Warne begins Ashes assault on England

Shane Warne has insisted it will be England who will be under pressure when the Ashes series against Ricky Ponting’s Australian tourists gets under way in July.

Australia have won the last eight Ashes series dating back to 1989 and, although England are now ranked second in the world, Michael Vaughan’s men will be outsiders to break the sequence.

Legendary Australia leg-spinner Warne is already in England where he will captain Hampshire in the first division of the county championship after helping them to promotion last season before joining the Ashes squad in July.

“The pressure is on England. Everyone expects them to compete or to have a good Ashes and there are those who say they can win. I am sure England are up for the battle and we are looking forward to the competition.

“I’ve heard people say before that it’s the best chance for England to win the Ashes, but there’s so much that can happen between now and then,” he also told reporters at Hampshire’s Rose Bowl base on Monday.

Warne, who struck with his very first ball in an Ashes contest, a viciously-spinning leg-break that bowled dumbfounded England batsman Mike Gatting at Old Trafford in 1993, believes he is entering one of the most productive phases of his illustrious


He has taken more than 150 first-class wickets since his year’s exile for taking a banned drug ended and, with his 36th birthday in September, is eager to make the most of his second chance.

“The best I ever bowled was in 1993 and 1998 before my operations but in the last three or four years I have been bowling with a far greater variety of deliveries,” he said.

“Sometimes I even outsmart myself but if you look at my statistics the last 30 Tests have been the most successful of my career.
I got 26 wickets in Sri Lanka and another 13 or 14 in India where I normally get smashed around and I am on a bit of a roll at the moment.

“Either the opposition is getting worse or I am getting better. I leave you to decide.”

Warne’s arrival in England and a new home on Southampton’s seafront coincided with the conclusion of the United States Masters golf which he watched with Kevin Pietersen, England’s new South African-born discovery.

Pietersen, signed in the close season from Nottinghamshire, will be a Hampshire teammate and possible Ashes opponent after starring for England during the recent one-day series in South Africa where the amount of verbal abuse he received even outstripped any amount of “sledging” he is likely to get from the notoriously voluble Australians.

Warne is looking forward to the challenge of getting the best out of Pietersen at Hampshire and dismissing him as cheaply as possible in the Tests.

“He is a wonderful player with a good head on his shoulders and is an exciting cricketer. I think he is a great signing for the club.

“I played against him last season when he was at Nottinghamshire and after he got 40 or 50 in the first innings, I got him out second ball in the second. So it’s one-one.”

Pietersen, however, was cautious about his Test prospects. “I feel I can make the next step up and I am ready to play in Tests if required or selected but there is plenty of competition and there are some good players in the England team.

“My main aim is to get some runs for Hampshire, learn what I can from Shane Warne and keep my place in the England one-day squad.

“With Warney around it promises to be a tremendous season ahead. He is a great leader and a great bloke.” - Sapa-AFP