Shane Warne January 27, 2009

A wizard, a star

An undisputed legend who mastered cricket's most difficult discipline - not least its mental aspects

Everything about Warne's bowling was thought-through, appealing included © Getty Images

I was in Melbourne recently when I spied an interesting advertising banner. It said: "Coming soon, Shane Warne the musical." I stopped. A musical about a cricketer. Really? But then it was Warne, a larger-than-life cricketer, who had the most colourful of journeys and a career of triumph on the field and controversy off it, inciting awe, wonder and criticism along the way. A musical? Why not? And if I were asked to pick a soundtrack, Frank Sinatra's "My Way" would be the automatic choice.

Love him or hate him, we were definitely very lucky to have him. Warne may have self-destructed at times off the field, ruining his chances of being one of Australia's greatest captains, but on the field he was an undisputed legend, a legspinner of the highest class with a wizard's cricket brain. I still find it amazing that we had Warne, Murali and Kumble all at the same time, cricket's equivalent of the Three Tenors.

As a schoolboy, I first watched Warne play at the Sinhalese Sports Club back in August 1992. During the first innings he was mashed to all corners, conceding 107 from 22 wicketless overs. But when Sri Lanka came out to chase just 181 for victory, he showed his now famous instinct for grabbing the limelight at the right time, claiming 3 for 11 from 5.1 overs. We collapsed from 127 for 2 to 164 all out, one of our most painful defeats to this day. Yet, still, at that stage, there was no obvious indication that within less than a year Warne would be well on the way to becoming the greatest legspinner to play the game.

I may be no bowler, but I know one thing: the art of legspin is very, very hard to perfect. It offers the greatest opportunity for variety to bamboozle and deceive, but problems with control, accuracy and injuries are common. Warne surmounted nearly all these challenges with astounding success. His greatest strength was his control. He could bowl legbreaks of varying turn, a straight one, top spinner, the flipper and an occasional googly. This variety is amazing but it was the control of these variations that made him so potent. It allowed him to adapt every aspect of his bowling to suit the pitches he played on. He was a master of his own turn, line and length.

I remember well how he would tease you. In one over he could make you play stump to stump, from leg to off and back again. Right-handed batsmen would be greeted by big-turning legbreaks, which would result in them covering the line of the ball with their pads. Slowly, delivery by delivery, Warne would coax the batsmen to put their front pads across their stumps, setting them up for an lbw to his straight one.

He had many other ploys up his sleeve too. He would change the angle of delivery by going round the wicket. He would vary pace and flight, even drift, at will. He developed the flipper, a delivery that that had everyone guessing for a couple of seasons while his shoulder was at its strongest.

When a pitch did not offer him much, and if a right-hander got on top of him, he would resort to bowling round the wicket into the rough - a traditionally negative tactic that he enterprisingly turned into an attacking option, embarrassing many of us along the way, as apparently harmless deliveries sneaked through the back door.

He had no one tactic against me but he usually tried to cut out my lofted drive over mid-on. He then tried to put me under pressure, drying up the runs and then trying to tempt me to play an expansive drive outside off stump.

Playing him was never easy and always highly intense. He expertly scanned and analysed your technique and game plans, probing for chinks and weaknesses to exploit. He was a master of the mental game and loved playing mindgames. In between overs and deliveries he'd let you overhear snippets of conversations with his wicketkeeper and captain during which he explained your coming demise, openly announcing his tactics with a gleeful spark in his eye. He would cleverly manoeuvre his field, opening up spaces and trying to distract you. You knew it was all an act, but it still got you thinking.

The thing was, he was so often four to five steps ahead of us. Like a brilliant chess player who looks into the future, planning several moves ahead, Warne hunted down his prey over a series of overs, setting them up.

He backed his craft up with confident, intimidating and effective appealing - which bagged him a huge number of lbws. Every aspect of his bowling was thought through.

His talent and cunning aside, another reason for his success was undoubtedly the quality of the Australian pace attack, and Australia's powerful top-order batting. The quicks routinely made early inroads, creating pressure for Warne to exploit, and the batsmen added to this with mountains of runs, giving him the luxury of dictating terms.

Right-handed batsmen would be greeted by big-turning legbreaks, which would result in them covering the line of the ball with their pads. Slowly, delivery by delivery, Warne would coax the batsmen to put their front pads across their stumps, setting them up for an lbw to his straight one

The most fascinating duels he has had were with Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar. Both great batsmen have always carried the attack to Warne. They would use their feet and were unafraid to drive, sweep and loft the ball. This kind of attacking method was always more successful against Warne; a defensive game focused only on survival just played into his hand, allowing him to slowly work you over.

Injury dogged him in the latter stages of his career, and the strain on his shoulder forced him to undergo surgery. It also gave rise to doubts as to whether he would be the same bowler when he returned, doubts he put quickly to rest with his performances in the 2005 and 2006 Ashes. It showed the amount of enthusiasm he had for the game, as well as the mental toughness that has carried him through many controversies without affecting his focus on the game.

The great tragedy, though, was that he did not get to bring his cricketing intelligence to bear on the job of captaining Australia. He showed with both Hampshire and the Rajasthan Royals just how good a leader he could have been in international cricket. During the IPL, he clearly inspired those around him, and his man-management skills were brilliant. He planned the tournament and clearly mapped out roles for his side, and on the field he led with creative flair and a sense of adventure.

