May 2, 2013

Watching Warnie

Looking on as the world's greatest legspinner strutted his stuff was quite the education for a lesser-accomplished member of the breed
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Almost unnoticed among the customary mountain of emails a couple of weeks ago was one quietly announcing the winner of the Cricket Society's Book of the Year, a long-standing literary award now co-organised by MCC. The latest victor was Gideon Haigh, the incisive Australian writer familiar to readers of ESPNcricinfo, for his book On Warne, more of an analysis of the great legspinner than a biography.

As luck would have it I'd just finished reading it, and agreed with the learned panel's decision. A review of the latest Wisden, on David Blackburn's Spectator blog, included the line: "Gideon Haigh's appreciation of Ricky Ponting contains sentences that leave you silent and content, as if admiring a view." And On Warne is the same - it's full of acute observations that had me paraphrasing Oscar Wilde: "I wish I'd written that."

You could pluck an example from every other page, so here are just a couple: "bowling Shivnarine Chanderpaul in Sydney in November 1996, the ball bouncing out of the rough like a zombie rising from the grave", or of that brief but businesslike approach to bowl, "He did not switch on - Warne was always 'on'. No, he switched the rest of the game off."

And Haigh is just about the only current cricket writer who could get away with: "Warne actually used to put me in mind of Edward Ashburnham in Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier: charmingly shallow, good-natured, weak-willed, and 'positively revolted at the thought that she [his wife] should know the sort of thing that he did'." I wish I'd written that (or even known about it).

It's a thought-provoking book, unlike your average cricket life-in-print with its "I went up to Trent Bridge and was lucky enough to score a century." With Haigh you get incisive analysis, like this on late-era Warne, after shoulder and finger surgery meant the big-ripping legbreaks were more of an effort than they were before: "Warne took his reputation as the bowler who had spun the ball as far as probably anyone in history, and turned it on its head, making himself into perhaps history's most skilful bowler of deliveries that either went straight on or turned just a little."

Almost inevitably I found myself trying to recapture my own Warne memories. Not really the televised ones, although some of them are priceless: does everyone remember where they were for the Gatting ball? I was watching the TV in the Wisden office and, being a decidedly sub-Warne legspinner myself, was interested to see the first ball from this new member of the union. First reaction: slight disappointment, as it seemed to be slipping down leg - yes, I've had a few of those! And then. Ah. Don't think I've ever done that - if I turn one that far my team-mates usually mutter about it having hit a stone. And it's clipped the top of off stump - so this was what all the fuss was about.

But actual on-the-ground memories? Well, I was in Sydney for the New Year match in 1994 when Warne took 12 South African wickets but still lost. And again four years later when he bamboozled 11 more South Africans, and this time won - that haul included his 300th in Tests, when he threaded one through Jacques Kallis to the accompaniment of thunder and lightning as a storm approached.

Still, there's something about being right behind a legspinner's arm that allows you to start to unravel the mysteries. With binoculars propped up, you can see the shoulder dipping, the wrist coming over differently, and maybe even the ball spinning this way or that. Sadly, as I discovered, that doesn't mean you'll actually be able do it yourself - it helps if you're the greatest bowler of them all to start with.

So, watching Warne: I've got two strong memories of this sort of close scrutiny. The first was back in 2000, when I was despatched down the M4 to report on Hampshire's visit to Taunton. I've got one vivid flashback of that day - and it's not the left-handed Piran Holloway's workmanlike century for Somerset (sorry Piran, I had to look it up). No, the recollections are all of Warne, who had a long afternoon spell for which I had the perfect vantage point.

In September 2007, I made a pilgrimage to the Rose Bowl. As I was walking in, I realised the man behind me - and his son, who was about eight - had come for the same reason: 'You're going to see Warnie,' said dad. 'This is his last home game'

Here's what Sunday Telegraph readers were regaled with the following day:

"Hampshire's bowling looked gentle - with one exception. Warne was low-key before lunch, but was still the most dangerous bowler on show and finished with four wickets. The Taunton press box, with its over-the-right-shoulder view, is an ideal spot to watch him trot out his variations. One ripped legbreak darted back in and nearly stranded Holloway, while others looped up invitingly outside off, before snaking back in and turning out to be not quite as driveable as they looked."

