Sanjay Dixit

  • Like
Blogger

Shane Warne – The Flawed Genius

On his last day in Jaipur, Warnie looked a forlorn soul. He did not
do his handshake with the presentation party members as he would
normally do, and 15 minutes after the presentation had an altercation
with me for not being given the pitch and the pitch preparation that he
wanted.

 

This was the ugly side of a master cricketer who
was an absolute tormentor of batsmen of his generation, and sent
shudders up many a spine. In a format like T20, batsmen preferred to see
his 4 overs off without incident. The success of the great Australian
side under Mark Taylor, Waugh, and Ponting had Warne as a key factor.
Except Indians, he defeated batsmen of every country with his
mesmerizing brand of spin and was largely responsible, along with Anil
Kumble, for revival of leg spin as a potent force in international
cricket.

 

On the field, he was an absorbed, passionate
maestro, a complete cricketer who could fool the best of batsmen. He was
a feisty fighter, fiercely competitive on the field, but a moody and
unpredictable character off it. Nobody can forget the 'ball of the
century' which bowled Mike Gatting and so demoralized the English side
that they could hardly recover in that 1993 series. Similarly, his
bowling of Basit Ali round his legs off the last ball of the day's play
is the stuff of legend. He carried out these cameos with uncanny
regularity. His last Ashes series in England 2006, in which he got 40
wickets and 249 runs, would have done even an all-rounder of the caliber
of Gary Sobers proud.

 

This on field genius was, however a
mercurial maverick off it. This was a classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
paradox which has bemused, entertained and intrigued the cricket world
over two decades. Commissioned specially to look into the good, bad and
ugly aspects of Shane Warne the gladiator, I decided to talk to a
variety of people who saw him at close quarters in Jaipur.

 

Rajasthan
Royals had taken him as Coach cum Captain, a dual role to which he was
clearly not suited. Too moody and aloof, he could just sit by himself in
his room and sulk for hours. Other coaches, support staff and players
would always try and avoid his fiery temper using various stratagems.
Coupled with his own exaggerated notion of an inspirational leader, he
got used to dictating and having his own way. With Lalit Modi supporting
him as Captain of his personal franchise, Warnie would brook no
difference of opinion, no dissenting voice, not even gentle counseling.
He claims to have threatened to quit when pressure was allegedly brought
on him to have Jaidev Shah included in the RR squad. Warnie claims to
have said, "either me or him", and RR management had to backtrack. His
hostile attitude towards the captain of the then National one-day
Champions, Saurashtra, is in stark contrast to how Dmitry Mascarenhas
was brought on a junket and made to share the dressing room and dug-out
without really having much to do. His proximity to Warnie in Hampshire
is no secret. Just for the record, Shane Watson as well as the present
CEO, Sean Morris come from Hampshire, and 5 out of 6 foreign players are
from Australia and New Zealand.

 

What is not so well known
is that once he took the field, his focus on cricket could not be
disturbed even if there was an earthquake of magnitude 10 turning things
topsy turvy around him. An RR insider gave me enough insights into his
mental make-up and style. Warne, he said, was quite incredible. He would
often be sitting in the bar till the wee hours of the morning, but
nobody ever beat him to the Team bus for the morning practice session,
even if the bus was scheduled to leave at 8. Much as this insider tried,
reaching the bus even 15 to 20 minutes early, Warnie would always be
there in the first seat, wearing coloured glasses to hide his bleary
eyes, but nobody could make out any loss of intensity during the
work-outs. His love for punctuality could go to an extreme sometimes.
There is this instance of Warnie throwing Darren Berry and Jeremy Snape
out of the dug-out because they started a pre-match warm up session 2
minutes too early!

The moment he would get on to the
field, he would be transformed. However, his captaincy of Rajasthan
Royals in its first year was heavily supported by some players in great
form, notably Graeme Smith, Sohail Tanwir and Shane Watson and rookies
like Munaf, Yusuf, and Asnodkar. Fresh from International cricket, he
was personally in great bowling form. It was not very difficult for an
inspirational leader like him to weave a few youngsters around the core
and get them to perform. A superb reader of the match situation, he
could read the game well in advance and react to it. He had the capacity
to change the game then and would take it upon himself to do it many a
time. In IPL-IV, the derring-do was missing. In Indore, where RR lost
the game when Kochi chased down 98 runs in 7.2 overs, he didn’t even
bother to bowl!

 

With his strong likes and dislikes, he
would pamper a few players and just ignore many others who did not meet
up to his fluctuating standards of skills. To his credit, however, if he
thought he had spotted something in a player, he would support him and
give him so much space as to almost take the fear factor out of the
youngster’s mental make up. The results could be mixed, though. His
handling of Yusuf Pathan during IPL-1 was inspirational. Yusuf was
totally out of sorts but Warnie told him, through interpreters, to
believe in himself. He told Yusuf that he did not mind if Yusuf got out
for zero in every match he played as long as he played his natural game
and did not bother about the reputation of the bowler.

