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
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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

  • Liquefierrrr 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.

  • 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.

  • 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).

  • 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!

  • Not_Another_Keybored_Expert 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.

  • Iddo555 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

  • Selassie-I 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!

  • SDHM 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!

  • Tom_Bowler 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.

  • dwblurb 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.

  • Liquefierrrr 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.

  • 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.

  • 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).

  • 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!

  • Not_Another_Keybored_Expert 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.

  • Iddo555 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

  • Selassie-I 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!

  • SDHM 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!

  • Tom_Bowler 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.

  • dwblurb 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.

  • Not_Another_Keybored_Expert on August 28, 2013, 8:35 GMT

    Warne's presence was necessary it slightly balanced the absurdly biased commentary of the English sky sports commentator's,I live in Australia (I am Australian but originally from Iceland) and constantly hear overseas viewers complain about Nines commentary but at least there's Richie Benaud ;The most unbiased commentator of all time. Only Warne and Holding offered something other than "how great is this English team", If it wasn't for them it would have been unbearable.

  • Cpt.Meanster on August 28, 2013, 7:08 GMT

    Sky Sports has one of the WORST commentary teams. All of them biased towards England. Obviously, Warne was feeling a bit lonely in there and decided to bring his old self out. Apart from Holding, and Gower to a certain extent, the rest of the commentary was poor. The scuffle between Atherton, Hussain and Warne was bordering on childish. Having said that, I think Warne got a bit carried away. I can understand his pain on seeing Australia lose so many times. However, he needs to remember that this current Australian team is way different to the one he played in. Sometimes you gotta keep things in perspective.

  • on August 28, 2013, 6:37 GMT

    I just hate him as a personality - he kept banging on about 'being prepared to lose to win' in the last Ashes test and he questioned whether England had this desire to win but he was shut up for good when England came so close to win the test and it was his old Australian team-mate Michael Clarke who tried to force the umpires to go off and close the game due to bad light. I just loved when that happened.

  • gimme-a-greentop on August 28, 2013, 6:25 GMT

    @Front-Foot-Lunge - well there's one thing you and Warne have in common, it's hard to take what you say seriously. Someone should have thought about cloning Richie Benaud long ago... David Lloyd is also up there although he has a totally different style.

  • johnathonjosephs on August 28, 2013, 5:08 GMT

    Warne was quite annoying as a commentator, but I guess he was put in the side to counter Botham's bias/annoyingness. Still got respect for Nasser Hussain, Michale Holding, and the legendary David Lloyd who usually keep an unbiased tongue (sometimes Hussain is biased). Miss Tony Greig a lot. A lot better than the Australian commentators for the Australian Test Matches --> those guys are insanely biased

  • on August 28, 2013, 3:36 GMT

    Boy was I sick of Warne saying 'you have to be prepared to lose to win' on that last day. It literally gave me a headache. It would have been nice to have had a couple more Australian voices in the box though. The nice thing about TMS in Britain and Grandstand in Australia is that they always endeavour to find excellent commentators from the touring country (the likes of Coney from New Zealand, Cozier from the Windies, Neil Manthorp from SA), who not only add balance to the commentary, but also offer a window into another country's cricketing culture. Channel 9 and Sky Sports both plump for the approach of packing as many famous local ex-pros into the box, with one or two token foreigners.

  • CantFindMyScreenName on August 28, 2013, 3:12 GMT

    @Front-Foot-Lunge: " His endless optimism and turn-polishing has no place in a bi-lateral and leveled commentary box"

    If you believe the English voices in the Sky commentary team were unbiased, then I can only assume you watch the games with the sound off.

  • on August 28, 2013, 2:53 GMT

    All the commentators were rubbish for sky sports, so I ended up listening to the radio commentary instead by the end of the series. I enjoyed listening to Warne just get a small insight into how his mind works on the cricket pitch. The spin bowling masterclass was a big plus to see. The commentary box needed Warne to balance out the English bias by Botham, et al. I"m looking forward to the return series in Australia with the great Richie Benaud in the box.

  • Fred_Housego on August 27, 2013, 22:36 GMT

    Excellent piece.

    I remember prior to the Oval test in 2005, he was talking about what Australia needed to do to win the test and draw the series.

    He said "we just need to find a way". Nothing specific, nothing technical, just that he showed his mindset was we need to do something, anything to win that game.

    It's been the same this series really. I just think he's gone into bat (or bowl) for his mates Boof and Pup, in the face of a dominant England team.

    It's not really about so much what he says, more about the message it conveys. That's why, if you sit back and look at it, the opposition shouldn't take it too seriously. They should observe what he says at a safe distance, even if the press print the easy headlines.

    Still, what about my mate Clarke, eh? Much better than that awful Cook guy...

  • on August 27, 2013, 22:12 GMT

    Michael Holding was a pretty sane and sage voice!

  • Front-Foot-Lunge on August 27, 2013, 20:47 GMT

    Well said. His endless optimism and turn-polishing has no place in a bi-lateral and leveled commentary box. It's hard to take anything he says too seriously now, especially when it's in the heat of the contest and key moments are won by England, he seems to make an attempt most times to take the shine of an England win, simply because Australia are ten times worse.

