Wisden Cricket Monthly, January 2000

Bowled, Shane

Ian Healy
Few players enjoyed a closer view of a master bowler at work than Ian Healy

Few players enjoyed a closer view of a master bowler at work than Ian Healy, Australia's first-choice wicketkeeper until 1998-99 when Adam Gilchrist burst onto the scene. In this article, originally published in January 2000, Healy outlined the qualities that set Shane Warne apart from his peers. But, even he had no idea of the heights that Warne would go on to scale.

Shane Warne and Ian Healy formed a potent partnership © Getty Images

Down I'd go into my crouch early enough to watch Warnie's visible cues, but not long enough to get leg-lock. I'd position myself outside the off stump so that the batsman couldn't obscure my view easily, and I'd go through my cues. Every ball, my mind says: Watch the ball, move, stay down.

There's Warne's slow walk in, the build-up of energy through the crease, and the release. The flipper would have been detected two strides earlier, and this is not it. Legspinner coming, last seen leaving the hand, but how much will it turn? Looks like he's just rolled it out rather than ripping it, but it's heading straight for the big hole outside leg stump.

Stay down and move late, I keep telling my legs. This could do anything off the pitch, and by then it will be behind the batsman. Must ignore the batsman as he will only further distract me as I strive to isolate the ball. It should slide down leg, but will it? That's the dilemma, and I must wait and watch before deciding to move low and strong. Gloves low and relaxed enough to give with the ball, and in it goes cleanly. Pat yourself on the back, take a deep breath or two and settle in for your second delivery of a captivating 30-over spell.

How great it was to witness the hustling, bustling blond ball of body language, systematically glueing batsmen's feet to the crease, as they realised that what they had in mind for that innings simply wasn't going to work. Last-day survival plans became impossible, by even the world's best players, when Warnie spun his magic. On-field genius aside, he has the team's fortunes at heart, which further inspires peers of all experience levels.

I was lucky enough to have the best seat in the house as the man who recently became Australia's greatest wicket-taker dismantled opposition batting line-ups and changed the face of world cricket.

Shane Warne is not just Australia's most successful bowler, but the most successful spin bowler in Test history. These are my reflections on his amazing career.

What separated him from others

  • Control + variety + adaptability. He could change plans mid-game, mid-spell or even mid-over, which was rare for a legspinner so young.
  • Absolute minimal bad balls.
  • Effective first innings as well as second innings.
  • A fast bowler's aggression - verbally and technically (the things he attempted to do with the ball).
  • Endurance. None of the above means much if you can't outlast the best batsmen.
  • My five most memorable Warne wickets

  • Another wicket to add to the tally: Brian Lara in 1996-97 © Getty Images
    Graham Thorpe, stumped, Edgbaston, 1993 - England were eight down and Thorpe was going well. Steve Waugh at short point begins to suggest that Thorpe would play for the not-out. Thorpe swings at one, aiming for Tugga, and misses the ball, which bounces and spins. It is wide, so I am pleased to beat him back into his crease.
  • Ken Rutherford, caught behind, Auckland 1993 - New Zealand, before the `93 Ashes tour, was when Warne started ripping them back from outside leg. We knew then that he was capable of producing what soon became known as the Gatting Ball.
  • Mike Gatting, bowled, Old Trafford, 1993 - That ball! Changed his life forever. Warnie's first ball in Test cricket in England. Unsure of what to bowl because Merv was pestering him from mid-off, Warnie went with a leggie. A good choice - but what execution. Perfect speed to keep Gatting in his crease, the ball drifted quickly into leg stump on the perfect length to get the batsman reaching for it. Then it spun and bounced perfectly to beat the bat but not the stumps. Don't let Warnie tell you that he had it all under control!
  • Graham Gooch, bowled, Edgbaston, 1993 - Gooch was bowled around his legs attempting to pad the ball away. Now it was extremely difficult to survive, let alone score runs against him.
  • The hat-trick v England, Melbourne, 1994-95 - Phil DeFreitas was out lbw playing back, and then I caught Darren Gough. David Boon took a blinder to dismiss Devon Malcolm for the hat-trick.
  • How they've tried to beat him

  • Bat normally: this will work in good batting conditions but history suggests you should still be thinking on your feet against Warne. That's an easier option than having a specific plan that fails, which can leave you powerless again.
  • Pad him away: persistence against Warne will allow you to get the runs from the other end. (Let's address that end when Glenn McGrath passes 300 wickets, shall we?)
  • Warne would adapt his line back to the stumps to make you have to play again. Fieldsmen around the bat would be most helpful as to how the batsman is playing. Warne would then take the ball away from the batsman again, for a while, to get him into a mental dilemma, continually mentioned by the tormentor himself.
  • Sweep everything: achieved minimal runs at high risk for a lot of effort. South Africa's patent plan, you'd have to say, is yet to pay dividends. Jonty Rhodes and Adam Parore are two exceptions who had a knack of doing more than getting off strike with the sweep. The prospect of a top edge was continually being promoted by the fieldsmen to the batsman.
  • Slog: those out for a joyride knew that it was never going to last. Regularly applauded by Warne, with the challenge re-issued.
  • Left-handers: because his wrong'un wasn't as effective, left-handers could play straight down the wicket to all but the turning leggies. These are hit with the spin to the leg side from a stance of maybe off stump. Placement is crucial and smallish boundaries are a bonus. This worked for Arjuna Ranatunga in Sri Lanka in 1992, and is worth a dash again, I reckon.
  • I can't remember a batsman who collared Shane Warne's bowling for a whole innings when Warnie was fully fit. He will never be as good again as he was from 1993 up until his first injury. He says he is smarter bowler now, and I'd agree with that, because he didn't have to be too clever to release the best leggies that the game has seen for 40 overs on end. Pacing himself and rationing the poison is now part of the game-plan.

    How he does it

    Early footage shows him doing it easily, in contrast to today, when the whole body is employed to muscle the ball down there with the accompanying grunt. Back-leg drive has been a key to achieving energy on the ball for Warnie, and correct timing of shoulder rotation ensured good follow-through patterns and ball flight. Energy through the crease from these factors allows the fingers to flick and the ball to drift and drop.

    When looking at his extravagant ability, with his workload, it is no coincidence that his finger and shoulder packed it in. Long recoveries followed. Warnie was never great at daily maintenance of vital body parts - finger, forearm and shoulder. Major rehabilitation was well done, but his dedication to massaging, stretching and strengthening affected areas as often as required was quite shoddy. This is not to say that this year he isn't the perfect physiological specimen - after I retired, anyway.

    The future

    Warne's comments to me have been that he doesn't want to play much past 30. I for one hope that time is not up and this record merely fuels a fire that drives him to the world record (currently 434 wickets) and maybe on to 500. I want to see every bit of huff and puff expire from that bustling ball of body language before he declares.

    Ian Healy took 366 catches and 29 stumpings in a 119-Test career for Australia, and formed a potent partnership with Shane Warne. This article first appeared in Wisden Cricket Monthly in January 2000.