Can Warne showcase mental strength again?

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that spring to mind as one looks forward to the Ashes series, due to get rolling on July 21. No, it has little to do with Australia’s up and down displays in the run up to the series, including its inability to bowl out Leicestershire on the last day of its the final preparatory game. When it comes to the Tests, Australia must start as favourite to win a competitive series.

The questions are different. For instance, will England miss Graham Thorpe? Has it erred in picking Kevin Pietersen ahead of Thorpe whose experience may have come in handy against Australia? Will the England bowlers Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard, Andrew Flintoff and Ashley Giles deliver 20 wickets like they have done in helping their team win 20 of the 30 Test matches since the last Ashes series?

Will Australia prefer Michael Kasprowicz over Jason Gillespie, now that Brett Lee seems to have done enough to cement his place as Glenn McGrath new-ball partner? Will its batsmen find the form that has seen the team score big totals, fast and furiously, giving its bowlers ample time to knock the opposition over twice?

But the biggest question concerns the world’s most successful bowler. Will Shane Warne shake off the blues of the disastrous events in his personal life and deliver the goods for Australia as has often done in his 123-Test career?

How he copes with the trauma that has ravaged his personal life – he has separated from his wife, a TV channel has terminated its contract with him and a commercial deal has come unstuck – will be of interesting to observe. Of course, he is no stranger to controversy or trauma and would appear to have coped well with the challenges earlier in his career but, pushing 36 years of age, can he pull it off again?

He was thrown out of the 2003 World Cup after testing positive for diuretics and kept out of all cricket for a year but even that did not have the potential to devastate him as much as the present crisis has. Since returning to the Test arena, Warne has picked up 92 but those who have played him in the past year or so believe that his deadly loop may have lost its sting.

Can we really conclude that Warne’s skills as a leg-spinner are on the wane? And does he have the mental strength to make an impact on yet another Ashes series? I gather Cricket Australia has done its bit in talking with Warne in the wake of the lastest scandal, reminding him that he has not been the best advertisement for the sport but providing him with some counselling as well.

It is not normal for one to look out for individual performances in a cricket contest but this time around, Warne will be a walking laboratory for those who want to study the effect of controversy and trauma on genius. As he takes those two or three steps to the bowling crease and whirls his arm over, eyeing the batsmen with the intention of tricking them, do look at those face for its ability to mask all his troubles.