August 27, 2013

Warne's still scrapping

He has never believed that a cause is lost, and he brings something of the same fervour to his commentary and writing

Warne: still going to war for Australia alongside good mate Michael Clarke © Getty Images

Only time could rob Shane Keith Warne of his genius with a cricket ball in hand, and not even time can quell his desire to compete. He remains Australia's arch-provocateur.

As Gideon Haigh has illuminated, Warne shimmers through Australian cricket and Australian culture. His hold on batsmen was both physical and psychological. He was the player of games, one of those people who somehow understood which buttons to push and when. To encounter him on the pitch was to engage with not just a bowler but a persona.

The bowler has gone but the persona lives. Through his column for the Telegraph newspaper and his perch in the Sky Sports commentary box, he has engaged with England from as close as he can get.

Warne has never believed that a cause is lost. He was at his best as a player and as a man in 2005; a leviathan in defeat and with his spirit and his skill undefeated.

This summer, nine years on and with so much changed (then: still the ageing rogue-about-town in the world's greatest team; now: slimmed-down, blue-toothed metrosexual, with England's Liz Hurley as his girlfriend), he has been caught in a cleft stick, smart enough to know which way the wind blows, yet still believing he can make it prevail in his direction.

Here are some sample headlines from his weekly column, which read retrospectively as a study in false hope with a swelling undertone of delusion: "We can surprise England", "Lehmann the right man", "One big score and the fightback is on", "Clarke is best captain in the world", "How to beat England", "Australia must take Anderson down", "England were lucky", "England have been too arrogant", "England won despite Cook's caution", "Fear factor gone, so bring on the fight Down Under".

In the commentary box, he was often undressing the game more quickly than the players. Warne has never seen a batsman whose technique he can't unpick, and he probes at a point in the same way, altering his angles, rephrasing his questions. As the lone Australian voice, he was fighting a corner too, and he prickled occasionally at the triumphalism around him.

Much of this is surface, the part that Warne wants the public to see and hear. The message is almost always sunny, and where it can't be sunny it is at least forward-looking. It's the public manifestation of that unyielding, unending belief that any game can be won. He has never hidden his close friendship with Michael Clarke, nor his close links with the dressing room. He was a presence there too, often speaking to Clarke out on the field before the start of play.

In that context, his message can be seen as travelling two ways, not just outwards to the public but inwards to the Australians. His headlines and commentary are exhortations, rallying cries. Perhaps this is their truest meaning.

When Warne was losing on the pitch, he was at his most indomitable - along with 2005, the shocking reversal of fortune in Adelaide in the return series was a living example of what can be achieved with force of will. The effects of his time at Hampshire and in Rajasthan are still being felt, so deeply did his beliefs and methods imbue themselves there. Along with being one of the cricketers of the century, he has been one of the great shapers of a collective mindset. That's what he is trying to do in the media too.

In sport, battles are lost but the war is unending. After the unofficial watering of the Oval square by England, Warne once again sought the smallest advantage:

"To go and disrespect something as ancient as the Oval pitch in such an unnecessary and crass way is a pretty ordinary and arrogant thing to do, I wonder also if the opposition was mentioned too?"

"They've beaten you and now they're trying to piss on you…"

This was his message for the return. In using it, perhaps he has illustrated best of all how little Australia have left to cling to.

Jon Hotten blogs here and tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dayne on August 29, 2013, 6:50 GMT

    Warne is vital to the game - Atherton, Hussain, Gower, for all their posh education, were not greats of the game and thus don't have that killer instinct which drove them. We see this in Warne to this day. He wills us to win, to take risks, to recapture the flame, but it isn't out of bias or arrogance or delusion, it is out of desperation and pride - he wants Australia to do as well as they did when he was around.

    We hear this type of venom in Ian Botham. He laments Cook's defensive captaincy, hates the constant 'on the field, off the field, substitute fielder' obsession England has, and is generally wants more risks when he talks shop.

