April 15, 2011

Bright stays the Warne

Last year it looked like he was fading, but you wouldn't think it if you watched his first delivery against Delhi this week

Seven overs into the Rajasthan Royals' match against the Delhi Daredevils, Shane Warne took the ball. I had seen him a couple of days earlier; he looked different. Maybe a cosmetic surgeon had been involved, maybe it was just a flush of youth returning briefly. He looked trimmer, he looked excited, and he had bowled beautifully, making younger players look like novices occasionally.

Now I was waiting for him to bowl the first ball - like, as a child, I had waited in the stands to watch Sunil Gavaskar come out to bat. First balls can be tricky things if you are playing after a while, because the cricket ball, a weapon that has bowed to your bidding all your life, suddenly becomes a rebel, questions your right to make it land where you want it to. Not this time.

The first ball, from over the wicket, drifted towards leg stump and turned viciously. Like it had many thousands of times in Warne's prime.

Young Unmukt Chand, a fine prospect I was told, but who thought blocking a ball was criminal, played the cut, was cramped for space, and Rahul Dravid pulled off a fine catch at slip. Like Mark Taylor used to in the days when c Taylor b Warne was a feature on most Australian scorecards. It didn't end there. Ball after ball followed the familiar wicket trajectory. Batsmen played, missed, edged, wondered what this thing was that came at them but wasn't where they thought it would be. Soon Naman Ojha, another young gun, was caught at point. The first three balls read WoW. That's what it was. He's the best Australian spinner playing cricket, by a margin as large as the distance between Jaipur to Melbourne.

Often we hope champions never return after they retire. There is an aura that grows every day after they are gone. Sins are washed away, bad balls were never bowled. A comeback can ravage those memories, make a giant look frail. An image can be shattered. It is the saddest thing in sport when a champion tries to summon skills that left him a long time ago. And I must confess to having those thoughts when I heard Warne would play on in IPL 2011.

He had looked rusty in IPL 2009 in South Africa, but only briefly. The action was soon back - for that is what it really is; if you get the action right, the ball goes where it should. But in IPL 2010, it was clear he was demanding too much from himself. A young batsman would slog him and the reply wouldn't have the same venom. I feared the king of the pack might be hunted down this year. You cannot, you should not, see the leader made a meal of.

Maybe somewhere Warne knew this. And in between rounds of poker - good for a sharp mind, maybe, but not much good if you want to be in the right shape - and long flights to satisfy the cravings of the heart, he trained. That is obvious. You can hide many weaknesses but a protruding belly is particularly difficult to conceal. Warne in IPL 2011 looks trim, and maybe that has allowed the action to be the way he wants it to be. And clearly he has bowled a lot. Not even Warne can make that first ball land on the spot and fizz it without having bowled many in the nets before.

And so back to Jaipur and game two for the Royals. He came on to bowl in one of the slog overs to young David Warner and threw the ball wide of off stump, challenging the batsman to hit against the turn. The over only produced five runs. After that he captained the side from deep midwicket. Slow, ageing players don't field there but Warne backed himself to.

It has only been two matches so far and I don't know what the IPL holds for Shane Warne in the rest of the games. But I do know that, as a cricket lover, he has me on the edge of my seat every time he bowls. He is 42 now. Not every game will be as good, but he's giving it a decent shot and making the experience of watching cricket as thrilling as it was when he was doing batsmen in for Australia.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ridwan on April 18, 2011, 8:43 GMT

    Hey Harsha, I think your objectivity is being blinded by nostalgia I dont even think the opposition is respecting him as a bowler...he may have a decent over here or there but the man is finished...he should be coach only

    As a player he is now a liability to him team

  • Apurva on April 18, 2011, 5:23 GMT

    c Taylor b Warne Haha. This phrase is so nostalgic.

  • Varnendra on April 17, 2011, 18:39 GMT

    Shane Warne is the closest equivalent to Don Bradman in bowling. The second pair is Viv Richards and Dennis Lillee.

