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I seem to have been talking about Shane Warne all day, to people who know lots about cricket, and many who don’t, because he was the cricketer of whom everyone had heard, and on whom everyone held an opinion. My mum had a view on Warne. The girl at the post office and the guy at the servo, who know I’m into cricket, wanted to talk about him. I didn’t get to the presser because I had to field talkback calls about him on the ABC: it is fair to say that there was a wide range of very emphatic views.
It was said of Augustus that he found Rome brick and left it marble: the same is true of Warne and spin bowling. But just because Warne has done it with such apparent ease, noone should underestimate the degree of difficulty involved. Have you tried to bowl a leg-break? I’ve been playing club cricket since I was nine, and I would give anything to be able to bowl a proper one, but they either hurtle into the ground or fly off into outer space like a malfunctioning satellite. Yet Warne can drop them as precisely as a dragon fly alighting on a lily pad.
Warne was mandated by nature to bowl slow. He has a surprisingly gentle handshake, but you can feel the strength in those big fingers. He has broad shoulders and a powerful back leg drive, so that he almost body surfs into his delivery: the contrast is MacGill who does most of his work with his arm. And that action – so simple, so grooved, so efficient. It is nothing other than a miracle of coordination.
Above all, perhaps, is the mentality: that fast bowler's aggression in a slow bowler's skin. All the Warne books in my library seem to feature a cover shot of him appealing. If you knew no better, you'd think they were the work of a bowler who tried to bust open people's heads for a living. He only threatened eardrums.
What a combination. If you doubt this, check the landscape. It’s often stated that Warne made every kid in Australia want to bowl leggers. Warne says in ‘My Illustrated Career’: ‘My biggest contribution has been to make slow bowling exciting and even fashionable.’ But MacGill is still the second-best leg spinner in Australia, and Cameron White and Cullen Bailey do not a renaissance make. It might be exciting. It might be fashionable. But it’s no easier.
More over at Guardian Unlimited, if you're interested.
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Born in London of a Yorkshire father, raised in Australia by a Tasmanian mother, Gideon Haigh lives in Melbourne with a cat, Trumper. He has written 19 books and edited a further seven. He is also a life member and perennial vice-president of the South Yarra CC.