May 8, 2011

Warne makes the game interesting for his players

As captain, he makes every ball worth watching. He empowers his players and makes them want to contribute to the team every time

Shane Warne will retire as a player at the end of this IPL season. He'll leave with only one regret: that he didn't captain Australia on a long-term basis.

When he did captain the Australian one-day side, he was extremely successful; 10 wins out of 11 matches is an exceptional record.

However it's more than wins and losses with Warne's captaincy. He makes the game interesting for his players, and that translates into exciting cricket for the fans. It's just like when he bowls: there's an air of expectancy with every ball.

The first time I saw him captain was for Victoria in a Super 8 match-up in North Queensland. The opposition required six runs to win off the last over and Victoria needed a couple of wickets. With only seven fielders at his disposal, Warne shunned containment and gave the bowler, Damien Fleming, some catching men. Victoria took the two wickets with aggressive tactics, pulling off a stunning and exhilarating victory.

Warne utilised similar tactics to win the inaugural IPL competition with a Rajasthan Royals side that wasn't highly rated at the start of the season. This was another triumph for aggressive captaincy.

There's much more to Warne's leadership than just his on-field tactics, though. He empowered players by putting them in a position to have success. This then boosted them not only in the eyes of their team-mates but also in their own estimation. He also went out of his way to make junior players feel part of the team.

There's the joyous story of how he turned up with the whole Rajasthan team in the village home of dashing opening batsman Swapnil Asnodkar. The previously unheralded youngster had a terrific season and helped Rajasthan to the title.

Leadership was a big part of Warne's success as a captain. He made players feel wanted and they in turn produced every effort to give more for the team. Warne believed the time he spent with players after hours reaped great rewards on the field.

He also gave players something they crave: honesty. Most players can handle the truth if they are told face to face. What they don't like is a leader who can't confront the many tough situations he is sure to encounter.

Some will say Warne only has himself to blame for not captaining Australia more often. There's no disputing he made his share of mistakes off the field, but he doesn't shy away from acknowledging as much. He once cried off a dinner invitation saying he was taking his kids out. "I may be a shit husband," he admitted, "but I'm a good father."

I feel he wouldn't have encountered as many off-field problems if he had been captain of Australia. Warne didn't have a great self-protection radar system because he didn't see himself as a superstar. He's a traditionalist in a lot of ways and had great respect for the Australian captaincy.

He's certainly made a wise decision to retire from the IPL now, before he's too old to compete. As the great Australian allrounder Keith Miller once said when asked about retirement: "I wanted people to ask why did you, rather than why don't you."

There are very few cricketers who are irreplaceable. The only two who come readily to mind are Sir Donald Bradman and Sir Garfield Sobers. Warne certainly won't be knighted, and he isn't quite irreplaceable but he's close.

Before him, the legspinner who most resembled him was the feisty Australian Bill "Tiger" O'Reilly, who openly hated batsmen. He thought they were trying to take the food out of his mouth and consequently he was ultra-aggressive in his efforts to rid himself of the competition. Warne had a similar thought process and he was constantly plotting the batsman's downfall.

There's no doubt Warne will be missed, not just for his cricketing ability but also for the peripheral things he brought the game. Rajasthan are wise to announce they're retaining his services as he brings a winning culture to any club. If anyone can mentor the next Warne, it would be Shane Keith himself.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator and columnist

Comments