    I think it's fine, who wants a bunch of robots that hail from one country but speak so objectively and boringly that they sound like politicians? Not pointing any fingers to clarify, I like most of them. You want national pride and a bit of banter to seep through. It's entertaining, frustrating and creates talking points.

    Slater is the worst though.

  • Dummy4 on August 28, 2013, 13:55 GMT

    Well of course he is typical Aussie and I like that.I like that phrase 'Always be prepared to loose to win' but I'm afraid it has costed Australia too much this time around.

  • Dummy4 on August 28, 2013, 13:36 GMT

    Warne goes over the top sometimes...but seriously, is he any worse than Botham or Hussain? And please, enough of this nonsense that Bumble is either a good commentator or unbiased. He is yet another of the "we will win 10-0" fan boys that were ever so loathsome. Michael Holding was the only one who could hold his head up high at the end of the series (honourable mentions to Atherton and Gower who were both reasonably good as well).

  • Dummy4 on August 28, 2013, 11:21 GMT

    Bias is inevitable and it can even add to the pleasure of watching cricket. Who said commentators "have to" be neutral? That's boring!

  • clair on August 28, 2013, 10:04 GMT

    @SDH12 don't you remember the skysport's commentator's bragging about a 5-0 whitewash(Botham said 10-0) for months leading up to the ashes? How's that not biased commentary? McGrath did it but at least did it as a player.

  • Peter on August 28, 2013, 9:47 GMT

    It was just tiresome to listen to Warne bang on by the end of the series, his bitterness and bias at the Australia team losing 3-0 and very nearly losing 4-0 made me want to throw something at the screen or just mute him altogether and listen to the radio commentary. I don't know how many complaints Sky got about Warne but I would imagine it was quite a lot. Yes we know he is Australian and yes we know he wants Australia to win but it was just getting pathetically bitter towards the end, I think even Atherton was ready for throwing him out of the window and resorted to just blanking him out

  • Rayner on August 28, 2013, 9:47 GMT

    Guy's, of course the English commentary on Sky is biased towards England, it's basically a line up of ex english captains! and of course Warnie is biased - he's an ex Aussie legend, if he or the ex england captains were not biased then you'd worry why they held these positions in the first place. Personally I enjoy the banter goign around.

    When I've watched Star cricket, funnily enough the indian commentators were a bit biased towards India, there was some banter going on when Collingwood was commentating and I enjoyed it. Acutally watched the star commenty for most of the england India series as I felt it was better than Sky's. I'm sure that Channel 9 is a bit biased towards the Aussies, but I've never watched it. I've seen SA tv commentry before, they were heavily biased, in fact they took much joy is slowly repeating a video of Freddie Flintoff misfielding accompanied with bellowing laughter.

    If you really want some unbiased commenty then flick on TMS and listen to boycs!

  • Samuel on August 28, 2013, 9:34 GMT

    @Meanster - maybe it's just my own bias talking, but aside from Botham, I genuinely don't think the Sky box is all that biased. Certainly not when compared to the Indian and Australian commentary teams for example. I could be wrong as I obviously hear it through English ears, but I'd take Atherton and Lloyd over Gavaskar and Siva or Healy and Slater any day. And anyway, there's always the mute button!

  • Dan on August 28, 2013, 9:09 GMT

    Indians and Australians complaining about biased commentary. It's a bit like Mike Tyson telling you off for having a short fuse.

  • David on August 28, 2013, 8:52 GMT

    Warne's commentary on the final day plumbed new depths of tiresomeness and, as an Australian, was embarrassing to listen to, reeking as it did of sour grapes. I thought Atherton handled it well, eventually just shutting up as Warne became more and more hysterical. It's a pity, as he obviously has a terrific cricket brain. Sadly, his commentary consists almost entirely of pushing certain agendas, such as "attack at all costs", and attacking and belittling Steve Waugh, Adam Gilchrist and John Buchanan with a complete lack of subtlety.

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