  • on August 27, 2013, 18:18 GMT

    I personally think all commentators are rubbish except for Geoff Boycott, Jeremy Coney, and Richie Benaud.

  • Iddo555 on August 27, 2013, 17:05 GMT

    Warne is still trying to sledge from the commentary box, it is just getting embarrassing now, his bitterness is showing through the more he speaks. He can't stand the fact that Australia are losing and he is saying anything to deflect attention away from the fact Australia have just lost 3-0 in England and 4-0 in India.

  • SDHM on August 27, 2013, 16:36 GMT

    Superb stuff Jon. His commentary on the final day of The Oval Test was embarrassing, quite frankly. A man who can't quite believe, much like Lehmann in fact, that the cricketers he is extolling his ideas and values to just don't have the skill levels they did to pull them off.

  • on August 27, 2013, 16:13 GMT

    I think there was a contrarian voice needed in the commentator's box. all we had was the likes of Nasser , atherton and Lloyd who had been tormented and humiliated by the aussies for years and were just gloating. Forget Botham who does not even deserve a mention. Gower was one decent and half objective voice with strauss wondering what to say or do and probably half shocked to be there . The voice of warne was necessary, needed even if it was a bit overboard. england"s gloating needed a counter. Ramanujam Sridhar

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  • on August 27, 2013, 16:13 GMT

    I think there was a contrarian voice needed in the commentator's box. all we had was the likes of Nasser , atherton and Lloyd who had been tormented and humiliated by the aussies for years and were just gloating. Forget Botham who does not even deserve a mention. Gower was one decent and half objective voice with strauss wondering what to say or do and probably half shocked to be there . The voice of warne was necessary, needed even if it was a bit overboard. england"s gloating needed a counter. Ramanujam Sridhar

  • SDHM on August 27, 2013, 16:36 GMT

    Superb stuff Jon. His commentary on the final day of The Oval Test was embarrassing, quite frankly. A man who can't quite believe, much like Lehmann in fact, that the cricketers he is extolling his ideas and values to just don't have the skill levels they did to pull them off.

  • Iddo555 on August 27, 2013, 17:05 GMT

    Warne is still trying to sledge from the commentary box, it is just getting embarrassing now, his bitterness is showing through the more he speaks. He can't stand the fact that Australia are losing and he is saying anything to deflect attention away from the fact Australia have just lost 3-0 in England and 4-0 in India.

  • on August 27, 2013, 18:18 GMT

    I personally think all commentators are rubbish except for Geoff Boycott, Jeremy Coney, and Richie Benaud.

  • Front-Foot-Lunge on August 27, 2013, 20:47 GMT

    Well said. His endless optimism and turn-polishing has no place in a bi-lateral and leveled commentary box. It's hard to take anything he says too seriously now, especially when it's in the heat of the contest and key moments are won by England, he seems to make an attempt most times to take the shine of an England win, simply because Australia are ten times worse.

  • on August 27, 2013, 22:12 GMT

    Michael Holding was a pretty sane and sage voice!

  • Fred_Housego on August 27, 2013, 22:36 GMT

    Excellent piece.

    I remember prior to the Oval test in 2005, he was talking about what Australia needed to do to win the test and draw the series.

    He said "we just need to find a way". Nothing specific, nothing technical, just that he showed his mindset was we need to do something, anything to win that game.

    It's been the same this series really. I just think he's gone into bat (or bowl) for his mates Boof and Pup, in the face of a dominant England team.

    It's not really about so much what he says, more about the message it conveys. That's why, if you sit back and look at it, the opposition shouldn't take it too seriously. They should observe what he says at a safe distance, even if the press print the easy headlines.

    Still, what about my mate Clarke, eh? Much better than that awful Cook guy...

  • on August 28, 2013, 2:53 GMT

    All the commentators were rubbish for sky sports, so I ended up listening to the radio commentary instead by the end of the series. I enjoyed listening to Warne just get a small insight into how his mind works on the cricket pitch. The spin bowling masterclass was a big plus to see. The commentary box needed Warne to balance out the English bias by Botham, et al. I"m looking forward to the return series in Australia with the great Richie Benaud in the box.

  • CantFindMyScreenName on August 28, 2013, 3:12 GMT

    @Front-Foot-Lunge: " His endless optimism and turn-polishing has no place in a bi-lateral and leveled commentary box"

    If you believe the English voices in the Sky commentary team were unbiased, then I can only assume you watch the games with the sound off.

  • on August 28, 2013, 3:36 GMT

    Boy was I sick of Warne saying 'you have to be prepared to lose to win' on that last day. It literally gave me a headache. It would have been nice to have had a couple more Australian voices in the box though. The nice thing about TMS in Britain and Grandstand in Australia is that they always endeavour to find excellent commentators from the touring country (the likes of Coney from New Zealand, Cozier from the Windies, Neil Manthorp from SA), who not only add balance to the commentary, but also offer a window into another country's cricketing culture. Channel 9 and Sky Sports both plump for the approach of packing as many famous local ex-pros into the box, with one or two token foreigners.