legendary leg-spinner Shane Warne’s guest-appearance pep talk for Adil Rashid put England on a level footing with Pakistan as they prepared for tomorrow’s must-win third Test in Sharjah.
Warne, in the United Arab Emirates on other business, has been even-handed with his advice and compliments for the leg-spinners on either side in a series the hosts lead 1-0 with one to play.
Just to show there is no lingering aggravation either over England’s Ashes success last summer, the Australia great jovially renewed acquaintance with Alastair Cook – and made clear afterwards the two get on fine these days.
Cook came in for plenty of criticism last year from Warne, highlighting in his guise as a commentator and pundit what he saw as the England captain’s tactical shortcomings.
But before describing Yorkshire’s Rashid as a “wonderful bowler” who has already delivered “glimpses of magic” in his two Tests to date, Warne shook hands warmly with Cook during his hour-long tutorial with England’s leg-spinner on the edge of the square at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium.
There, England must win the final Test if they are to avoid a third successive series defeat away to Pakistan.
They will have to do so without Mark Wood, who sat out practice and will be rested as England try to manage his ankle condition.
Yorkshire’s Jonny Bairstow is almost certain to replace the out-of-form Jos Buttler as wicketkeeper.
Warne, even more effusive in his praise for Pakistan’s Yasir Shah 24 hours earlier – “the best leg-spinner in the world”, he believes – gave Rashid a glowing report, too.
“The over-riding thing is that he’s a wonderful bowler,” he said of the 27-year-old Yorkshireman.
“When anyone first starts their Test career, it takes time to see the best of them.
“What we’ve seen already from Rashid are some glimpses of magic. We’ve already seen he can do it at this level.”
Warne advises both England and Rashid must not invite extra pressure by expecting too much too soon, though.
The greatest leg-spinner of all time ended up with 708 Test wickets, yet recorded figures of 1-150 on debut.
He added: “All of us need to be a little bit patient with him. He needs to be patient, too.
“We’re playing on spinning pitches, and expectations are that he’ll rip them and take five-for straightaway.
“But as we all know, when you come into Test cricket, it’s hard work. You’re going to bowl a bit of rubbish, a few full-tosses, some drag-downs. You’re going to get whacked.”
Rashid will go into his third Test forewarned and fine-tuned then, from his Warne masterclass.
“There were a couple of things I knew he was happy with, because he had a huge smile on his face,” said his new mentor.
“It was a pleasure to work with him. I think he has all the toys and tools.
“He has a beautiful leg-break as well as Yasir.
“There’s not too many people going round with a better leg-break than Rashid’s. He’s as good as anyone I’ve seen, ever.”
As for relations with Cook, Warne insists they have been fine for some time.
“We did make peace a while ago,” he said.
“I don’t think anyone is the best captain when they start, but I think we’ve seen him go on and grow.
“We saw it during the Ashes when I thought he captained especially well, fantastic.
“Cookie and I had a chat on the phone and sorted it all out. I say it how I see it.
“It doesn’t mean I don’t like someone or it’s a personal vendetta – it’s my job to say it.”
Cook will have selection issues as well as tactics on the field to deal with with Yorkshire pace bowler Liam Plunkett rather than extra spinner Samit Patel most likely to replace Wood and James Taylor expected to return to the middle order.
Ben Stokes describes Wood’s absence as a “big shame”, both for his club and country team-mate and for England.
“Woody, especially in the last game, showed how vital he is in these conditions with the reverse-swing and extra pace,” said the all-rounder.
“But if the best way to get as many games as possible out of him is to rest him from time to time, I think it’s probably the right call.”
Pakistan top-order batsman Azhar Ali is available for selection, having missed the first two Tests with an infected foot and then following the death of his mother-in-law.
Seam bowler Imran Khan will miss the third Test after needing stitches in split webbing on his bowling hand.
Off-spinner Bilal Asif will be free to make his Test debut against England, if selected as a replacement, after his action was cleared in International Cricket Council testing.
Bilal was tested in Chennai, after his action was reported in the third one-day international during Pakistan’s short tour of Zimbabwe at the start of this month.
He would have been free to play against England last week too, while the results of the tests were awaited, but he was not required.
Bilal, 30, is an option for the hosts in the third and final Test in Sharjah – starting tomorrow –due to seamer Imran Khan’s anticipated absence.
Rahat Ali is Khan’s most likely replacement but Bilal a possible should Pakistan choose an extra spinner at a venue where they often thrive.
A press release from the world governing body read: “The ICC today confirmed that the bowling action of Pakistan’s Bilal Asif has been found to be legal, and the player can continue bowling in international cricket.
“At the assessment, it was revealed that the amount of elbow extension in all of his deliveries was well within the 15-degree level of tolerance permitted under the ICC regulations.”
Joe Burns and Usman Khawaja have been recalled to Australia’s squad for the first Test with New Zealand at the Gabba.
With Michael Clarke, Chris Rogers, Shane Watson, Brad Haddin and Ryan Harris all retiring after their Ashes defeat in England this summer, it is a new era for Steve Smith’s side and the Queensland pair will take their place in the top order in Brisbane.
Burns is back in the squad having not featured since playing against India in January.