Tishani Doshi is a writer and dancer based in Chennai
Can we talk about Shane Warne? I know last night belonged to the Punjab XI, Preity Zinta and the beaming Ness Wadia, and I'm happy for them, but I watched some of the replays of the previous day's match and seeing Warne out on the field with his bleached blond hair, cajoling and coaxing his team, made me a bit of a schoolgirl again. Why isn't he on the list of IPL dishy dudes? Oh yes, I forgot, he's a complete and utter cad.
For the few years when I was helping Muttiah Muralitharan with his biography (2002-2004), I heard a lot about Warne. At the time, Murali and Warne were still neck and neck in the records business, and every broadcaster and journalist wanted to pit them against each other. It was a lopsided pairing, I thought. Murali was always very gracious about the rivalry, saying that Warne was a great bowler but that he was going to try and break his record. Warne never said anything that even remotely returned the favour. It was as if nobody could dispute the greatness of Warne, and so he was free to strut around like a rooster (and meanwhile his personal life was falling apart). Murali, on the other hand, always struggled to prove his greatness. Even though everyone unanimously agreed he was a "fantastic chap", when it came to his bowling, it was always shadowed with controversy. I can't tell you the number of times people came up to me when they found out I had something to do with his book and started getting into lengthy arguments about his bendy elbow.
At the time, I'll admit, there was no soft corner in my heart for Warne. In fact, I saw the entire Australian team as a big, brash bunch of bullies and there was nothing attractive about that, even if you were winning everything. Then, add in Warne's various extracurricular activities with the ladies, his stupidity with text messages and the debacle of the diet pill. Great or not, I wasn't about to give him his due. He just seemed like a bad boy with a good arm, and in my mind Murali stood far above him - in terms of moral character, sportsmanship, and talent. More so because Murali never revelled in his rival's fall from grace. He just kept going like the Energizer Bunny, and now he's the highest wicket-taker in the world, with a few good bowling years still left to come.
And so why the change of heart? When did that come about? I guess when I saw Warne on the field clapping his hands, pumping up his Royals right to the very end. When he sent Kamran Khan in to bowl in the Super Over; his great faith in another's ability. Somehow, seeing Warne out of the Australian context, seeing him just as a sportsman doing his thing, shining, all the old prejudices fell away. There was a little pitter-patter in my heart. An "Aw, he's not so bad after all."
To me, Murali will always be a great sportsman, humanitarian, and human being. His greatness comes in spite of all the cards stacked against him. Warne is different. You could argue that he's stacked his cards against himself. But there's something wonderfully thick-skinned about the way he has carried on. Most people would have hung up their boots and disappeared if their personal life lay in shambles around them. Not Warne. Nothing about his desire to win has been tempered. It's unapologetic, in fact. And there's something great about that.