The Indian Premier League feels increasingly like the Shane Warne Show. Tonight, after his Rajasthan Royals side made it four wins in a row in front of a partisan crowd at the Sawai Mansingh stadium in Jaipur, Warne launched into a stinging attack on Sourav Ganguly, the captain of the Kolkata Knight Riders, for what he perceived to be a blatant disregard for the spirit of the game. He seemed to have a point, but right now Warne could probably tell you the earth was flat and you'd believe him.
Warne was already irritated by the time Ganguly refused to walk for a catch claimed at deep midwicket by Graeme Smith. Ganguly famously made Steve Waugh wait at the toss, and now Warne believed the former India captain was running on Sourav-time yet again. "Our batters were waiting five minutes for the home side to go out," said Warne. "And when we came out in the field, we were waiting for Sourav. He was just going on his own time."
Then came the catch, or non-catch, depending on your interpretation of the TV pictures. Smith was convinced he had taken Ganguly's swing cleanly, and so, plainly, was Warne. But Ganguly asked for a replay - which he is not supposed to do - and Asad Rauf up in the TV box could not be 100% certain the ball had not bounced. Ganguly fell in the next over anyway, but Warne was furious.
"I was disappointed because in Bangalore we signed that wall about the spirit of cricket," he said. "If an international captain like Graeme Smith caught it and said it was a clean catch and Rudi Koertzen said he caught it, easy... And anyway, the players aren't allowed to ask for the umpire. But Sourav asked the Indian umpire to go to the TV replay. That's not in the spirit of the game so I was very, very disappointed with Sourav."
Warne's young charges are learning more than they can have dreamed from him as this tournament progresses, so it will be interesting to see if they adopt his aversion to Ganguly by the time these sides next meet, on May 20 at Eden Gardens.
As Warne pointed out, to score 196 for 7 when the in-form overseas pair of Graeme Smith and Shane Watson have contributed two runs between them suggests an unusually close-knit side. Rajasthan sprang a surprise - at least that's how Warne presented it - by picking the unknown 24-year-old opener Swapnil Asnodkar, who promptly added to the Midas Touch theory by whacking a 34-ball 60 which belied his tiny frame.
There were runs too for Yusuf Pathan, whose stature grows by the game, and two wickets in an over for Siddharth Trivedi, who was singled out for special praise by Warne. Actually, he singled out pretty well everyone for special praise, including Ravindra Jadeja (33 off 19 balls and a "future superstar") but then that's what he does so well.
"We try to get the best out of every individual in our squad," he explained. "I'm trying to teach 20 years of knowledge, about summing up the situation, finding a way to score, how to construct an over, be positive, stand up tall, and back yourself. And so far it's working. It's the benefit of my experience and to their credit they're learning very, very fast. We show spirit every game. Everyone's in it together. Never underestimate the spirit of a team."
There was a symbolic moment right at the end of the game. Kolkata's No.11 Ashok Dinda lifted Watson in the gap between mid-off and extra cover, and both Warne and the substitute fielder Taruwar Kohli, converged on the ball as it hung temptingly in the air. In the event, Kohli hung on, but Warne fell to the ground with him, as if helping him complete the catch right down to the last detail.
"Sometimes international players think they know it all," said Warne, implicitly advocating the exuberance of youth. You sense his players will do anything for him. And if they win against Chennai Super Kings on Sunday, they will present him with a league table which, against all the odds, will show Rajasthan Royals on top of the IPL.
Kolkata Knight Riders
Royals vs KKR
Indian Premier League