There were many more Warne sightings, but it was a while before I had quite such a good view again. In 2005 I was fortunate to be Wisden's man at the match for the Ashes Test at Edgbaston. When I found my allotted seat in the press box, opposite the pavilion, I was quietly pleased to discover it was right behind the bowler's arm (I once had a seat somewhere where the window pillar neatly obscured both sets of stumps, and another in the old box at The Oval from which no grass was actually visible). What I didn't realise, of course, was that I was about to witness one of the greatest of all Test matches.

It was undoubtedly the most continuously absorbing Test I've ever been at - every other one has had the odd quiet period, when it was safe to go for a chat or a wander around the ground. At this one you didn't even want to nip to the loo in case you missed anything.

And one major reason for that was Warne: he bowled nearly 50 overs in that match, all from my end. Each ball was an examination: Andrew Strauss was bowled in each innings, in the second by one that zipped across him, past a pad thrust towards cover, to crash into the stumps. It was Warne's second ball of the innings - and his 100th wicket in Tests in England.

Warne troubled every batsman in that game, finished with ten wickets and, if that wasn't enough, helped scare England rigid on the last day by scoring 42 as Australia inched to within three runs of victory. But his bowling was an education in itself.

A couple of years later, in September 2007, I made a pilgrimage to the Rose Bowl. As I was walking in, I realised the man behind me - and his son, who was about eight - had come for the same reason: "You're going to see Warnie," said dad. "This is his last home game." The great man took a couple of late wickets, although Hampshire eventually lost. It was actually his last home match (there was one soggy final first-class appearance, a draw up in Yorkshire). I hope the little boy remembers it.

We didn't really know then, of course, that there was a PS to come, in the glitzy form of high-profile T20 appearances for Rajasthan Royals and Melbourne Stars. Cherish him while you can - even in fun-size four-over chunks.

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2013

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • aus_trad on May 2, 2013, 22:49 GMT

    @Rohen - that must have been a crushing disappointment! One of the great blessings of my cricketing life is that I saw Warne a number of times in tests (all in Sydney). I was even there when he played his first. He took a caning, but I remember that Bill O'Reilly wrote after watching him that Warne was, so to speak, "the goods". How right he was! Simply a magician. I remember the roar that used to go up when he came on to bowl in Sydney. It was like the stories they used to tell about when Bradman came in to bat. The number of times a batsman really dominated Warne you could practically number on the fingers of one hand. England never had a clue; S.Africa weren't much better. Salim Malik got on a top of him a couple of times...but the main exception, of course, is in India, where the pitches just didn't suit his kind of flight and spin, against the best players of spin in the world. Even then his figures really weren't all that shabby: merely not up to his usual, brilliant best.

  • sarangsrk on May 2, 2013, 10:48 GMT

    Warnie is absolute Rockstar, which ever way you look at it. A genius is known by the way he simplifies the toughest art and Warnie did that with aplomb. He made leg spin bowling look like kid's play when its actually tough to even land a ball 6 times in one spot. He almost looked like telling the ball "this is where you are going to pitch and this is how much you will turn and beat the bat" and the bat obediently following him. There were others who could turn the ball much more or maybe had more variations than warnie but none could work out the faults in batsman's technique and ways to get him out more than Mr SK Warne. In last 22 years that I have followed cricket, I have seen only 3 magicians in cricket who would mesmerise you with their art. In order of debut, Wasim Akram, Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne. Can't get enough of watching them.

  • Pinarsh255 on May 2, 2013, 6:26 GMT

    Things that Warne did was impossible to teach anyone, chances are very slim that we will see them again. No bowler can produce those jaw dropping deliveries. When Warne was at work, cricket seemed like an art. The unhurried, calm approach to the bowling filled the heart with anticipation, something out of the box is going to happen. If it is last ball of the day, then the probability is higher .The battle I want to see in my dreams, King Viv against spin king Warne. And watching him changing the pace and direction of the play when he captained RR makes me reiterate what Ian Chappell said. "Warne is the best captain that Australia never had."

