Things were not the same between Shane Warne (left) and Brian McMillan in their first encounter © Getty Images
Things were not the same between Shane Warne (left) and Brian McMillan in their first encounter © Getty Images

Shane Warne was an outstanding sledger. His mind games on batsmen are part of cricket folklore. However, there were occasions when he was at the receiving end of things, as Abhishek Mukherjee narrates.

Few have matched Shane Warne’s brilliance on the field; and we are not discussing the fact that he was arguably the greatest spinner to have lived.

Many of his wickets, as both Warne and his victims have claimed, were planned out. The batsman was under pressure well before he walked out to the middle. Poor Daryll Cullinan even had to visit a psychiatrist.

Sledging (or “mental disintegration”, as they Australians love calling it) was often part of the ploy. There are too many stories of Warne’s sledging.

Paul Collingwood, as part of the 2005 Ashes-regaining side, was awarded with an MBE despite playing a solitary Test and not doing much. Warne was ready for him when he toured Australia: “You got an MBE, right? For scoring seven at The Oval? It’s an embarrassment.”

There is another story of Warne, first slip, plotting with wicketkeeper Darren Berry to get Michael Slater in a Sheffield Shield match. When Berry went ‘tick’, Warne responded with ‘tock’; the routine continued, and after a few minutes Slater stepped out, had a heave, and was stumped.

And Cullinan was once welcomed to the crease with “I’m going to send you straight back to the leather couch,” the reference being obviously to a psychiatrist’s chamber. Cullinan scored a duck.

Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly were putting up a fightback at Adelaide in 1999-00. Warne pointed at Tendulkar and told Ganguly: “People haven’t paid to watch you let balls go; they’ve come to see him play shots.” Ganguly lost his cool, stepped out, and was stumped.

When Andrew Strauss of Middlesex walked out to bat against him in 2005, Warne, playing for Hampshire, greeted him with “you’ll be my next rabbit, my next Daryll.”

However, there were some who gave it back, to Warne. Arjuna Ranatunga lashed back at him at least twice.

Cullinan himself stood up to Warne at least once. Warne once welcomed him with “I’ve been waiting two years for another chance to humiliate you.” “Looks like you spent it eating,” came the prompt response.

And then there were the teammates, especially Ian Healy: “Shane Warne’s idea of a balanced diet is a cheeseburger in each hand.”

However, none of them actually scared Warne to the extent Brian McMillan did.

The first version

McMillan was a massive man. He bowled at decent pace, could block or hit humongous sixes, and seldom dropped anything at slips (with hands like buckets it was hardly possible for him to).

He was also an artist of sledging. Unlike several others, he did not yell back. Instead, he talked — to the extent that contemporaries often referred to him as the best in business.

It started with a mix-up between Peter Kirsten and McMillan “that left McMillan back at the end where he started,” according to Shane Warne: My Autobiography. So Warne decided to intervene.

“Looks like you don’t fancy it very much, Depardieu,” Warne quipped. The reference was to Gérard Depardieu, the actor, and a doppelganger of McMillan.

McMillan quietly turned towards Warne and uttered: “Shane, you know you’re coming to South Africa next month? Well, hundreds of people go missing in our country every day. Perhaps I’ll take you shark fishing and use you as bait.”

Whatever Warne had expected it was not this. For once he was nervous. He asked Mark Taylor: “do you think he meant it?”

The other (and almost certainly false) version

There is another version of the story, corroborated by J Harold in The Art of Sledging and Liam McCann in The Sledger’s Handbook: How to Deliver the Perfect Cricketing Insult.

McMillan was apparently trying to read Warne and failing. Warne decided to rub it in further. “Hey, Big Mac, I’ll call them to you,” he yelled. “Maybe that’ll help.”

So Warne kept shouting “leg-break” or “slider” or “flipper” or “wrong ’un” or whatever he had in his arsenal — and went on to bowl exactly that, ball after ball; and McMillan still kept missing.

This continued for a while — till McMillan had enough. He walked up the pitch and calmly uttered the shark-bait line.

Why is the second version likely to be false?

First of all, the story was narrated by Warne. The counterargument to this is the fact that cricketers have sometimes shown tendencies of exaggeration in their autobiographies.

However, even if we ignore that, there is more evidence. Warne specifically mentioned that the incident took place “during our home Test series against South Africa after they were re-admitted to international cricket.”

McMillan played only once in that series, at Adelaide. Since Warne mentioned Kirsten, it had to be in the first innings, where Kirsten batted at 4 and was ninth out, while McMillan batted at 7. They added 8, of which McMillan scored an 8-ball 2. He came out during an over bowled by Steve Waugh and fell to Waugh as well.

Did McMillan get enough time to be tormented by Warne? One wonders. The first version, thus, in all likelihood, does not hold good.

In case you are wondering, it could not have taken place during the second innings, where Kirsten and McMillan did not bat together.

The second one undoubtedly makes a better story. It hurts to let it go.

Sequel

Australia visited South Africa on a return tour a month later. The first Test was at Johannesburg, where the teams had just returned for lunch on one of the days.

McMillan barged into the Australian dressing-room with an AK-47 (acquired from a policeman) in his hand and shouted: “Right, I’ve had enough of you Australians.”

Everyone went quiet for a few seconds before bursting into laughter.