Shane Warne has left the building
"Does it really matter?" asked Shane Warne, his orange-tinged face scrunched up and his shoulders arched, in reply to a question from a journalist whether he would have loved to bow out of competitive cricket with the wicket of Sachin Tendulkar. "Why should I be remembered, at the end a 20-year career, for dismissing one batsman?"
Nine minutes later, Warne replied firmly to a question about what his memories of four years captaining Rajasthan Royals were: "Personally, none. From an individual perspective, absolutely nothing. It was always been about the team, about friendship, never about me."
Thus ended the final press conference of Warne's career. Before arriving - in a Rajasthan tee-shirt, shorts and flip-flops, to speak to the Indian media one last time - Warne had led his side to a thumping win over the fancied Mumbai Indians. It was the kind of underdog win which gave Warne immense pride, and he was only too eager to deflect all the attention of his retirement to the team victory. The way he knew this team could perform, and should have, more often than they did this season.
Provided he doesn't do a Martin Crowe, Warne has played his last match. He didn't hog the limelight- four overs for 30 runs, one wicket, a catch dropped off his bowling, and a full toss to finish off - but his team absolutely smashed Mumbai to give their leader a memorable send-off. It was, thus, a fitting finale for one of the greatest cricketers of this generation, and one who defined spin bowling for his generation. The team's success was more important than his.
After all the controversies of the past week, and considering this game was against the team which had lodged a complaint over the nature of the pitch in Jaipur, the actual build-up to this match was unspectacular. Warne emerged about 40 minutes after most of his team-mates did. At 7:22, he descended the steps from the dressing room. The fans seemed to be aware of the occasion, for a roar emanated. That didn't mean they were going to cheer him on when he came to bowl, because this was Tendulkar territory after all.
Warne shook hands with a couple players and commentators, and then joined Tendulkar for the toss. The two shared a laugh or two, and then got down to business. No frills.
In a sense, the scene was right for Warne. He always thrived on the pulse of a packed house, with spectators cheering and booing in equal dollops. The only time he would have bowled in front of more spectators in India in Test cricket would have been in Chennai, on the final day of the epic series of 2001. In one-dayers, it would have had to be the World Cup match of 1996 at this very venue when it, and he, carried a different look.
But this wasn't the stage for one final exhibition of a duel that, at the international level, came loaded with expectancy and intrigue. Warne knew it, maybe Tendulkar did too. The Tendulkar v Warne battle was hyped by the media. As Warne said afterwards, he was only too pleased that he didn't get Tendulkar out because that would have detracted from the bigger picture: Rajasthan's victory.
There was nothing out of place with Warne's movements on the field. As the music blared and the cheer-leaders swayed and the crowd roared, Warne led his team onto the field. He opened the attack with Ankeet Chavan, a left-arm spinner, with a clear plan of getting Tendulkar out. It should have worked first ball, except fellow Victorian Paul Reiffel was convinced the ball had pitched outside leg, Replays showed otherwise, and for a fleeting moment there was a feeling that the scene had been contrived.
Warne, standing at short cover, put his hands to his mouth in disbelief, an act played out countless times during his career. After Tendulkar slog-swept Chavan for four, Warne had a word with his bowler. Square leg went back, mid-on came in. At the same time, wired up to speak to the on-air commentators, Warne told a story of Tendulkar inviting him for dinner during a Test series and keeping him awake until 2am. Only Warne could do that.
The moment of anticipation arrived when Warne brought himself on for the ninth over. There was a suitable noise as he handed his cap to the umpire and rubbed the dirt before bowling. The over was an average one, with Warne conceding 11 including a boundary to Rohit Sharma. There was no fizz in the deliveries, and it was a rather flat over, physically and metaphorically. Warne's second over was also unspectacular, bar one delivery when he induced a leading edge off Tendulkar's bat which flew down the ground for a couple. In the end, there was to be no classic duel between Warne and Tendulkar - fittingly, many would say.
A tidy third over was responsible for slowing down Mumbai briefly, and when Ashok Menaria spilled a catch off the first ball of Warne's final over, the 20th of the innings, there was that familiar fingers-to-furrowed-brow reaction. But Warne wasn't finished, and produced a sharp legbreak to fox Rohit and have him stumped.
After a quick exchange with Rudi Koertzen - maybe a word about one of the lbws turned down - Warne put on his cap, shook hands with Johan Botha, Siddharth Trivedi and Shane Watson as he left the field, and spoke a few words for the TV audience. After a few blasé words on the match situation, he finished by saying: "I'm 42 this year, I'm in a great place in life, both personally and the business point of view, I just want to thank everyone who supported me."
It is that sense of support and unity that best summarises Warne's term as captain of Rajasthan.
Immediately after the match, a refreshed Warne, dressed in grey shorts and windcheater, shook hands with all of his team-mates and raised his hands to the crowd as the players made a guard of honour. He looked a bit sheepish, as if he wanted to shun the attention. He then led his team up the stairs to the dressing room, where no doubt the atmosphere would have been nostalgic.
And so the curtains came down on an IPL career - it seems almost blasphemous to term it that, considering the heights Warne scaled for Australia - in which he bowled 1194 deliveries and picked up 57 wickets - joint fifth overall - at an average of 25.38. Warne's contribution to the IPL, however, went beyond statistics. He captained a team written off as hopeless at the start of the inaugural edition to the title, and though their success tapered off in the next three seasons he has been an ever-present personality for Rajasthan, investing in youth and trying his best to get the best out of them.
That, at the end of the day, was how Warne wanted to be remembered.
Jamie Alter is a freelance cricket writer based in Mumbai, and the author of two cricket books