Hampshire are playing Surrey at the Rose Bowl. The sun is shining, the sky is cloudless, the crowd is buzzing. Mark Ramprakash is seeking his hundredth hundred. Today could be historic. Surrey lose a wicket in the first over and Ramps is at the crease. Hampshire could gift him his hundred - their attack is depleted and young - but they are a tougher outfit, a tougher club than a decade ago. For half a century Surrey were the county that everybody loved to hate, but according to Steve James in the Sunday Telegraph last year, that baton has passed to Hampshire.
Rod Bransgrove, the chairman, sits with his back to the cricket being played on what his wife Mandy calls his "allotment" and explains the change in philosophy: "The old Hampshire used to be known as 'Happy Hampshire'. I had a long lunch with Alec Stewart once. He said that you are not going to achieve anything with Hampshire till you can get rid of this tag. We all love coming down here, we all love the Hampshire boys - but none of us are frightened to come. That stuck in my mind. 'None of us are frightened to come here'." Bransgrove didn't want them to be nasty, just more competitive, so when he got the chance he signed some big names: John Crawley from Lancashire, Kevin Pietersen from Nottinghamshire, and Shane Warne. Warne is gone now, yet he is still around, his spirit present at every turn.
Feeling his wayRamprakash suffers a torturous time at the crease before nicking James Tomlinson to the keeper for 17. Norman Cowans, the former Middlesex and Hampshire fast bowler, happens to be walking round the Rose Bowl, enjoying the sun and the cricket. He's talking about the changed face of Hampshire. When he played for Middlesex in the 1980s, Hampshire had great players like Gordon Greenidge, Malcolm Marshall and Robin Smith but they never delivered a Championship. "Gatt said that if we had that team, we would always win the Championship."
Everyone connected with Hampshire agrees Warne was inspirational. He never gave up. He wanted to win each decisive moment. He changed the field every ball. He never stopped thinking, and it was always interesting. Off the field he played the odd trick as well. The story goes that he would ask the groundstaff to make sure the jacuzzi in the away dressing room wasn't working, make the opposition park their cars as far away from the pavilion as possible. When he first arrived in 2000 - as a player not captain - he was not like this.
Giles White was an opening batsman who shared a house with Warne one winter in Melbourne. He is now Hampshire's 2nd XI coach. He says: "He was feeling his way in the first summer, seeing how the county system worked. When he came back as captain, he wanted to put his mark on it and do it his way. He was great to play with but we didn't get enough runs. It might have been the pressure of having Warne in the side. He found that frustrating because he had always played for great sides and now he's playing for Hampshire. A couple of times he got frustrated but he was reserved and he didn't want to do the wrong thing. He changed when he was captain - he definitely preferred being captain."
Time to chillBy now Hampshire have pegged Surrey back with two early wickets. New captain Dimitri Mascarenhas bowls to Usman Afzaal. He is bowling wide of off stump, ball after ball. This is a game of patience that is unfamiliar to the Hampshire players and supporters. This was not Warne's style.
Michael Brown is opening the batting for Hampshire this year and played four seasons under Warne's captaincy. He describes the difference: "Our style of play has to change now, we have to be more patient. We have to bore batsmen out. Warne got frustrated when the game drifted - it was win or lose. He hated bonus points and would never play for them. He would take on targets."
|Like Gower before him, Warne's unique training regimes and his star quality started to create cracks. And that is where the exuberance, the excessive pressure and mind games that he brought to Hampshire, began to make players feel uncomfortable. Despite themselves, and almost unwittingly, they started to resent Warne|
The talk around the Rose Bowl is about his positive, imaginative captaincy. Placing fielders in strange positions for only one ball, talking to the umpire and the batsmen, keeping it interesting. Brown continues: "I remember against Warwickshire last year, they set us 331 after we had forfeited our first innings and missed out on potentially five batting points. I thought it was too much to chase at the Rose Bowl. We won with two overs to spare. Carberry made 192. After the game you thought: 'He believed we could win.' That kind of backing from a guy like him means a lot."
Not every member of the team was comfortable with the constant exuberance, noise and field changes. Brown admits: "Someone with such a personality, intensity and confidence can lead to extra pressure being placed on other players. That is good pressure in a lot of ways. He brings the best out of you - if you can't take it, get out. So many times it brought good things. Occasionally it would be too much.
"Because of his desire for wickets and to baffle opposition batsmen, there could be too many changes in the field and bowlers weren't thinking the same way. It is a fine line. A lot of this confidence and intensity did bring the best out of a lot of players but there were times when we wanted to say, 'Warney, chill out.' Sometimes umpires would get riled or opposition players would rise to the challenge."