  • Donsshaddow on May 2, 2013, 6:04 GMT

    Soccer had George Best, Maradonna, Messi. Golf has Tiger Woods, Rory Mcllroy. Hockey had Dhyan Chand. Athletics has Usain Bolt. Gymnastics had Nadia Comaneci. Boxing had Mohd Ali and Cricket had Shane Warne. Every sport has someone who is just gifted with the ability to be better than the rest. George Best once said that he knew that he, 'could just dribble his way past any defense in the world'. It was a gift. Warne had the gift to drift and ball in and spin it out past any batsman in the world. It was a gift. When in the zone, no one batsman could read Warne. Like all the legends, mentioned above, he was always one step ahead of his opponents

  • landl47 on May 2, 2013, 5:32 GMT

    Warne was the best bowler I ever saw, full stop. No qualifications as to type of bowler or pitch conditions, he was simply the best. When he came on to bowl it was as though a completely different game was being played, one where every ball might do something extraordinary. There are a few cricketers that I would go to a game specifically to see- Ted Dexter, Garry Sobers of course, Dennis Lillee, Barry Richards- but Warne tops that list, too. Sheer genius.

  • on May 4, 2013, 10:48 GMT

    @land147, Warnie was good but not the best bowler of his day. McGrath was better. They were different types of bowlers obviously but in all conditions and in all countries, McGrath has been the best Aussie bowler of my 41 years following the game. It was just that Warnie was larger than life and probably a better all-round cricket due to his batting and great slips fielding. I doubt if there is any bowler whose average was so similar in all countries as McGrath's whereas Warnie struggled in India, Pakistan and in the West Indies in 1999. Give me McGrath in the subcontinent, the West Indies or England ahead of Warnie, Lillee etc any day.

  • on May 4, 2013, 3:15 GMT

    warne and murali. The two majicians that will be remembered for ever in an era of television.

  • KK47 on May 3, 2013, 7:14 GMT

    @Larry Larkin: I agree McGill turned a mile but he does not qualify to be listed with Murali, Warne and Kumble. He was a mediocre bowler. But I do not agree that they turned more than Murali. I have watched Murali up close and he is a beast. His doosra probably turns more than normal leggies! Warne had this beautiful drift which made made normal leg-breaks look much more. But judging purely on the amount of revolutions they imparted on the ball, as Rahul Dravid once had said, nobody can beat Murali. It's unfair to comment on type of pitches they bowled on. I have seen Murali shooting out Eng in Eng and turning square on Indian flat tracks.

  • on May 3, 2013, 4:35 GMT

    KK47, both Warne and McGill turned the ball more than Murali did, and on much less responsive pitches. Stuart McGill may just be the most under rated Test bowler in history when you look at his average and strike rate.

  • on May 3, 2013, 1:29 GMT

    Shane was a a great bowler but my biggest disappoint in him was being beaten so much by Lara in the 1998 series in the Caribbean that he was dropped by Australia in the 4th test. A true legend never gets dropped. They are always a potential matchwinner to their captain. Never happened to Viv, Sachin, Lara, Sobers, Headley, Pollock

  • aus_trad on May 2, 2013, 22:49 GMT

    @Rohen - that must have been a crushing disappointment! One of the great blessings of my cricketing life is that I saw Warne a number of times in tests (all in Sydney). I was even there when he played his first. He took a caning, but I remember that Bill O'Reilly wrote after watching him that Warne was, so to speak, "the goods". How right he was! Simply a magician. I remember the roar that used to go up when he came on to bowl in Sydney. It was like the stories they used to tell about when Bradman came in to bat. The number of times a batsman really dominated Warne you could practically number on the fingers of one hand. England never had a clue; S.Africa weren't much better. Salim Malik got on a top of him a couple of times...but the main exception, of course, is in India, where the pitches just didn't suit his kind of flight and spin, against the best players of spin in the world. Even then his figures really weren't all that shabby: merely not up to his usual, brilliant best.

