Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Blonde Bombshell Retires

Friday night's Rajasthan Royals fixture finally brought down the curtain on the cricket career of Mr S.K. Warne. In true Warne style the final week saw off field controversy leading to a fine and on the pitch he took a wicket in his final over. He went out as he came in, at the centre of everything.

To those of a British background, Shane Warne came to instant fame with the ball of the century at Old Trafford in 1993. He had featured in eleven tests already for Australia but with his first ball in his first test against England he shot to international super stardom with a ripping leg spinner that beat a bemused Mike Gatting all ends up, Gatting's face and shrug of disbelief as he walked back to the pavilion will live forever in the memory . It is a sporting moment that seems to get better every time you watch it, being armed with the knowledge of what is coming next seemingly making it all the more incredible.

For all the moments of individual brilliance in Warne's career it is his craft over so many years and his cricketing brain that mark this most amazing of talents. His ability to produce magic on non spinning pitches, to out think batsmen and grind out wickets whilst not giving away runs was without compare in the world of spin. His and the bowling of the relentless Glenn McGrath were the single biggest reason for Australia's period of utter dominance for all the talent of their batting department. Even after shoulder surgery deprived him of the effectiveness of his flipper and wrong 'un, Warne's art in the variance of drift, pace, flight and spin made him entirely peerless.

Warne was a player that could transcend team loyalties, he was appreciated in England or India as much as he was revered in Australia. For all the Barmy Army's chants about what ten men did with him, they loved to watch Warne even if they were mainly on the receiving end of his brilliance. The way he played the game made him a target for opposition fans but it was done with good humour on the whole, he never riled people in the same way that Ponting, McGrath or Hayden did. He played the game hard and to the limit but he did it with panache and his penchant for brilliance that no other could produce bought him many credits in any event. Even some of his personal targeting (at times very unfairly) in the media of players such as Ian Bell seemed to be done in a way that didn't irk in the same way that Glenn McGrath managed to.

Warne's influence within cricket was not just limited to his leg spinners, he was no mean bat and was a superb slip fielder but it is his appreciation of the tactical side of cricket and of player development that sets him apart again as a true great. Warne's contribution to Hampshire during his time there for instance was huge, not just in terms of wickets but in his work with the younger players and his changing of the entire mentality at the club.

Watching Warne in test cricket for the final time at Melbourne in 2007, I likened the privilege of watching him play to that of watching a Diego Maradona or an Ayrton Senna in the flesh. Warne was far from perfect off the pitch with a catalogue of misdemeanours and misjudgements chequering his career, the worst of which being his missing a World Cup for a failed drug test, whatever the involvement of his mother actually was.

Like Maradona however, it was this imperfection that went hand in hand with the genius. He could do things that no other could dream of yet at the same time he proved himself as fallible as anybody else. Warne was many things but boring he was not. Even in his last days in the IPL, many would have paid to watch Warne rather than many of the current test players.

It is also this imperfection that possibly robbed Australia of a great test captain. Warne's tactical nous in the field is without doubt, he provides excellent, innovative and thoughtful commentary on the game, constantly thinking how to out fox batsmen. As was discussed on this blog prior, Ricky Ponting was one of the great batsmen of his generation but there has to be a suspicion that had Warne been in charge in 2005 rather than Ponting then with or without McGrath standing on a ball, the Ashes would not have come home.

There will be many that will argue that Murali was the better bowler, that his statistics - many against lesser test teams however - bare this out and it is possible that the art of leg spin is over romanticised versus it's finger counterpart. Having said that, Warne seemed to give so much more to the game than just wickets and if this blog could be a test cricketer, then it would be a leg spinner and it would be Shane Warne - No Nonsense.