 

The
flip side of this attitude was that it made Warne think that the talent
he could spot, nobody else could. This would lead to sidelining of many
a known performer and exaggerated faith in players of mediocre ability.
Though he got away with it in the first edition due to his personal
performance with bat and ball, and the fact that the team was winning,
it slowly became the proverbial albatross round his neck in the second
edition as his own performances went into a downward spiral and the
combination he had so carefully crafted to suit Indian and Jaipur
conditions came apart on the South African pitches.

 

Warnie
hated losing. He just could not take defeat well. In that sense, he
could not be called a good sportsman. In order to ensure victory, he
would not mind crossing the line. It is not known to many that Lalit
Modi had given express instructions to the RCA curators to follow
Warnie's instructions in preparing the pitch. Lalit could do that as he
was both IPL and RCA at that point of time. Warnie would double up as
curator with great gusto, usually keeping one end bald and the other
grassy. He and spinners and guys like Sidhharth Trivedi would bowl at
the bald patch and Munaf and Sohail Tanvir would bowl at the grassy
side. He missed this freedom after Lalit was ousted from RCA and would
fret and fume at every strip given for a match. He interacted with me
often on this subject, but it was difficult to countenance the extreme
demands he made for the pitches.

 

Outside the field, he
would flout every norm and cricketing ethic. Rebellious by nature, he
would not take kindly to anything which could even mildly shackle him.
He hated training and has a philosophy that every guy should know what
he has to do, a kind of perform or perish dogma which is so antithetical
to the modern norm of preparation. I myself saw him smoking on the
pitch square and advised the RR management about it, but I doubt if they
mustered enough courage to even tell him.  In Mohali during IPL-I, he
was apparently advised by a senior police officer not to smoke in public
as it was an offence under law. How do you think Warnie reacted? Well,
he led the team to the ground with cigarettes balanced on both his ears!
He contemptuously threw the cigarettes on the ground later.  Just the
other day, he was caught smoking in Indore airport. You simply could not
warn Warne (pun unintended).

 

Year 2011 was all about Liz
Hurley. He caused quite a sensation with his long lip lock in full
public view at the time of presentation ceremony of  a game which he
won. I had to quieten things down to make sure that the matter did not
reach the courts. Warne was admonished, I am given to understand, but it
did not deter him much. He repeated it, a longer display, though this
time in the curator's equipment room after the next match. You could not
keep him down in spirits (pun intended).

 

As RR's fortunes
dwindled, his paranoia became even more stark. One evening he came
home, asking that the curator be ordered to take instructions from him,
as during IPL-I. I said "Warnie, you can turn the ball on any surface,
why worry", but he was becoming too unsure. It was clear that as the
skills lost sharpness, Warnie was seeking to depend more and more on
external factors. It was the same Warne who had bowled that 'Ball of the
Century' and mind you, that Old Trafford wicket was not a slow, low
turner which this great man was desperately seeking.

 

It
is always sad to see the torment great sportsmen go through when their
skills start deserting them. He still had the control and the guile but
the zip was missing. The ball would still follow his command, the length
was still impeccable, though the number of short balls was going up,
and the variations had become less, and mere mortals were able to hit
him for sixes. Nobody dared do that 5-6 years back, or even in IPL-I.
Shane probably knew that time had come to call it quits. That made him
even more desperate to put on a good show in Jaipur in his last few
games but only with a pitch to help his style even if it meant killing
good cricket. It was sad to see him, in his last game in his adopted
home ground, dropping a regulation catch to reprieve Chris Gayle, and
getting hit for a six and a four off his last two deliveries in Jaipur.
He was changing bowlers after every over and looked completely out of
depth. He did not take that loss well; even though it was as one sided
as it could possibly become, and ended his final moments on the SMS
Stadium in an ugly outburst which is sure to haunt him for some time.

 

At
Indore just the other day, he made 6 changes to the side, which could
be a record of sorts. That’s Warnie for you: "What I think is right is
the only thing that is right." During IPL-I, when he was not playing a
game, he put his foot down to make Shane Watson the captain when he had
hardly played 3 tests for even his home country and only 50 odd ODIs -
this in a side that also included Graeme Smith, then captain of South
Africa. That was the extent that he dominated the management. Throwing a
fit and threatening to quit was his favourite style then, which has
continued till date in spite of his magic fading away.

 

Warnie,
to me, was the tortured romantic, a Van Gogh like figure almost, or the
Guru Dutt of Kagaz ke Phool. He left his indelible imprint on the
surroundings. It was not for nothing that Wisden chose him as one among
the five best cricketers of the century. He could be a genius one moment
and a petulant child the next. You could choose to love him, or hate
him, but you most certainly could not ignore him.

Any
cricketer would do himself immense harm if he took Warnie as a role
model. He could achieve great things with his godly gifts and despite
his eccentric methods, but nobody else possibly can. Edison's definition
of genius - 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration - could not apply to
Warnie. Cricket Australia definitely had this as a good reason in not
considering him for captaincy.

 

As he himself admitted to
Harsha Bhogle, he has made many poor choices off the field over the
years. There was a complete contrast between his on-field discipline and
off-field eccentricities. But then that is the stuff genius is made of,
I suppose. Warne was like that - an authentic genius, albeit a flawed
one.

Latest Posts

Matches