May 4, 2008

The magic of Shane

Richie Benaud said Keith Miller was the best captain Australia never had. The same can be said about Warne

I first met Everton Valentine on the 1973 tour of the Caribbean and he now lives in Notting Hill Gate, London. We continue to communicate on cricket matters in general and the West Indies in particular



'If a team under Warne pulls off a stunning victory or two, the players start to believe that it wasn't a miracle, just an everyday occurrence' © Getty Images

Dear Everton

Well, mate, you never cease to amaze. After telling me Twenty20 was "like drinking punch without the rum", I get an email from Hyderabad saying you've flown there to watch an IPL game.

Still, I can't fault your reasoning; a desire to see if all this talk about Shane Warne's captaincy was true. I guess I no longer have to try and convince you he would've been a great Australian captain. He makes the game exciting for his team-mates, which is part of the secret to successful captaincy. Keep them involved in an absorbing contest and the really competitive players will regularly produce their best.

Also, his captaincy creed, "We can win from any position," is like the common cold - it's contagious. If a team under Warne pulls off a stunning victory or two, the players start to believe that it wasn't a miracle, just an everyday occurrence.

Everton, what you witnessed in Hyderabad, where Warne captained like a chess master and conjured up a remarkable last-gasp victory against the Deccan Chargers, is exactly what I saw in 1996 when I phoned Richie Benaud in England. I'd just seen Warne captain Victoria in a Super Eights tournament played in northern Australia during the winter. His captaincy was aggressive and there was a vibrancy to his leadership that inspired the players around him to perform at their best. I told Benaud, "I've just seen a brilliant natural leader. We could have another aggressive legspinning captain of Australia."

Even from 16,000 kilometres away you could hear the excitement in Benaud's voice. My prediction had rekindled memories of his own exploits as an aggressive Australian captain who was prepared to take risks.

What you said about Warne, "that he takes his gambling instincts on to the field" was one of the things that impressed me about his captaincy in 1996. Everton, what you and the Indian public are now seeing is what the people of Hampshire have been raving about for a few seasons: how as captain, Warne makes the game interesting for everybody to watch. What a pity we didn't see more of it in Australia.

Just 11 one-day internationals as captain in the late 1990s and Australia won ten of those matches. No wonder Steve Waugh was in a hurry to return from injury to reclaim the job; the team responded brilliantly to Warne's leadership and there was a mystical quality about what might unfold that had the public constantly on the edge of their seats.

He also captained Victoria a few times but that would have been wasted on their fans; they've been subjected to so much pedestrian leadership over the years, they've probably forgotten what good captaincy looks like. Yes, Everton, I know, there's an exception to every rule. My grandfather, and former Australia captain Vic Richardson advised me, "If you ever captain Australia, don't do it like a Victorian."

Anyway, what's happened to the old devil-may-care Everton now you've retired? You're becoming conservative in your old age, agreeing with the "do gooders" (as you once described them), that it was probably just as well Warne didn't captain Australia because he would've embarrassed the country with his off-field antics.

 
 
What the Indian public are now seeing is what the people of Hampshire have been raving about for a few seasons: how as captain, Warne makes the game interesting for everybody to watch. What a pity we didn't see more of it in Australia
 

Remember what you said, Everton, "Larrikins make good captains because they are risk-takers." And anyway, I told you if he'd been appointed captain following Mark Taylor's retirement, I doubt he would have got into so much hot water that it ensured he would never captain Australia again. He's made some stupid mistakes but he's not naive.

I think it was Eric Idle, the comic from Monty Python, who said of the male of the species: "Man has two major organs, brain and penis, but only blood enough to run one at a time." That probably best summed up Warnie.

Anyway, we agree on one thing, Everton. Warne has one of the most vibrant cricket brains in the business and there can be no disputing he's a very good captain. Benaud often says the great allrounder Keith Miller was the best skipper he's seen never to captain Australia. I'd say the same about Warne in regard to Test cricket.

Hey, mate, you've really succumbed to the Warne magic. You followed him to Jaipur to watch him out-manoeuvre his old foe Sourav Ganguly and make it four wins in a row against the Knight Riders, and now you're planning a trip to Las Vegas to watch him play in a poker tournament.

If you want some spending money for Vegas, have a little wager on the Royals winning the IPL. There's one thing for sure about taking a punt on Warnie. He always gives you a good run for your money.

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