Warne would have made a great Australia captain, but he has no one to blame but himself for not being given a proper chance. His cricketing intelligence was counterbalanced by his off-field volatility. He created too many problems for himself over the years - the drugs scandal at the 2003 World Cup was surely his darkest hour. He learnt the hard way and will surely have regrets as he looks back on a glittering career.

Personally, I enjoyed our battles and I grew to respect him as a person after the 2004 tsunami. I think we all saw a different side to him then with the way he helped. The gesture of coming to Sri Lanka was a fine one. It was touching to see that human commitment.

It is impossible to do justice to this blond-haired spin magician in a simple column. He lived life large on and off the field with no apology. A cricketer with an old-world flamboyance and panache, who rejuvenated and modernised the art of legspin. Not your stereotypical gentleman cricketer, he was a genius of rare brilliance which we will remember in all its glory, though I doubt we will see its like again.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Philip on January 29, 2009, 12:13 GMT

    Nice one here Kumar. The cricketing gods have from time to time blessed us fans with "fantastically" talented plays. Shane Warne is there in the top bracket. In the recent IPL he just showed us what sort of a motivator he is by winning the trophy for his team as player/coach. No doubt, the youngsters just looked to him for leadership and direction and Shane delivered. He would not have taken on that role if he could not do it. It just motivated him and gave him that hunger to prove again what he is made of. I remember that famous "Gatting delivery" which has now been adapted by many. The OZ do really miss his services no doubt about that. You cannot even think of replacing Warney. How could you? It would be an insult to a cricketing great. Long may cricket treasure Warney. Many will come and many will go..but Warney will be there always for us to treasure. Thank heavens that we have memory to count on and countless videos/dvds/books on him. Philip Gnana, New Malen, Surrey

  • p on January 29, 2009, 6:09 GMT

    Oh yeah, Warney was something. Some of the greatest,most fascinating and riveting battles I've ever seen was "Warne vs Tendulkar', in both Tests and ODIs.

  • Bis on January 28, 2009, 22:28 GMT

    Warne was the greatest......end of........Sanga is a fine columnist and no contemporary international cricketer writes better in the English language with the possible exception of Akash Chopra. However, as a commentator on the game, he is not in the league of Ian Chappell or even Peter Roebuck.

  • Venkat Ramakrishnan on January 28, 2009, 17:50 GMT

    Wonderfully written article!!!! Keep going Sanga... I am hoping to see you write about Murali and Sanath....

  • Suda on January 28, 2009, 13:55 GMT

    Why ask for feedback and call it your say when you don't publish any form of criticism?

    If it really is supposed to encourage readers to give feedback and get involved then unless obscene and improper posts should not be deleted.

    What I wrote was a personal opinion wherein I stated that I did not like the quality of writing I don't think there was much wrong in what I said.

    Finally I don't really care if my feedback is deemed worthy of being posted or not but it indicates to me that Cricinfo only prefers sycophantic over the top eulogies and not honest feedback..

  • Rajaram on January 28, 2009, 7:48 GMT

    Shane Warne was undoubtedly the best leg spinner in the game of cricket. However, to hypothecate that he would have made a wonderful Test captain for Australia is stretching his Hampshire and Rajasthan Royals captaincy experience too far. Test cricket and 50 over cricket are a different contest altogether. Whatever opportunities he got to captain Australia in 50 over cricket were not earthshaking. So shall we revel in the joy of his leg spin and consign the "would have been" to fairy tales?

  • P Subramani on January 28, 2009, 5:09 GMT

    In assessing his greatness fairly in the light of Kumar Sangakarra's articulate essay on Warne, it would be good if Cricinfo could provide statistics of the number of lbw decisions he managed to get by his very persuasive appealing, as also the number of wickets he got from No 7 of the opposing batting order. He had limited success in India but did better in his second visit. I feel Shane Warne got much more importance that former leg spinning greats like Gupte,and Qadir because they played in earlier eras when the art of leg spin was not so compelling to view. That could have been because these were from the sub continent at a time when cricket was ruled by the Australians the Englishmen and the South Africans. Also perhaps is because there was no TV coverage or the hype we see these days. The money in the game just enough to survive.

  • srikant on January 28, 2009, 2:41 GMT

    Excellent Kumar,

    Every generation has brought forth players, who have done wonders for their country and the game. Bowling in itself is an art and leg spin bowling is a gift that is honed to perfection. You will always keep getting such wonders Like Warne and Murali. Now you have Ajantha Mendis and who knows how many more wornders Sri Lanka have up their sleeve. It is a privilege for those players who have played against Warne, Murali & Kumble.

  • Nick on January 27, 2009, 23:43 GMT

    Well written! I look forward to reading your next piece.

  • Jayant on January 27, 2009, 22:41 GMT

    How well you write Kumar. It is a joy to read. Lucky man. You will never be short of a profession even in old age. Osman Samiuddin is the only other Cricinfo regular whose prose I enjoy. But yours is the cleaner style and might I add, backed by a better batting average. Warne couldn't pay someone to write a better, more believable tribute. Hats off.

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