But his tactics worked most of the time and players could voice opinion: he might not listen but he was basically approachable. Brown adds: "These little faults of his leadership shouldn't overshadow the greater good. You knew the brand of cricket he was going to play and everyone bought into it. It was the most intense and enjoyable brand."
Warne's competitive instincts on the field were balanced by a spirit of generosity off it. White says: "One of his big sayings is, 'Manners are for free.' He was big on manners, treating people well. He spoke about treating the catering and bar staff with respect." He never turned down autographs, sometimes spending hours after games signing for enormous queues of young (and not so young) Hampshire fans. He'd talk cricket and give help to any player who asked, whoever they played for.
The partingSurrey are now 250 for 7. It has been a good day for Hampshire, keeping Surrey's powerful batting line-up quiet with their weakened attack. They have dropped a few catches and are struggling to knock over the tail. There are a few grumbles in the press box: "This would never have happened in Warne's day." Even some of the locals admit they have been spoilt these last four seasons.
But, for all his success, exuberance and entertainment, few people at Hampshire were surprised Warne left, and only Bransgrove thought it was too soon. He says: "I am sad that it's finished; no one could not be sad. There is a part of me that wants to configure a deal that would have got him to play one more game, just so I could see him bowl one more time." At the end of last season it was clear Warne had taken the club as far as he could. Frustrations were beginning to show.
Warne was the star, he could do what he wanted. He did not practise hard. "I faced him three times in five years," says Brown. "The first time I was out off two of the three balls he bowled."
Warne did not have much time for coaches, occasionally taking credit himself for improvements in certain players. Hampshire had been here before with David Gower. Past players remember accommodating his various whims. This works fine until the team starts to struggle. Although no one at the Rose Bowl admits it directly, this appears to have happened. Warne was not the bowler he once was, even if he was still the personality.
Brown describes a moment last season: "I remember seeing him sat on the physio's bench after the Kent game and we'd just got beaten. It was probably the moment we realised the Championship had gone. He looked like a man who was thinking this was his last shot. After all the energy that he'd put into it every year, trying to drag us to the top, deep down this was his last season."
Like Gower before him, Warne's unique training regimes and his star quality started to create cracks. And that is where the exuberance, the excessive pressure and mind games that he brought to Hampshire, began to make players feel uncomfortable. Despite themselves, and almost unwittingly, they started to resent Warne. The players who stood up to him, the ones that were not in awe of him, were the ones who had problems with him.
Bransgrove dismisses any concerns about players struggling under Warne's leadership. He says: "They were the people who weren't doing so well. Some of the lesser performers of the last two years might have found him harsh, but he was very honest in his assessments. The experienced players have all gained. The less experienced players might have been damaged, but if they had anything about them, they'd think about it and become better players."
But is this management style not a weakness? Bransgrove is having none of it: "I could not identify a weakness in Shane Warne as a cricketer. I have read all the stuff about what he was supposed to be like on the field, and he certainly pushed authority to the limit at times, but that was competitive instinct."
Brown paints a different picture. He used to live with James Bruce, a promising bowler and product of the Hampshire youth system who was making real progress in first-class cricket before he retired suddenly in February to work in the City. Bruce's decision had little to do with Warne; he wanted a lifestyle change. But he had a taut relationship with his captain. Brown explains: "They weren't the best of friends, but they weren't enemies either. Brucey at times got upset at certain things that he shouldn't have been getting upset at. And there were times when Warney could have handled Brucey better."
It was a clash of styles as well as personalities. "Warney, the larrikin Australian with his in-your-face style, to Brucey's more reserved public-school style. I don't think his relationship had anything to do with Brucey quitting, but if Warney had given him more belief, like he did with other players, it might have made a difference." Chris Tremlett also admitted to the local paper that he bowls better without Warne forcing him to be aggressive. He said: "I'm a lot more relaxed now and am not trying to think about things too much."
In texting touchSurrey are bowled out for 278 and the day closes with Jimmy Ormond nipping out Hampshire opener Michael Carberry off the last ball. Despite the grumblings from journalists, the Hampshire faithful can have no complaints. Warne will probably know the score already. He still keeps in touch with most of the players by text message. He sent them all a good-luck message before the start of the season. He is on the phone to Bransgrove offering advice. He speaks to the coaches about selection, always challenging conventional wisdom. White says: "He has a very active mind. At times he'll come back to the basics but he'll always challenge any ideas. Shane was very involved when he was captain. Hampshire became his club. His heart is here and he still has a passion for Hampshire."
Any team he plays for he takes to heart, Bransgrove believes, and that includes his new club in the Indian Premier League: "I am sure Rajasthan Royals will benefit from that passion as well. Now he has another member of his club family and he'll take a great interest in them moving forward."