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He may have been an artist who made batting greats look like minnows, but Shane Warne performances in Chepauk were typical of his rather ordinary outings against Indians.

Leg spin bowling is an art. Many can bowl off-spin but only those who master the craft of leg spin can go far. Shane Warne was a complete master of the craft.

His action, variation, trajectory (arc) and drift were near perfect. He would invite the batsman to go for it with his generous flight but the ball would suddenly drop far in front leaving the best of batsmen befuddled.

But Indian batsmen were more than his match. He could bowl balls of the century to Mike Gatting, Chanderpaul and Andrew Strauss but none that he bowled to Sachin, Dravid, Ganguly or Laxman has any recall value barring those that were lustily hit by them.

Shane Warne’s statistics are a true indication of his genius. He was the first to take 700 wickets in tests and was probably good for at least a hundred more if only the controversies hadn’t intervened. His hattrick in Test cricket against England and leading the bowling attack to halt the seemingly unstoppable South Africa in the 1999 World Cup would always be etched in the annals of cricket.

Leg spin bowling is an art and Shane Warne was a complete master of the craft.

But Indians didn’t seem too impressed by him. His brash OZ-style playing and sledging made Indian batsmen, typically experts in whacking the spinning ball, want to show him his place. They made his debut in Test cricket in 1992 forgettable. Ravi Shastri made mincemeat of him and he was dropped in his first Test series.

Perhaps the debut against India was all for the good. He rejigged his action, upgraded his skills and came back determined to prove a point.

In 1998, Sachin Tendulkar was at his peak. If he fired, India would win.

That year, by then a big star, Shane Warne matched his wits with Sachin in Chepauk. The first innings did seem to tell India that here was a white-skinned spin master they should take seriously. Until then, melanin was a requirement for wizardry.

By hitting a four, Sachin showed his intentions. But Shane Warne, bowling over the wicket, in Chepauk flighted one to the leg stump. The turn was so humongous that Sachin who was shaping to hit it over covers edged the ball to slip where Australian captain Mark Taylor took a comfortable catch.

Sachin didn’t fire. India got out for a mere 257 run. Warne got four wickets. India was not going to be immune to the Warne wizardry, it seemed, although Sidhu had shown how Indian batsmen typically treated spin.

Australia hit 328 and had a lead of some 70 runs. So Shane Warne was going to be their winner in Chepauk?

Sachin had other ideas. Second innings, Sachin was on fire. He had picked the square leg-midwicket arc to be his area and swept, pulled, drove and lofted whatever Warne was tossing at him there.

Warne going around the wicket had by then become an ominous sign. For other bowlers, it meant they were giving up and were going to cramp the batsman and control him. If Warne did it, it meant something nasty was coming, riding off the dust set loose by bootmarks. But those balls of the century weren’t going to be allowed by Sachin who relentlessly attacked Shane Warne that day in Chepauk.

When India reached 200, Sachin had 50 on board. When India reached 400, Sachin had 150. He took debutante off-spinner Kevin Robertson, Warne’s sparring partner, to the cleaners.

Australia was bowled out for 168. Rajesh Chauhan, Venkatapathy Raju and Anil Kumble took eight wickets, showing that Chepauk was still a turner’s dream wicket, only not for Shane Warne.

Sachin was not out at 155 and India, as expected, scored some 480 runs. It was Sachin’s 15th century.

Australia was bowled out for 168. Rajesh Chauhan, Venkatapathy Raju and Anil Kumble took eight wickets, showing that Chepauk was still a turner’s dream wicket, only not for Shane Warne.

The umpire at the match was S Venkataraghavan, legendary off spinner from Chennai. If he had some advice for Warne, he didn’t give it.

The 2001 series was a remarkable one for India. Laxman and Dravid turned around India’s fortunes at Kolkata and showed India was among the top teams in world cricket.

Three years later at Chepauk, Shane Warne faced off with India again. Sachin again scored a century. Australia batted first. Hayden hit a double century and helped Australia put on 391 runs.

Chennai lad Sadagopan Ramesh scored some 60 runs. Other top batsmen were among runs, too. India put up 501 runs.

Shane Warne bagged two wickets – Ramesh and wicketkeeper Sameer Dighe. For those wickets, he had to toil for more than 40 overs.

Then Harbhajan took India close to victory by bagging eight wickets and restricting Australia to 264. As happens often, India made heavy weather of the 155 it needed and lost eight wickets before limping past the finishing line. Warne bowled six overs but didn’t take any wicket. Chepauk was denying matchwinner status to Shane Warne.

In 2004, Warne was making a comeback after a one year ban for taking drugs. Australia were 235 not out. Sehwag hit a blazing 155 to take India to 376. Warne took six wickets and had to bowl more than 40 overs for it. Against England, he would have needed less than half as many balls for his six wickets.

Damien Martyn hit a fighting century so Australia could log 369 runs. India needed less than 230 runs to win but seasonal rains washed away the match on Day 4. It was October, not Pongal time.

India’s non-turning leg spinner, Anil Kumble took seven wickets in 17 overs in the first innings. He was the man of the match.

Shane Warne’s star turn had to wait until IPL.


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