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November 14, 2013

Warne still a master of spin

Dave Hawksworth
Still got game, talk-wise at least  © Getty Images
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Just how transferable is the skill set of an international cricketer when they make the transition from their playing career to life in the commentary box? Sure, they have knowledge and experience of playing the game at the highest level, but the real art of commentary is the ability to connect with an audience, and it's debatable whether the media training offered to a cricketer during their playing days will fully prepare them for the demands of being at the other end of a microphone. There's a world of difference between flat-batting questions during a press conference and the ability to pad out a three- hour rain break with insights that stop the audience from channel-hopping, and anecdotes that entertain but don't get you dragged off air for breaching broadcasting regulations.

Even if you can manage that, there are plenty of ex-pros looking to work in the media. So if you want to be invited back, it helps to make an impression; to show a little personality. Perhaps that's why Shane Warne has made such a seamless transition into the commentary box. He was, after all, a cricketer whose playing career included an element of performance beyond just "executing his skills".

His bowling certainly did. The deliberate pause before each delivery, the relaxed determination of his run-up, the aggressive fielding settings, the stare, the occasional comment made to a batsman, expressed with just enough body language that it could be picked up by the crowd - Warne married talent to his force of personality. Unless the opposition were in complete control, when Warne was bowling he was the centre of attention, and for all his considerable skill, part of his success was down to making batsmen feel that they were playing his game rather than their own.

Off the field too, he tried to shape events to his own agenda. It felt like no Ashes series was complete without the build-up featuring talk of a new Warne mystery ball, complete with a name that made it sound like a Batman villain. An all-spinning, all-dancing delivery to which no one would have an answer.

In contrast to Warne's actual bowling, there was no subtlety to this particular mind game, no guile. It was an obvious, and oft-repeated, bluff. The media knew it, supporters knew it, and opposition batsmen knew it too. It was a gambit that wasn't going to change the way England prepared to play him. But it did succeed in his real intention: to shift the narrative of an Ashes build-up onto a known English weakness - their ability to play legspin. It was a narrative shift that, coincidentally, placed Warne firmly at the centre of attention once again.

That mischievous ability to leave a tempting trail of breadcrumbs for the media to follow has continued to serve him well since he retired from playing. As, whilst his insightful commentary has meant that for broadcasters he remains a box-office draw, it has also provided him with a platform to remain a thorn in England's side.

For much of this year Warne has been a constant commentary-box critic of the way England play. They are, to paraphrase him, a rather dull team, lacking in aggression. It's a criticism that even Alastair Cook has had to admit has some basis in truth. And it's a criticism that has been repeated so often as to have almost become accepted wisdom, resulting in an Ashes build-up where more attention has been focused on England's tactical approach than the fact that Australia have lost seven of their last nine Test matches.

In terms of setting the media agenda, Warne has clearly still got it.

In contrast, Michael Clarke's recent attempt to predict England's side for the first Test has been met with some derision in the English press, and it's difficult to see what he was hoping to achieve. It all seems a case of too little, too late, if he wanted to play mind games with England's management. The side Clarke named is the one, injury permitting, that was already widely expected to play. England's selection will be unaffected, as will media coverage of the series.

Clarke may argue that he was just making a tongue-in-cheek joke, but it's hard to believe he wasn't partly motivated by the thought of getting under England's skin in the run up to the first Test. If so, he still has a lot to learn from Warne, whose willingness to play a longer game shows that even in retirement, he is still the master of spin.

Dave Hawksworth has never sat in a press box or charged a match programme to expenses

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Keywords: Mindgames

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by maxtalker on (November 19, 2013, 12:30 GMT)

no narrative of warne can be complete without mentioning the drubbing he routinely received at the hands of the indian masters, but the english and aussie press routinely leave that out in singing paeans to their hero. for the most part the indian masters just ignored his antics just focused on belting him to the boundary.

Posted by landl47 on (November 17, 2013, 7:10 GMT)

Warne is an entertainer. As such, he's fun to listen to. As for as insight is concerned, he's doesn't have much. His absurd exhortations to the captains to take risks just for the sake of it get old very quickly.

He would have made a very good short-format captain, but tests would not have been his forte.

However, he remains the best bowler of any type that I've ever seen. All he needed was someone else making the tactical decisions.

Posted by Westmorlandia on (November 17, 2013, 1:34 GMT)

The Aussies always used to target the captain in the field. It seems that they're trying to target Cook in the press, creativing this narrative about him being weak or boring.

Cook is a young captain, and a relatively new one, so it's got some truth in it even if it's very exaggerated. But I don't see the tactic having much effect even so. The England team have seen it all before, and they know for themselves what they are like as a team.

Posted by ThatsJustCricket on (November 15, 2013, 20:09 GMT)

@electric_loco_WAP4, yeah right. Clarke, the so called best captain, has managed to lose lost seven of their last nine Test matches while Cook, "the weak one" has quite a success story to tell. That's some real insight.

Posted by Selassie-I on (November 15, 2013, 15:22 GMT)

@electric_loco_WAP4 - Cook a weak captain.. he's not the one who's reign has been marred by infighting and disciplinary issues within the team. Cook has sorted the one issue with the team when he took over, the KP saga.

Anyone can stick a load of fielders round the bat or declare behind, cook is a leader of men, Clarke is a flippant gambler. When looking at the 'best' captain in the world, I think you're certainly overlooking Greame Smith and MSD as well.

Posted by Clickgotheruns on (November 14, 2013, 13:42 GMT)

Good article. Like it.

Posted by electric_loco_WAP4 on (November 14, 2013, 8:28 GMT)

Well, Why bring Clarke into this ? He is allowed his opinion into other teams just as is his own team . And I don't think there is any bluff when he says Clarke is the best test captain out there. Just because Cook isn't as good ,maybe a 'weak' ,'poor' 1 in the words of Warne himself ,it doesn't make his comments any less true ,do they?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dave Hawksworth
Dave Hawksworth has been in a relationship with cricket for over 30 years. During that time he's seen Ken Rutherford score 300 before tea, Geoff Boycott hit the first ball of the day for a boundary, and drunk a lot of beer. He's never sat in a press box or charged a match programme to expenses.

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