zero to hero status but also for Australia’s incredibly thrilling victory.
Sent in to bat Australia was dismissed for 256, Ian Healy top-scoring with an unbeaten 66.
With centuries from Asanka Gurusinha, skipper Arjuna Ranatunga and wicket-keeper Romesh Kaluwitharana, Sri Lanka declared at 8 for 547, a huge lead of 291 runs.
Exhorted by Border to show greater “guts and determination”, Australia did better in the second innings scoring 471 (David Boon 68, Dean Jones 57, Mark Waugh 56 and Greg Matthews 64).
Needing only 181 to win in about 58 overs, Sri Lanka were well placed at 3-132, only 49 more to get in ample time. Then Greg Matthews started taking wickets. But the masterstroke came from Border who gave the bowling to Warne.
As if saying, “Why me at this critical time?”, Warne took 3 for 11 in 5.1 overs, at one stage capturing three wickets without conceding a run.
Australia won this unwinnable Test by 16 runs as the hosts lost their last seven wickets for 32 runs, thanks to spinners Matthews and Warne.
To quote Wisden 1994, “Only once before they [Australia] had won a Test after trailing by more than 200 on the first innings: in Durban in 1949-50 they beat South Africa by five wickets despite being bowled out for 75 in response to 311.”
Warne had arrived on the scene with just one spell of bowling although all his three victims were tail-enders.
Still he was not a certainty in the Aussie Test squad, far from being a legend. This happened in the first Test against England at Manchester in June 1993.
Remember the ball from hell delivered by Warne to Mike Gatting?
Warne’s first ball delivered in an Ashes contest pitched way outside the leg stump and hit the top of Gatting’s off stump. The batsman looked befuddled. Almost bewitched!
Australia won by 179 runs with Warne as the man of the match.
His match figures of 8-137 was the best by an Australian leg-spinner since Bill O’Reilly had taken 10-122 at Leeds in 1938.
Overnight Warne had become a legend. He went on to capture 708 wickets at 25.41 with 8-71 as his best. In his illustrious career of 145 Tests he took 5 wickets in an innings 37 times and ten wickets in a Test ten times.
I recently asked Ravi Shastri, the Indian batsman who had scored 206 runs in the 1992 Sydney Test on Warne’s debut, whether he thought then that Warne will become a great bowler?
He replied that he did see promise in him and thought he would end up taking 150 Test wickets.
“But over 700 scalps?”, I persisted.
Shastri only smiled.
Cricket is a funny game. But for his success in the 1992 Colombo Test would Warne have been selected for the 1993 England tour, let alone bamboozle Gatting?