Before that series Warne was not even bowling particularly well, and turned to his trusted mentor Terry Jenner for a tune-up in an effort to rediscover his rhythm. As it turned out, Warne was already inside the heads of the England batters, who had programmed a high-tech bowling machine nicknamed “Merlyn” to spit out balls that mimicked Warne’s leg breaks, sliders and flippers. This, Jenner said, was “like making love to a statue” – not much good when faced with the aura of the man himself. Just ask Ian Bell, who appeared to be caught in a trance whenever Warne settled at the top of his mark.
The series revealed the full Warne, with all his foibles. In Manchester, he was not out overnight and closing in on his first Test century had a bottle of expensive champagne delivered to his hotel room in anticipation. The next morning he was out, hooking impulsively, for 90. Still, the innings helped Australia save another famous Test.
Though he dominated Ashes cricket for 13 years, Warne didn’t often indulge in the phoney wars that regularly broke out between the old enemies. He struck up a friendship with Kevin Pietersen, still new to international cricket in 2005, while engaging in a battle of wills and skill with him on the pitch. It was as if superstars attracted. He took off his floppy hat and bowed before the Barmy Army even as they sledged him. And while the English press delighted in his personal flaws, the English public loved him for them.
On the final day of his final series in England Warne, who had just turned 36, bowled 31 consecutive overs. He took 12 wickets for the match, in which Pietersen’s precocious century forced a draw and handed England the Ashes for the first time in 15 years.
The atmosphere among the Australians was funereal but amid the celebrations at the Oval, as England players sprayed the champagne around, the Barmy Army changed their tune, and chanted: “Warnie, we wish you were English.”