  • sarangsrk on May 2, 2013, 10:48 GMT

    Warnie is absolute Rockstar, which ever way you look at it. A genius is known by the way he simplifies the toughest art and Warnie did that with aplomb. He made leg spin bowling look like kid's play when its actually tough to even land a ball 6 times in one spot. He almost looked like telling the ball "this is where you are going to pitch and this is how much you will turn and beat the bat" and the bat obediently following him. There were others who could turn the ball much more or maybe had more variations than warnie but none could work out the faults in batsman's technique and ways to get him out more than Mr SK Warne. In last 22 years that I have followed cricket, I have seen only 3 magicians in cricket who would mesmerise you with their art. In order of debut, Wasim Akram, Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne. Can't get enough of watching them.

  • Pinarsh255 on May 2, 2013, 6:26 GMT

    Things that Warne did was impossible to teach anyone, chances are very slim that we will see them again. No bowler can produce those jaw dropping deliveries. When Warne was at work, cricket seemed like an art. The unhurried, calm approach to the bowling filled the heart with anticipation, something out of the box is going to happen. If it is last ball of the day, then the probability is higher .The battle I want to see in my dreams, King Viv against spin king Warne. And watching him changing the pace and direction of the play when he captained RR makes me reiterate what Ian Chappell said. "Warne is the best captain that Australia never had."

  • Donsshaddow on May 2, 2013, 6:04 GMT

    Soccer had George Best, Maradonna, Messi. Golf has Tiger Woods, Rory Mcllroy. Hockey had Dhyan Chand. Athletics has Usain Bolt. Gymnastics had Nadia Comaneci. Boxing had Mohd Ali and Cricket had Shane Warne. Every sport has someone who is just gifted with the ability to be better than the rest. George Best once said that he knew that he, 'could just dribble his way past any defense in the world'. It was a gift. Warne had the gift to drift and ball in and spin it out past any batsman in the world. It was a gift. When in the zone, no one batsman could read Warne. Like all the legends, mentioned above, he was always one step ahead of his opponents

  • landl47 on May 2, 2013, 5:32 GMT

    Warne was the best bowler I ever saw, full stop. No qualifications as to type of bowler or pitch conditions, he was simply the best. When he came on to bowl it was as though a completely different game was being played, one where every ball might do something extraordinary. There are a few cricketers that I would go to a game specifically to see- Ted Dexter, Garry Sobers of course, Dennis Lillee, Barry Richards- but Warne tops that list, too. Sheer genius.

  • on May 4, 2013, 10:48 GMT

    @land147, Warnie was good but not the best bowler of his day. McGrath was better. They were different types of bowlers obviously but in all conditions and in all countries, McGrath has been the best Aussie bowler of my 41 years following the game. It was just that Warnie was larger than life and probably a better all-round cricket due to his batting and great slips fielding. I doubt if there is any bowler whose average was so similar in all countries as McGrath's whereas Warnie struggled in India, Pakistan and in the West Indies in 1999. Give me McGrath in the subcontinent, the West Indies or England ahead of Warnie, Lillee etc any day.

  • on May 4, 2013, 3:15 GMT

    warne and murali. The two majicians that will be remembered for ever in an era of television.

  • KK47 on May 3, 2013, 7:14 GMT

    @Larry Larkin: I agree McGill turned a mile but he does not qualify to be listed with Murali, Warne and Kumble. He was a mediocre bowler. But I do not agree that they turned more than Murali. I have watched Murali up close and he is a beast. His doosra probably turns more than normal leggies! Warne had this beautiful drift which made made normal leg-breaks look much more. But judging purely on the amount of revolutions they imparted on the ball, as Rahul Dravid once had said, nobody can beat Murali. It's unfair to comment on type of pitches they bowled on. I have seen Murali shooting out Eng in Eng and turning square on Indian flat tracks.

  • on May 3, 2013, 4:35 GMT

    KK47, both Warne and McGill turned the ball more than Murali did, and on much less responsive pitches. Stuart McGill may just be the most under rated Test bowler in history when you look at his average and strike rate.

