|Player:||SK Warne, A Flintoff|
|Event:||England in Australia 2006/07|
DateLine: 19th November 2006
There can be no greater testament to Shane Warne's influence in Australia's golden age of cricket than the fact that he has played in a winning Test team in 86 of 139 matches for his country.
Ten times the leg-spinner has snared 10 wickets in a Test match along with 36 five-wicket hauls and he needs just 15 more wickets for an unprecedented 700 Test victims. English batsmen are particularly attractive to Warne with 172 of his record 685 Test wickets coming in 31 Tests at an average 22.31.
Yet despite his phenomenal performance of capturing 40 wickets in the 2005 series, England carried off the Ashes, ending a 16-year era of Australian dominance. Once again the 37-year-old wrist-spin conjurer could be England's nemesis as they try to hang on to the Ashes after just 15-months' bragging rights.
Ominous news for Andrew Flintoff's tourists is that Warne believes he's playing his best cricket. "My cricket has improved. The last two or three years have been better than any time in my last 15 or 16 seasons," he said. "I haven't been injured. Between 1998 and 2001, I had two shoulder operations, a shoulder dislocation, a knee operation and two finger operations, so I struggled a bit. The last five years I haven't been injured. Combine that with the way cricket is now played, and as well as I'm bowling, it's the best period I've had so far."
Warne is anticipating reaching new ground during the Ashes series as he eyes 700 Test wickets. "I only need 15, so I'd like to think at some stage during the series I'd get that," he said.
Australia's Test elder said there was no need to consider retirement if he was still taking wickets. "I'm probably fitter now than when I started, also I think it's dictated by performances - if you're performing your role in the team well, it really doesn't matter about your age," he said. "As long as we're playing good cricket and we're winning and we're fit, I don't think that'll come into it at all."
Warne revels in his key role against English batsmen. "I've played enough against most of the guys over a period of time that I know exactly how I'm going to bowl to every single one of their players," he said. "I've always been confident against England, probably because of the way they play. The amount of one-day and 20-20 cricket, it's playing into my hands because they're a lot more aggressive. Where it used to be harder to get wickets because they'd pad me away and try and wear me down, now they try and go after me. It's fantastic for me. It means I go for a few more runs, but it means I get a lot more wickets and it helps our cause."
And his thoughts on winning back the Ashes? "Ever since we lost the Ashes we have all been looking to improve our games and to win them back," he said. "Some of us are not getting any younger and this may be the last chance to get them back in our playing time."
Warne is not underestimating England, even though since the Ashes defeat Australia have won won 11 out of 12 Tests and England, excluding The Oval forfeit success against Pakistan, have won just four out of 13. "The Ashes always brings out the best in both teams, no matter how poor one of the sides are playing," he said. "At the moment, England aren't playing as good as they would like but at the end of the day it's all about how they play during this series."