Forty three years ago, the greatest leg-spinner of modern times saw the light of the day. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the larger than life exploits of Shane Warne on and off the field.
It is difficult to realise that Shane Warne has retired from serious cricket for more than five and a half years now. So huge is his stature in the history of the game that he remains large and luminous even as time flies by and cricket hurtles forward.
In part that comes from celebrity engagements, crude coarse text messages, curious food and drug habits. Yet, the memory of those whizzing, ripping, deliveries that hung temptingly in the air, gripped the turf and spun wickedly away would have remained even if off the field he lived the life of a saint with blonde hair.
Yes, he did consume diuretic drugs that banished him from cricket for a year. Yes, he has had several actual and many more virtual flings with women, lascivious and largely extra-marital, the cell phone as damaging in his hand as a bright red cricket ball. Yes, Ian Healy did say that a balanced diet according to Shane Warne was a cheese-burger in each hand! Yes, there was that bookmaker somewhere along the way who had engaged him in a talk about the weather.
But, Warne also took the ancient, dying, exotic art of leg-spin from the coffin of cricket where it lay, breathed rejuvenating life into it and dressed it in glitz and glamour as never before. That too without possessing that essential weapon in the leg-spinner’s arsenal – the googly.
Because, Warne could spin the cricket ball a long, long way. He could make it turn across the entire extensive expanse of Mike Gatting, pitching some distance outside the leg-stump and hitting off. And then came the flippers, zooters – he used the Magnus Effect in a way never seen before or since.The Barmy Army could sing their hearts out, “He's fat, he's round, he bounces on the ground”, but when they pitched,the Englishmen, the South Africans, even the Sri Lankans and the Pakistanis – virtually everyone but the Indians – were trapped in webs of intrigue.
A total of 708 wickets tumbled to his bowling in Test cricket, and 293 in One Day Internationals.
Australian journalist Matt Price remarked that “he was thicker than a complete set of Wisdens”. But, a complete set of Wisdensoften struggledto document all his exploits.
Daryll Cullinan did tell him, “Go and deflate yourself, you balloon.” But the Protean batsman did have to consult a psychologist, in a bid to overcome the scars resulting from the many lost battles. It was expected that Warne would tell him, “I'm going to send you straight back to the leather couch.”
Thirty seven five-wicket hauls, and 10 wickets on 10 separate occasions; man of the match in a World Cup final, fastest man to 700 Test wickets, and along with all these, the highest career runs in the history of Tests without scoring a hundred. Warne was also, perhaps, one of the most astute cricket brains never to have led the country.
However, his greatest achievement remains distinct from these – and no, it is not getting engaged to Liz Hurley.
When he came into the scene, the cricket world was dominated by pace and bounce. When he left after one and a half decades, along with Muttiah Muralitharan and Anil Kumble he had put a new spin on things.
The charming facets of slow bowling – the guile, the magic, the deception in flight, loop and turn – were back once again. The skills of facile fingers and rotating wrists captured the imagination of a whole new generation taking to the game. And as his legacy, leg-spin, the most fascinating of artsin cricket, does live on.
Happy birthday, Shane Warne.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)