Still got it ... Shane Warne lets one rip during practice for the Melbourne Stars this week. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
AUSTRALIAN captain Michael Clarke has given some credence to the prospect of Shane Warne making a fully fledged international comeback, saying he had repeatedly asked the legendary leg-spinner to come out of retirement over the past five years.
In a series of interviews this week Warne claimed he could still cut it at Test level, even flirting with the concept of a comeback if only for a matter of hours. It appeared all a publicity stunt, of course, to pump up the tyres of the Twenty20 Big Bash League, of which he is a star in name and nature, and it was, like the bowling of Warne in his pomp, beautifully orchestrated.
Clarke, however, on Friday entertained the seemingly far-fetched idea of Warne, at 43, making a return for Australia but noted that he would have to play domestic four-day cricket before being considered.
''From the day he retired I've been asking him to come back to play for Australia,'' Clarke said. ''It hasn't happened at this stage and there's no extra news I guess to talk about. The one thing I did speak to Shane about a long time ago, and I spoke to Cricket Australia about at the time, if Warnie wanted to come out of retirement there is a long process that you have to go through before you get picked for Australia. He'd have to come back and play some Shield cricket for Victoria.''
Shackled by a globe-trotting lifestyle, media commitments and with age a barrier it is almost certain Warne will not go down that path.
Whatever the case the media circus surrounding him this week was a huge marketing boost for the BBL, which launched on Friday night.
Beyond the spin, though, an important sub-plot to the Warne comeback debate, no matter how unlikely it is, was overlooked. How do Australia's current practitioners of slow bowling, chiefly the Test incumbent Nathan Lyon, feel about the thought of a man on the wrong side not just of 40, but 43, essentially assuming he could walk back into the national team, and on to the Ashes, six years after he retired? And what are the remarks of Warne and Clarke, allowing for their promotional intent, implying about the state of the country's spin bowling stocks? They are slim but is the scenario so bleak that Australia consider an SOS to Warne instead?
''I don't interpret it that way,'' said Stephen O'Keefe, the NSW and Sydney Sixers left-arm orthodox. ''I think you can look at it that way and think well basically he's saying we don't have enough younger talent.
''But I think it's just the attitude of what you have to be like to be a spinner. You have to be really resilient and back your skills. This guy is 40 and still mentally switched on and positive about his own game … You know what - his best leg-spinner is probably just as good. He's hit the nail on the head: he probably lacks the fitness because he hasn't been playing but it would be remiss of him to come out and say he wasn't good enough but he's going to play in our best domestic competition here in T20 cricket.''
O'Keefe does not believe Lyon will be particularly fazed. ''Nathan is like big Ferdinand the Bull isn't he?'' he said. ''He sort of sits under the tree, with flies buzzing around and he's not really fussed is he? You have a look at his numbers and they're outstanding. But if Warnie is coming out and saying he's still as good and he still can rip it at his age, then I think for us as spinners we've got to try and learn this craft over 15 to 20 years as opposed to one or two years.''