His story is part fairy tale, part pantomime, part adults-only-romp, and part glittering award ceremonies. In short, Shane Warne’s lifestyle has been like a soap opera. He has taken a Test hat-trick, won the man of the match award in a World Cup final, and has been the subject of seven books other than being the leading wicket-taker in Tests. He may also be the wiliest captain Australia never had.
On the field, his flippers made news, and off it, his sexual escapades and drug binges were as much a darling of the tabloid press as he was of the connoisseurs of spin bowling.
On CNN-IBN’s show Face The Nation on Thursday, the legacy left behind by Shane Keith Warne posed an enamouring question to cricket lovers – Is Warne the best entertainer cricket has ever produced?
Also during the show was asked another question – Who is the greatest contemporary spinner?
To demystify the aura of the master Aussie leg-spinner on the show were Ayaz Memon, Associate Editor of DNA, former Test cricketer and presently coach of the Tamil Nadu cricket team WV Raman, and Murali Karthik, someone who has played against Shane Warne in recent times.
Batsmen all over the world have described Shane Warne to be like a magician, someone who could make the ball talk. Without doubt, Warne has been modern cricket’s most colourful characters too.
His on-field genius have spilt outside off it too, but not with much success. Being fined $8,000 for taking money from a bookie, caught smoking while promoting a quit-smoking campaign, being stripped of Australian vice-captaincy after a sex-scandal, and being banned for a year for taking a diuretic, Warne has been through it all. But are these escapades enough to eclipse his on-field genius?
On Shane Warne been often described as the greatest entertainer, Ayaz Memon says, “Obviously there are two very strong sides to his character. Despite having had a colourful life, his presence on the field while bowling has been immensely compelling. In fact, he could impacted more games than anyone else in this century.”
“The kind of skills he has developed be it the ‘zooter’, the flipper, the ‘zipper’. What rounded the genius in his was the hard-edged streak in him. A spinner with a mind of a fast bowler may be an apt thing to say,” Memon adds.
When Warne announced his retirement on Thursday, he reiterated how Australia want to take back the Ashes – by beating England 5-0. With Warne often coming up with performances to back his statements up, he may also be labelled the appropriate mix of greatness and genius.
Murali Karthik, left-arm spinner from India, says, “Yes. Because being a spin bowler, it is not easy to perform the way he has done. You get a feeling that he will get a wicket every time he bowls. He is one spin bowler who can intimidate the batsman, because I have seen batsmen missing the simplest balls to get out against him.”
Even Indian batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar once said every time he would face Warne, there would not be one moment when he could relax. It perhaps is fitting to say that Warne’s quality has thus transcended the barriers of greatness and become a genius.
“Shane Warne had fantastic control, that was his greatest quality. Leg-spinners do struggle for control. But in Warne’s case, his control was impeccable and his aura itself was at times too much for the batsman to contend with,” former India batsman W V Raman says.
However, keeping all his achievements aside, his record against India has always been questioned. It also has been seen that world champions Australia didn’t play too many games in India during Warne’s peak time. Maybe, Warne’s impact may have been a lot more had that happened.
“It happens in everybody’s career. Sunil Gavaskar’s record against New Zealand has been pretty ordinary of all teams. But it happens in everybody’s career. So thinking that he wasn’t good enough against India can’t be substantiated enough,” Raman adds.
But if as an entertainer alone, Warne may have competition in Sir Viv Richards. Ayaz Memon says, “Having watched Warne so much over the last 15 years, I would perhaps plumb for him. Because the game is so heavily loaded in favour of the batsmen, for a bowler to impact a game by his sheer presence, not just his guile alone, it was hypnotic cricket when he was around.”
Warne’s achievements have not been restricted to bowling alone. Even while batting, he has shown the competitive spirit in him. “He is quite competitive both ways. You know what you will get when he bowls. But even while batting, attack has been his best form of defence. During the Ashes series in England last year, his contributions shone through. There is not a defensive bone in him.”
The Australians have had a history of bowing out on top of their games. By the Indians, it has been eagerly thought, could be repeated.
“It should be applicable to most to everyone who’s been in the public eye. I remember when Sunil Gavaskar retired; he said people should ask you ‘why’ and not ‘why not’. Warne’s timing to leave the game has been splendid. He has also said that had Australia won the Ashes last year, he would have quit,” Memon says.
“Retiring from the sport is an individual decision. No one plans for this, it just happens one day, whether they are on top or they are struggling. So, basically it’s an individual decision,” Raman adds.
In fact, none of the players in India has that streak of showmanship either. “The system doesn’t allow it in India. But you’ve got someone like Harbhajan, who’s quite colourful in his own right, he’s an entertainer too, but not quite like Warne,” Karthik says.
With only a few showmen or geniuses to have graced the cricket field, it might also be pondered as to whether they are born with it.
“But Shane got pasted for 152 runs in his first outing against India,” Memon says.
“He wasn’t born with the skills. He acquired them over a period of time. He did have latent talent, but there was sheer hard work, and a sense of ambition too. That’s’ what sums up the man,” Memon says.
From an Indian point of view, Sachin Tenulkar versus Shane Warne was one of the greatest duels in cricket. Both are entertainers too. Maybe Warne will pip Tendulkar in the ‘entertainer’ quotient.
“You can’t compare Tendulkar to Warne, who’s been such a rounded, colourful personality. Tendulkar’s charisma has been on the field,” Karthik says.
But in Shane Warne, the world of cricket has lost an entertainer, as he announced his retirement on Thursday.
An emphatic 73 per cent of people agreed with the question that Shane Warne’s presence on the field and off it, make him unrivalled and unparalleled bowler ever seen in the history of the game, while 27 per cent voted against it.
Among the best contemporary spinner of all time, Shane Warne again emerged as the viewer’s choice, sweeping 50 per cent of the votes, followed by Muttiah Muralitharan (32 per cent), Anil Kumble (15 per cent), Daniel Vettori (two per cent) and Harbhajan Singh (one per cent).
Maybe it is fitting to say that greatness can just not be created.