Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The wizard of Oz

What do I remember of Shane Warne?

A ten to fifteen step run-up, more like a walk-up, before a whirl of action slung the ball about 18 yards in the air, seemingly on a string, dipping, drifting, spinning, and usually drawing batsmen out of their shell and onto their doom (well, almost all batsmen).

Once the ball was bowled the real Warne emerged. If the batsman defended successfully Warne's left hand would circle his belly, the right hand would fold at the elbow while he grazed his chin reflectively with his thumb and index finger, his lips circling in a barely suppressed “ooh”. If the batsman was beaten, but not out, the “ooh” was more pronounced, sometimes followed by a brushback of the hair from his forehead. If the ball was convincingly hit away for runs the look stayed but was followed by a glare, as if to say that the batsman was lucky, just barely at that, to get the middle of his bat in the way.

Only rarely, very rarely, did the fa├žade crumble. Such is the aura of the man that the opponents who got the better of him – Tendulkar, Laxman, Pietersen – are remembered for what they did to him and not for what Warne could not do to them.

To me, Warne’s greatness is just this – for 15 years he convinced people into thinking that he was the one in command and not the batsman. You can count on one hand the batsmen who are said to have had the better of him. In spite of all that, no one ever felt that they had completely mastered him

I will not miss his blatant over-appealing, which most other players would have been fined/suspended for. I will not miss his monotonous sledging when things did not go his way. I will certainly not miss his leg-side hoicking style of batting which got him the dubious distinction of scoring the most Test runs without ever recording a century.

What I will miss is his ability to put the ball wherever he wanted to. (His mystique is such that even when he bowled bad balls, people were convinced that it was by design). I will miss his (under-rated) slip catching. But most of all, I will miss the fact that when he was at the top of his bowling mark I held my breath because the next ball could be the wicket-taking one, irrespective of how badly he had bowled the previous one.

If the Aussie team since the early ‘90’s has had an unparalleled run of success it is in large part because Warne never felt that he couldn’t win. Warne is one of the few people I have seen who, even when bereft of ideas, did not concede that the cause was lost until it was undeniably so.

Having said that, I wish I could have seen Warne one more time against the Indians, in the very rare, and unfamiliar, defeated pose of his – bent over at the waist, hands on his knees, following the path of the ball as it thudded into the boundary boards. Instead I shall have to settle for watching him gorge on the deer-eyed English batsmen at Melbourne and Sydney.

Thanks for the memories, Warne.

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