Warne wizardry lights up veterans' day
I have known no better sights in cricket than watching Shane Warne bowl. Watching VVS Laxman's batting comes close; however, there are days when VVS may look a stranger, plodding and grafting like a pedant. But Warne is a joy even when he is being had.
A lot of it comes from being a legspinner. They are enchanters. Sublime, magical, unpredictable, fallible, they possess an art that tugs at the soul. Just as they can make your heart soar with joy, they can make you feel their pain. But even among these rare men, Warne is a man apart.
Twenty20 is not his stage. The limited nature of the game constricts and diminishes his craft. Legpsinners are meant to bowl like millionaires, with leisure and pomp. They are creatures of rhythm and the build-up for them is gradual. The first four or five overs, they are meant to feel their way through. Twenty20 allows them no fifth over - perhaps not even a second if their first doesn't land right. Cameron White has had some success in this form, but he is a legspinner only by definition, not in practice.
This season, the odds were stacked even higher against Warne. Not only is he a year older, he is also far rustier, having played no competitive cricket since the last IPL and, going by the practice match a few days earlier, he was far from match-fit. But geniuses find a way to express themselves on the big stage, and how Warne lifted his game.
Three balls is all it took. The first three balls were short, but length was growing fuller every ball and, by the fourth, Warne had found his mojo. When the fifth one left his hand, Virat Kohli sensed a four, but the moment he left his crease he was a goner. The ball floated up in the air, inviting the charge, but when the batsman went down the pitch, he found a grand deception. The ball had drifted away and it had dipped. The bat created an empty arc, and the ball found legstump. The next one nearly took off as it spun viciously past B Akhil's hopeful prod.
Rahul Dravid swept him away for four the next over and worked him away for a couple of singles, but the third over was sensational. It started with the legspinner's perfect ball: it drifted in, dipped in flight and spun from leg to outside off. Beaten all ends up, Dravid looked up and nodded in appreciation. Good batsmen know a great ball when they see one. With the third, out came the flipper: skidding, fast and on target, it found Akhil's pad even before the bat could make its way down. It looked plumb, but replays showed the umpire was right. The impact had been outside the offstump. But the next ball he was gone, dragged forward by the flight, deceived by the dip and defeated by the turn.
Praveen Kumar managed to swat a straight six in the his last over, distorting his figures somewhat, yet 4-0-18-2 wasn't bad returns for a man who will turn 40 in a few months in a game that is supposed to be a young man's game.
In fact, the day belonged to the golden oldies. Dravid, so berated in the first edition and stripped of the captaincy this year, played the innings of the day, Sachin Tendulkar carried his bat and was Man of the Match in the first match and Anil Kumble finished the day with five wickets.
Warne's night was ruined by a shoddy batting performance from his team. But what a pleasure he was to watch. We must be grateful that he is still in our lives, however briefly.
Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo