'If I dwelt on the past, I'd be in a padded cell somewhere'

In his last season of competitive cricket, Shane Warne looks back at his years with the Rajasthan Royals and at the art of captaincy, but he isn't wasting any time thinking of what might have been

"You look for attitude in a player straightaway"  •  AFP

"You look for attitude in a player straightaway"  •  AFP

Harsha Bhogle: I know you had a stunning career with the Australian cricket team, but what you have achieved with the Royals must satisfy you enormously?
SW: I was very lucky to play, I suppose, in a pretty special time in Australian cricket. I got into the squad in first-class cricket in the late 80s and then started playing [internationals] in the early 90s. So I saw the turnaround of Australian cricket when they won the '87 World Cup and '89 Ashes, and I sort of got involved. Then I was the first young player with Bruce Reid and Geoff Marsh and David Boon and Allan Border, etc. They made me feel welcome even if not many other teams did. I was smashed all over the park against India, against Ravi Shastri - which he keeps reminding me of all the time. Thanks, Rav!
Then we sort of got a squad together where a few guys retired, but we got some good people. [Glenn] McGrath came a couple of years later and a few more. That period, from about 94-95 to 2005-06, around that ten-year period we played everybody home and away, which was a pretty amazing achievement. I was pretty lucky to play in a good era of Australian cricket.
But then, you know, to achieve what we did in the first year with the Royals, I think all of Rajasthan would be pretty proud of. I think the squad we had and the players we had, compared to everybody else, and then to go off and win it was...
As captain and coach, I had the faith of the owners, so I could create an environment, and I suppose it was justified because we won it. We've got the same spirit in the group this year, but now we have got a tough finish to go.
HB: The one thing that strikes us about the Royals is that as a team, man for man, they should not have made a single semi-final. And yet they have consistently punched above their weight. People who didn't have great records in the Ranji Trophy play for the Royals and they play bigger than we have seen them. What is the secret?
SW: I think you've got to be better planned than everybody else. You have to have better tactics and you have to actually make these guys believe it's the right tactic.
HB: But then that's easily said. How do you get them to do it? I'm imagining I am Ashok Menaria, I'm 19 years old, I'm bowling to Sachin Tendulkar. My captain, who has been a legend of the game, tells me, "Listen, you can do it." How do you get him to believe?
SW: You ask him the question: in that situation, how would you get him out? And he will say, "He'll hit one up in the air." I will say, "No, let's work on how we can get him out." So we try to work it out and think of where he is going to try and hit. We've got to get the players to buy in and believe it. Otherwise we have got no chance.
So once you sort of convince them that those are the right tactics, we talk about it. "Right, if we do this he will hit me over mid-off. He might hit it for six but he might miss it." So it's little things like that.
HB: A lot of these boys don't know English too well - definitely not Australianisms.
SW: There have been a few times when… I remember a couple of times with Kamran Khan, we had to put Munaf Patel next to him at mid-on [to translate]. I would say to Kamran, "What are you bowling? Bouncer?" He'd say, "Yes, sir." I would say, "You were going to bowl a slower ball outside off stump, so I could set the field... what happened?" So occasionally that would happen. It's a bit of a breakdown in communication. We would have a bit of a laugh. I think the key is creating an environment where everyone feels the same and everyone feels equal.
"The environment we created [at Rajasthan] was about having fun. No fitness coaches, no big team meetings, it was all about enjoyment and fun and sitting around and talking about cricket "
I think early on in the first year, having those things like that, certainly they gained respect from the way you communicated with them and made them feel important. But at the end of the day it was my call on a few things, and a couple of tough decisions made in the first year, that I think gained the respect of the group pretty quickly, and that was really important.
HB: And those tough decisions, were you taking them yourself?
SW: There was one particular decision that really set the tone for the rest of the series.
It is really tough to make a squad, the final squad, and there is always disappointment from players on missing the squad. And we were getting a little bit of pressure from certain people about playing certain players, and I said to the owners, who I had only known for 10 days, "Look, that's fine if you want X player in the squad, but book a flight on the QF9, I'm going home." They said, "What do you mean?" I said, "Well, I have worked hard to get this squad together and these guys are all here on merit." I said, "You can make your call, either me or this guy in the squad, or these two guys in the squad - you put them in and I'm out. Simple." They said, "Are you serious?" I said, "Well, I am, yeah."
[Knowing that] we were all there on merit, that made them feel good straightaway, the way they were treated at training, the environment we created was about having fun. No fitness coaches, no big team meetings, it was all about enjoyment and fun and sitting around and talking about cricket. And I think when you are sitting and talking about cricket, you just pass on things that you know…
HB: Is there too little of that?
SW: Sometimes you have job justification, whether it be from sports side… I am not saying there is no role. I say there is, at the right time. We don't need a support stuff of 25 people to do fitness.
The players are getting good money to play IPL and international cricket. The guys are going to look after themselves, and if you keep making people do stuff, they sort of rebel against it. They don't like being told, "Train at this time, go to the gym, we've got a fitness test," all that. No one likes being told to do that.
HB: That's interesting. Your style will probably work very well with a driven cricketer - someone who has a fantastic personal work ethic. But not every player is like that. There would have been players whom you have got to tell, "Listen, you better do this" or they never will.
SW: No, because at the end of the day cricket is a perform-and-play game, and if you don't perform you won't play. So if these guys don't want to go to the gym, they won't get stronger. If they don't do fitness, they are going to get tired after a couple of overs, and they can't run in the field and run between the wickets. Their performance will suffer and they won't play. So it's up to these guys if they want to do it or not. And then you are able to find out who the hungry cricketers are, and you find out who is really passionate.
HB: One of the boys who played under you said it was the first time ever that he was told he was a match-winner. He said "I never knew I was considered a match-winner, and Warnie told me, if I pick you in my XI, it is because I believe you can win a game." And he said when he walked onto the field, he was walking about two inches higher.
SW: I think you're talking about Yusuf [Pathan], aren't you?
HB: It's Abhishek [Jhunjhunwala].
SW: Ah! Okay.
HB: But Yusuf is a good example, because he really became the player he was with you and the Royals.
SW: He was. Then there are a few guys who can turn games. You need match-winners in your side. You need guys to bowl here and there and bat all the time - bits and pieces. Guys who can turn the course of a game.
HB: What do you look for in a player? How do you identify a match-winner?
SW: I think everyone can be a match-winner. If you are going to bowl a bouncer, think: this is the best bouncer I have ever bowled. Or this is the best slower ball I have ever bowled, this is going to be the best yorker… Match-winners have got that attitude about it. They just don't bowl and get hit for six. "It's Twenty20, so I got hit for six."
You look for attitude in a player straightaway. You look for different things, the little things - whether they help out other players, whether they throw balls to other players, whether they just do their own thing and don't worry about anybody else.
You look for their technique. You look for awareness of different scoring opportunities. You look at match-awareness, ability to sum up situations. If they sum the situation of the game - like, you've got to get a single here, and you can manipulate and hit one down and get mid-off back up so that there is an easy single.
If you look at players who can do those sorts of things then you know they think about the game. And once you know they think about the game, you know they've got half a chance.
HB: I know you don't rate John Buchanan very much, but he said something interesting to me once. He said leadership is about not just knowing the cricketer who takes the field but understanding the whole person. And without quite saying it, that's also what you do.
SW: Common sense. (laughs)
HB: Probably common sense is one way of saying it. But is that what you strive to do as a leader? Understand people?
SW: Look, it is a real difficult one sometimes, as captain, because you want to be their friend. I think it is important to be their friend and let them know. Because once you get their friendship and trust then you can talk direct and be honest with them. If you haven't really built up that trust, you can become a dictator. And there is a big difference between being a dictator and friend. It is a lot easier to accept criticism from you friend or a decision you may not like from a friend.
But you still need to keep that distance as a captain and let them know that you are in charge.
HB: Is it always you as captain or is it a democracy?
SW: We are very lucky that we have had guys like Graeme Smith, Rahul Dravid this year. I love playing with Rahul. I really have admired him as a player for a long time. And I've really enjoyed playing with him this year. He is just such a class act.
So I watch him prepare, I watch him talk to the younger players. He has been great to bounce a few ideas off as well. But somehow in Twenty20, the way the field is, it is lot harder to talk to players and say, "Hey, mate, what do you think?" So you sort of look around and sometimes you might have to run halfway during the over and in sort of sign language say, "Harsha, mate, which one in the next over? What do you think?"
HB: Is your captaincy an extension of your bowling?
SW: Probably. It is a good question. Probably is. It shows, I suppose, how I think when I am bowling. And I'm not going to get it right all the time. I'm going to make mistakes. But I think it can only be judged over a period of time, and over a period of time I would like to think that it has come off more times than it hasn't.
HB: I look at the Royals, Warnie. And I think you could have spent three years thinking about what you didn't have. Instead, I get the impression you have looked at what you have, and that's a big lesson for everybody else: that you always look at what you have rather than what you don't.
SW: That's spot on. Because you can't change what you have got. It is like the past. You can't change what happened in the past. If I thought about what happened in my past, I could be in a straightjacket and padded cell somewhere. But I can't change it, so I don't spend any time worrying about it. It's what I'm doing now and in the future.
So for our guys it's about just thinking on their feet. Not "We haven't got this, we haven't got that." This is our group, let's come together as quickly as we possibly can, let's enjoy each other's company, create an environment where we all have some fun and enjoyment. We are going to enjoy when other people get their success, and I know I am going to get my turn eventually.
"I think the captaincy seems to bring out the best in me. If I didn't get the opportunities then so be it"
HB: Is there regret that Warne the leader of Rajasthan Royals could never be Warne the leader of Australia?
SW: No, not at all. I was very lucky to play under a couple of good captains. Allan Border was fantastic when I first started and Mark Taylor was probably the best captain I have played under. His communication and I thought his tactics...
HB: What do you look for in a firm leader? What do you look for in a leader when you are the player?
SW: Very similar. I think you look for someone who is going to back you. Someone who says, "You're the man, we need you. You perform and we will win." Someone who always backs you, no matter what. I think their communication, their honesty [are important].
HB: There was the feeling that maybe Warne the person, in the eyes of some, came in the way of Warne the captain. The suits in the boardroom said, "Would it be almost embarrassing if we had Warne the person as Warne the captain?" Do you think that was true? Does it rankle somewhere when you think you would maybe have made a great captain of Australia?
SW: I think the captaincy seems to bring out the best in me. If I didn't get the opportunities then so be it. I think the suits and ties, they were probably fair because I have been through a few things. I made poor calls and some poor choices. So they were probably right in the way they were thinking, saying "It's too much of a risk". Anything could have happened in that stage of my life. I understand that. I don't regret it one bit.
I think, looking back, it would have been nice to have had the opportunity, but you can't do anything about it. So I don't spend any time, I don't sit and wonder.
HB: It's a great way to live because a lot of people can say that but very few can actually believe it.
SW: I live it. I don't just say that. That's exactly how it has been.
HB: You have seen as much Indian talent now as anybody can see. Are there names that you can look at and say, "Wow, you are a good player"?
SW: I saw [Virat] Kohli in the first year and thought, "There is something about the kid." He could play the short ball well. There are not too many young cricketers in the world who have played just a couple of games and can play with so much comfort. You have to get into stride first.
I think the one thing that the IPL has done for these players is let them mix with international players, have exposure with the big crowd.
To me Sharma is one. Rohit Sharma has got all the talent in the world - if he could just get his mind right and get his attitude right. If his one thought was "I want to become the best cricketer I possibly can", every morning he needs to wake up and try and talk to Sachin [Tendulkar] and ask him "Sir, if I could have lunch or dinner [with you]..." I would be hanging out his pocket. "How do you think about batting? How do you approach it in these conditions?" Every minute of the day, until Sachin says, "Mate, can I have five minutes' break?" Be a pest to him.
And ask Malinga: "How are you trying to get the batsmen out?" He should do that every morning he gets up. Think, "How am I going to become the best I can possibly be?"
He could be a match-winner, a world beater, and one of the best Indian cricketers ever. He has got that much talent.
This interview aired on CNN-IBN in India. Repeat telecasts at 11.30am and 3.30pm IST on May 14 and 3.30pm on May 15

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