  • P Subramani on April 17, 2011, 13:37 GMT

    I have seen Subhas Gupte bowl. He was a great leg spinner. But then like someone said, his bowling was not written of in superlative terms terms likethe 'wizard of oz' bowling the 'ball of the century' to an Englishman as they often did about Shane Warne There is no doubt that Warne was a great bowler. But he was probably written of in the manner we have seen because he came from Australia.Gupte was called the best leg spinner that ever played the game by none other than Sir Gary Sobers, as much a great player as a reader of the game and the players in his time.Sobers had also seen Warne when he held that Gupte was superior. Abdul Qadir was another great bowler just as Saqlain Mushtaq was.No one talks about them or Mankad or Prasanna in the same breath as they talk about Shane Warne.That may have been because Warne came at a time when leg spiners were a rare breed.And then his persona of being a ladies man added to his mystique. Gupte was no less colourful but times were different then

  • Billy on April 17, 2011, 8:58 GMT

    @Ankit Jain, all you have done is come up with three names who you think may not vote for Warne. You actually have absolutely no idea whether Warne would be in their selection. I can give you 12 names of people who actually did, a much more solid piece of evidence. At various times, the people you mention may have said Warne is not the best spinner they have seen, played against or played with. This is very different from meriting a selection in an All Time XI and it is hard to see them arguing against this selection. And the context is completely different. For example, Sobers wrote his piece in a book for which the publicity would have been great, and if we were to accept this, then Subhash Gupte is the greatest spinner to play the game. But is Sobers really going to pick Gupte in an All Time XI alongside Bradman, himself, Tendulkar etc. Seems a bit out of place, so I think not.

  • PALLAB on April 17, 2011, 7:42 GMT

    1.Harump! Hype perpetuates hype. How come these balls were never EVER produced against accomplished Indian batsmen in 4 full series and 3 other Tests.He did the same thing last year against Chargers' lower order players but even an out-of-form and ordinary player against spin Yuvraj thrashed him. Warne has publicly been called over-rated by Arjuna Ranatunga, Salim Malik, Aravinda de Silva- all masterful players of spin. The combative and canny Ranatunga deliberately attacked Warne in that high-stakes 1996 World Cup final (knowing full well about a vast television viewing audience) to walk the talk. Malik was only done in by supreme sledger and gamesmanship wizard Warne in the return series in OZ in 1995-96.Let's not even talk about the Indian batting greats who have collared and mastered him thru the 90s and the noughties (Indian batsmen are too submissive or gentlemanly to make bombastic comments in public about Warne being over-rated).

  • PALLAB on April 17, 2011, 6:23 GMT

    3.SA and even WI were not giving SL long Test series despite SL being very competitive in Tests after 1995 and becoming World Champions in 1996. It was only Pakistan and India which kept playing SL in many 3 Test series. Because of the step-motherly treatment of Eng and OZ boards, the luminescent talent of de Silva was also not seen by many or acknowledged. By the way, the craftiest and most skilful spinner in modern cricket history has been Saqlain Musthaq and not Murali or Warne. Only Saqlain did not have the temperament or the backing of the maverick PCB to carve out a long career. His ODI exploits and returns are among the all-time best.

  • PALLAB on April 17, 2011, 6:16 GMT

    2.Yeah right "cut swathes thru which countries'" batmen we know. Running webs around leaden-footed English and South African batsmen [or badly disciplined 2000s era Sri Lankan (circa 2004 series in SL) and Pakistani batsmen] don't make for an all-time great spinner. By the way, Graham Gooch has rated Abdul Qadir as the greater and more allround leg-spinner and Sobers has called Subhash Gupte as the best leg-spinner of all time. Warne's overwhelming persona (admittedly he did bring spin bowling to the fore again), Ashes successes (there you go again for the Friths and Wisdens for whom only Ashes battles matter! ) have blinded many cricket analysts and fans. Warne feasted on pathetic English sides of the 90s while Murali got to play England in England only 6 times in his entire career-blame ICC's FTP and all that ! And still picked up 48 wickets.For those talking about the Tests that Murali played against Zim and Bang, obviously Lanka Board had to arrange Tests for SL as Eng, OZ,

  • Daison on April 17, 2011, 6:14 GMT

    True, you all can do the IPL bashing as much as you want. But if it allows you to watch Warne bowl again, you should shut your mouth and watch where he land that ball everytime he come on to bowl. If that doesnt please you enuf, perhaps you shouldnt be commenting anyway.

  • Vineet on April 17, 2011, 2:07 GMT

    There'll possibly never be another Warne. If there's one reason to like the IPL - and there aren't many - it's the fact that it allows us to see legends like Warne in action again. He's one of the greatest cricket players of all time. Period. Now why didn't any franchise pick Lara?

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