In an engrossing account , one of cricket’s foremost writers in his inimitable style brings to the fore like never before one of Australia’s greatest and cricket’s biggest characters
Shane Keith Warne is an enigma. Always ready to spring surprises. And this attribute has stuck with him right throughout his long fairytale yet legendary cricketing career. After a rather disappointing Test debut against India in 1991-92 were he went for over 200 odd runs the burly leg- spinner proved the critics wrong.
And the first sign of a genius leg-spinner in the making was seen at Old Trafford June 4, 1993 Ashes series. Shane Warne bowled what is now called the ‘ball of the century’ a vicious leg break to bowl Mike Gatting.
Gatting till he faced Warne was said to be a good player of spin. But according his then partner Graham Gooch fell a victim to a split second indecision. Instead of striding out decisively to connect with the ball on the full toss, he pushed forward half a step. The daze, Richie Benaud told BBC viewers, came afterwards: “Gatting has absolutely no idea what has happened to it. Still doesn’t know. He asked umpire Kenny Palmer on the way out. Kenny Palmer just gave him the raised eyebrow and a little nod. That’s all it needed”. Warne had with one delivery simply reduced Gatting into a sporting joke. World cricket had found a leg spin wizard — Shane Warne.
Eight paces. That’s all it was. Shane Warne’s bowling action was seen more than 50,000 times in international cricket, yet it never ceased to beguile and excite – that something so simple, so brief and so artless could cause so much perplexity at the other end and such anticipation among observers. Warne combined with Glenn McGrath to forge arguably cricket’s most dreaded combination. Other countries had great pairings Ambrozanwalsh, Donaldanpollock, Wasimanwaqar, but Warnanmagrah were the great conversation stopper.
The Indian sojourn was not happy for Warne, battling a shoulder injury he came here in 1998, only to encounter master blaster Sachin Tendulkar at his peak prowess, waiting for him. The maestro had prepared astutely for Warne for the Test series by getting former leg- spinner Laxman Sivaramakrishnan to bowl at him at the nets. In the first innings at Chennai , Warne had his man caught at slips by Mark Taylor. Taylor tossed the ball at Warne, when Tendulkar came out to bat in the second innings. But this time the master tore apart the Aussie attack including Warne with a majestic 155 off 191 balls to pave the way for an Indian win.
Then three years later the agony continued. The Aussies dream run of 16 consecutive Test wins ended at Eden Gardens. Despite enforcing India to follow-on they lost. Steve Waugh deployed nine bowlers including Warne but India’s classy middle order- pair of VVS Laxman (281) and Rahul Dravid (181) did not wilt and posted a stunning 376 runs for the fifth wicket to fashion an improbable victory. If Laxman was all finesse, Dravid was ‘The Wall’ solid, gritty and determined.
Ironically, his success in India would come only post-retirement. Leading the unknown Rajasthan Royals to win the first IPL in 2008 and becoming one the IPL’s biggest crowd-pullers.
Besides the highs Warne had his lows too — missed the 2003 World Cup due to failed drug test subsequently he was banned for a year, along with Mark Waugh accused of providing bookies pitch information ( both were fined and let off) , stripped of vice-captaincy after repeated off the field misdemeanours. Having watched a man of 1000 international wickets from up- close Haigh relives the era’s highs, lows, it’s fun and its follies with a panache.
PENGUIN/ HAMISH HAMILTON