The Final Walk of the Wizard from Oz

Posted on May 20, 2011 by

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A couple of weeks ago, Shane Warne announced via his twitter account that this IPL season would be the last season of professional cricket for him. With that comes to an end one of the most fascinating chapters of a sportsman. His career has been plagued with scandals starting with his dealing with bookies, a drugs ban and his marital infidelities. It’s not without reason Warne earned the nickname ‘Hollywood’ since his entire career on and off the field since his international debut was one big opera.

Warne made his debut against India in the 1991/92 series at the Sydney Cricket Ground and finished with figures of 1/150. His maiden test wicket being Ravi Shastri. While his exploits in the Ashes series in England in 1993 is well known, including what many called ‘the ball of the century’, it was in a test match in Colombo, Sri Lanka that the world came to recognise Warne. Sri Lanka needed roughly 40 runs to win with 4 wickets left when Allan Border turned to Warne. Three wickets for 11 runs later, a win for Australia secured, and Warne’s international career was up and running. In that summer, he spun Australia to a win against West Indies with his first five wicket haul ( 7/52 in the second innings) at the MCG and then came the Ashes of 1993. His very first ball in his Ashes series debut to Mike Gatting ended up being called the ball of the century. Pitched well outside leg, and spinning past Gatting ( no mean feat in itself considering Gatting’s girth) to hit the top of off stump. The Taylor /Healy leap, the stunned look on Gatting’s face and the aura was well and truly set.

From that series on, every single time Warne marked his run up for his first bowl, the crowd would hush up expecting something special, and Warne more often than not delivered. Truth be told, he exploited and enjoyed himself to the hilt in that theatrical setting. With his extremely precise field settings, to a friendly chat with the umpires everything was a stage for him to act out his genius. Every over seemed to have a story woven around it. The way he plotted a batsman’s dismissal, the subtle changes in field, the sometimes deliberate slowing down, a bit of chatter and then the walk begins. How could anyone not be mesmerised by this? He has had innumerable batsman confounded with his variations of the big spinning leg break, his flipper which was lethal until his first shoulder surgery, his zooter, top spinner and a badly disguised googly. Towards the back end of his career, it was mainly his leg break and top spinner that he relied on in addition to his ever present aura to get him wickets.

Warne’s statistical feats need a mention, even if it’s out there in the open for everyone to see. To achieve that much success as part of an attack that had bowlers like Merv Hughes, Craig McDermott, an all time great by himself – Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie Brett Lee is a testamount to the man’s genius. It’s no point in bringing up the Muralitharan angle and who was the better spinner. Statistically, it’s a no-brainer. Murali wins it hands down but statistics only reveal part of the picture. Most folks who are on the Murali side of the argument would say Murali only had Vaas for company and he did the bulk of the work himself. A counter argument to that is – Warne had to deal with an attack that was more than capable of bowling out sides themselves without him needed. In spite of that, he ended up with more than a 1000 international wickets. The man is a genius and there is no two ways about it.

Fascinatingly enough for a guy with such an aura he was also a true sportsman. Always appreciated a good knock, a good innings. He could be very grumpy on field if things didn’t go his way, but it was rare to not find him applauding a batsman reaching a landmark. Just ask Kevin Pietersen after his 158 against Australia at the Oval in 2005 which ensured that Warne would be part of an Ashes losing Australian squad. As Pietersen was leaving the field, Warne went up to him and told him to ‘enjoy this moment’.

It’s a pity that his off field misdemeanours cost him the chance to captain the Australian test team. When he stood in for an injured Steve Waugh in CB series in 1999, Australia won 10 of their 11 matches, a couple of them from positions of defeat. Warne believed in risking to lose, in order to win. No tactic was deemed worthless and defeat was not accepted until it was a reality. You only have to look at what Warne had done with Hampshire in the English county and with Rajasthan Royals at the IPL to understand his influence as a captain. Not being an Australian test captain is presumably his biggest regret.

Shane Keith Warne – for me personally the greatest cricketer that has ever graced a cricket ground. The aura that he built up around himself, maintained and carried on for over 20 years as a professional cricketer are memories that will never be forgotten.

Let me end this post with a quote from the man himself: “Where my ability to spin a cricket ball came from, I honestly don’t know. I can only think that I was born with it. I have a skill as cricketer and fortunately cricket found me”

Warnie, Cricket and it’s many followers should be thankful to you for the memories you’ve provided.

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Guest Column by Dilip Poduval

Dilip is a self confessed fan of the Australian cricket team. Helped that as a kid, they were the team that ensured England didn’t go on to win the Reliance World Cup in 1987 after beating India in the semis, while they themselves beat Pakistan in the other semi final. One of his best days supporting the team came during the 1999 world cup and THAT match. Has a dubious honour of twice going to Chepauk stadium to watch a match and go home after the team he supported lost. Saw Sachin tear into Warne during the 1998 test, and then saw what he considers Sachin best test knock – the 136 against Pakistan in 1999. Besides following cricket, he is also a fan of Manchester United and the Ferrari formula one team.  He is seen ranting, raving and everything else in between on twitter as the @tifosiguy. He occasionally blogs at http://tifosiguysblog.blogpost.com

Au revoir!