  • on May 3, 2013, 1:29 GMT

    Shane was a a great bowler but my biggest disappoint in him was being beaten so much by Lara in the 1998 series in the Caribbean that he was dropped by Australia in the 4th test. A true legend never gets dropped. They are always a potential matchwinner to their captain. Never happened to Viv, Sachin, Lara, Sobers, Headley, Pollock

  • warneneverchuck on May 2, 2013, 20:35 GMT

    Warne is the by far best spinner the game has ever seen

  • Blewey on May 2, 2013, 12:27 GMT

    Having chanced across this book in my school library, and no more than 4 games of cricket to my name, I couldn't agree more that On Warne is a great read. Warney was around before I was born, and he doesn't bowl the ball of the century in the BBL anymore, but he was mesmerizing to watch him in test matches, even on the TV, and reading about him in On Warne.

  • on May 2, 2013, 11:36 GMT

    Warne competed and he showed he cared. His appreciation of 'the moment' and the history that he was creating were second only to the history of the game that cherished him. He was a media darling but you'd never see that in his performances; cricket was always the winner where he was concerned. When I bumped into him at Heathrow a couple of years ago and, quietly, approached him, it was obvious that my "Hi Shane. Thanks for the entertainment." and a quick shake of the handbefore leaving him be meant a good amount to him. Sir Viv and Sir Ian are the only two he could hold a candle to in my book. Come on Your Majesty - do the decent thing.

  • Hassan_U on May 2, 2013, 10:32 GMT

    Bowling Shane !!!!

    A true legend.....Not many know he visited Abdul Qadir in Lahore to learn the Googly/wrong'un.

  • on May 2, 2013, 9:41 GMT

    Warne was fabulous. What made him great was that the sheer weight of personality would fool people into believing he had a lot more variations than he did. His flipper was erratic even in the good days (mighty when it worked though) and there's not exactly a parade of people out there who say 'I feel to the Warne leg break'. A recent Cricinfo article talked of Narine and how he actually doesn't have that many variations. The greatest variation a bowler has is his plan of attack. Stuart MacGill bowled balls that turned more and arguably had more variations but Warne had the greatest gift, one that allied his physical abilities with a brilliant tactical mind and the gift to put those plans into action. A truly great player.

  • Beertjie on May 2, 2013, 8:54 GMT

    Ah Sydney 1994 and Warne's 12 wickets in that defeat by 5 runs. Almost as bad as Headingley 1981! What a showman!

  • KK47 on May 2, 2013, 8:34 GMT

    90's was the golden-era for spinners. We always talk about Warne and Murali but somehow miss out another stalwart Kumble. A great bowler and who might have given Warne a run for his money if India had played tests as often as Aus did in 90's. The greatest asset Warne had was his drift. Murali spun more than Warne but never had that drift which made batsmen look stupid and completely out of depth. In inaugural edition of the IPL, he just showed his ability as a leader. I still maintain that it would have been difficult for him to control the Aus team in 90's though. Warne can and should think about coaching emerging teams like BAN and Ireland.

  • on May 2, 2013, 5:42 GMT

    1 thing on my bucket list, I know i will never be able to accomplish is watching Shane Warne bowl in a test match (preferably in the Ashes). The closest I ever came was in a Test match in New Zealand, years back now. But you just know it's not meant to happen when you drive down more than 100 kilometres the night before a NZ vs. AUS test match & then in the morning you go to the ground to find out that Shane Warne is not in the playing 11. As a kid i used to love watching Warne bowl. It was just his small approach to bowl to his brilliance once the ball pitched to everything about him. Not something I think Shane would want to remember, I'm sure, but I cannot forget actually is 1998 i think in Sharjah the ODI series where Sachin was at his best & the contest between him and Warne was priceless. In my opinion, Shane Warne is by far the best leg spinner of his era if not the best ever. I know most people would dispute this but i would have loved to see him lead the Aussies at least once

