Shane Warne return rumours spin into overdrive as Aussies toil

CRICKET legend Shane Warne remained coy over speculation he could make a sensational Ashes comeback as he landed in London yesterday.

The 41-year-old ex-Australia leg spinner, with 708 Test wickets to his name, retired after Australia's 5-0 whitewash of England in the 2006/07 Ashes series, but calls have grown for him to make a short-term return to the international game following his country's dismal start to the current campaign.

The stark danger of Australia losing a home Ashes series for the first time in 24 years has prompted the talk, which Warne himself has done little to quash.

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While commentating on the second Test in Adelaide last week he admitted he could never say never, while he has also mentioned the idea on his Twitter page in recent weeks.

He has now arrived in England for some promotional duties and tweeted upon his arrival: "Just landed in London, it's freezing and was welcomed by press and photographers asking am I making a comeback? What have I missed?"

Earlier in the day, the Victorian had used his column in the Daily Telegraph to acknowledge the speculation that was mounting, particularly in Australia, where Sydney Morning Herald writer Peter FitzSimons had called for him to replace under-fire Ricky Ponting as captain.

"There has been a bit written in Australia and people have been asking me about making a comeback," Warne said. "All I can say is that it is very flattering."

Some bookmakers are offering odds as short as 6-1 that Warne will play in at least one of the remaining three Tests, while, in his homeland, fans have launched the website, to which fans can make donations, all of which will be paid to Warne should he play. The current total stands at 3791 Australian dollars

Darren Lehmann, one of Warne's friends and former team-mates also added in the Herald Sun: "He would have to be fit obviously but he's a genius, he could do anything."

Ahead of Australia's losing 2009 Ashes series in England, Warne had suggested he would be willing to answer an SOS call from Ponting.

He said at the time: "If Australia really needed me and there was no-one else around and Ricky thought I could do the job, you would weigh up the options.

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"If there were no other spinners around and Ricky came out and said 'Mate, can you please help us out for this one-off tour, we need you' that is something I would weigh up."

Ex-England all-rounder Andrew Flintoff is hoping that his former opponent decides to play again.

He also told the Herald Sun: "I'd love to see Warnie play again, it would be unbelievable.

"He'll talk it up but, if he doesn't think he can come in and perform as he did before he stopped playing Test cricket, I don't think he'll put himself out there to do it.

"But I hope he does.Warne's aura would bring something to the side, he'd make a difference in the dressing-room.

"They're missing that bloke to give the rest confidence - for 15 years, the guy who did that was Shane Warne."

Warne's last competitive appearance came for the Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League in April, and he has confirmed that he will play for them again in 2011.

Meanwhile Ponting has touted New South Wales opener Phil Hughes as the most likely replacement for Simon Katich for the third Ashes Test in Perth.

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Katich has almost certainly been ruled out for the rest of Ashes series with an Achilles tendon injury.

Ponting admitted that no decisions have yet been made about the Australia squad for the third Test at the WACA in Perth but changes are expected after some disappointing performances.

"Phil Hughes is the first one that comes to mind," said Ponting.

"We know what his international record is like. He's got a few runs under his belt so he's probably the first cab off the rank.

"I'd be surprised if it's not him that comes in. I'm not a selector. The Chairman of Selectors and I haven't spoken yet. I'm not sure what they're thinking. We'll have a good discussion."

Ponting also backed his team to recover from their drubbing at the hands of England in the second Test. The Aussies' defeat by an innings and 71 runs saw the tourists take a 1-0 series lead.

"At the end of the day whatever 11 players are selected I expect they can do the job," Ponting said. "This week they haven't done that. It's about finding the attitude, because I know the ability is there to get the job done."

Katich faces at least a month on the sidelines and admitted he is shattered his Ashes series has come to an end.

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"I'm obviously very disappointed. It will be hard not being a part of it," he said.