  • on May 2, 2013, 5:42 GMT

    1 thing on my bucket list, I know i will never be able to accomplish is watching Shane Warne bowl in a test match (preferably in the Ashes). The closest I ever came was in a Test match in New Zealand, years back now. But you just know it's not meant to happen when you drive down more than 100 kilometres the night before a NZ vs. AUS test match & then in the morning you go to the ground to find out that Shane Warne is not in the playing 11. As a kid i used to love watching Warne bowl. It was just his small approach to bowl to his brilliance once the ball pitched to everything about him. Not something I think Shane would want to remember, I'm sure, but I cannot forget actually is 1998 i think in Sharjah the ODI series where Sachin was at his best & the contest between him and Warne was priceless. In my opinion, Shane Warne is by far the best leg spinner of his era if not the best ever. I know most people would dispute this but i would have loved to see him lead the Aussies at least once

  • KK47 on May 2, 2013, 8:34 GMT

    90's was the golden-era for spinners. We always talk about Warne and Murali but somehow miss out another stalwart Kumble. A great bowler and who might have given Warne a run for his money if India had played tests as often as Aus did in 90's. The greatest asset Warne had was his drift. Murali spun more than Warne but never had that drift which made batsmen look stupid and completely out of depth. In inaugural edition of the IPL, he just showed his ability as a leader. I still maintain that it would have been difficult for him to control the Aus team in 90's though. Warne can and should think about coaching emerging teams like BAN and Ireland.

  • Beertjie on May 2, 2013, 8:54 GMT

    Ah Sydney 1994 and Warne's 12 wickets in that defeat by 5 runs. Almost as bad as Headingley 1981! What a showman!

  • on May 2, 2013, 9:41 GMT

    Warne was fabulous. What made him great was that the sheer weight of personality would fool people into believing he had a lot more variations than he did. His flipper was erratic even in the good days (mighty when it worked though) and there's not exactly a parade of people out there who say 'I feel to the Warne leg break'. A recent Cricinfo article talked of Narine and how he actually doesn't have that many variations. The greatest variation a bowler has is his plan of attack. Stuart MacGill bowled balls that turned more and arguably had more variations but Warne had the greatest gift, one that allied his physical abilities with a brilliant tactical mind and the gift to put those plans into action. A truly great player.

  • Hassan_U on May 2, 2013, 10:32 GMT

    Bowling Shane !!!!

    A true legend.....Not many know he visited Abdul Qadir in Lahore to learn the Googly/wrong'un.

  • on May 2, 2013, 11:36 GMT

    Warne competed and he showed he cared. His appreciation of 'the moment' and the history that he was creating were second only to the history of the game that cherished him. He was a media darling but you'd never see that in his performances; cricket was always the winner where he was concerned. When I bumped into him at Heathrow a couple of years ago and, quietly, approached him, it was obvious that my "Hi Shane. Thanks for the entertainment." and a quick shake of the handbefore leaving him be meant a good amount to him. Sir Viv and Sir Ian are the only two he could hold a candle to in my book. Come on Your Majesty - do the decent thing.

  • Blewey on May 2, 2013, 12:27 GMT

    Having chanced across this book in my school library, and no more than 4 games of cricket to my name, I couldn't agree more that On Warne is a great read. Warney was around before I was born, and he doesn't bowl the ball of the century in the BBL anymore, but he was mesmerizing to watch him in test matches, even on the TV, and reading about him in On Warne.

  • warneneverchuck on May 2, 2013, 20:35 GMT

    Warne is the by far best spinner the game has ever seen

  • on May 3, 2013, 1:29 GMT

    Shane was a a great bowler but my biggest disappoint in him was being beaten so much by Lara in the 1998 series in the Caribbean that he was dropped by Australia in the 4th test. A true legend never gets dropped. They are always a potential matchwinner to their captain. Never happened to Viv, Sachin, Lara, Sobers, Headley, Pollock

  • on May 3, 2013, 4:35 GMT

    KK47, both Warne and McGill turned the ball more than Murali did, and on much less responsive pitches. Stuart McGill may just be the most under rated Test bowler in history when you look at his average and strike rate.