A Salute to Warnie, the Master Alchemist
By SANDEEP BAMZAI
Almost a decade ago, I sat with Shane Warne, or ‘Warnie’ as he was popularly called, by the pool in a Jaipur hotel. It was a telly interview and I had driven down from Delhi for it.
Warnie was the mentor for Rajasthan Royals at the time and his penchant for good life was slap-bang in the middle of his highly hyped affair with British actress Elizabeth Hurley.
It was a fascinating conversation where the underlying credo of a master craftsman was on view. A man driven by perpetual constancy where he could gravitate back to his sub-conscious using his hunger for living on the edge like darts zeroing in on the center with uncanny precision.
While bowling, he hunted rabbits who were chasing around the rail as he turned into a greyhound always looking for the kill. And when he did set them off as flashbang grenades, it was a treat watching him.
Using muscle memory, he pressed the trigger, scoping delusional belief in his opponent using mystery and deception with no allegory, but with what you see is what you get pentimento. The white heat of revolutions on the ball melted everything.
It was a long interview and true to his form, Warnie let it rip, as he spoke about wide-ranging issues relating to cricket.
Warnie’s transformation from a chubby blonde beach bum to one of the most dangerous adversaries was stupendous. Making his Test debut against India in January 1992, he remembered the hammering he got at the hands of Ravi Shastri, who smashed a double hundred in that match.
He also thought Navjot Singh Sidhu was one of the best batsmen against his sorcery with the ball. On his first tour of India, Warnie had many a gladiatorial joust with Sidhu and of course, Sachin Tendulkar.
At 19, Warnie on his first visit to England stuffed himself with pints, chicken and chips. He revealed how he piled on a staggering ’20kg’ in just six months after discovering his love of partying in England back in 1989.
Even in his recent Amazon Prime documentary, Warnie spoke about how he ballooned to 99kg after drinking ’10 pints every day’ and enjoying a diet of ‘chicken and chips’ while living in Bristol.
That was the construct of Warnie, which metamorphosed under ex-Australian leg-spinner Terry Jenner who took him under his wing. On his return after six months, his parents failed to recognize the Goodyear blimp.
Being a cricket junkie myself, I had obsessed like other savants on his battle royale with Tendulkar. While India raised its game while playing him and the Aussies at every twist and turn in his great career, Warnie always remembered the great times chock-a-block with great memories.
Fascinated by his brand of aggressive leg-spin, which he used as a jagged edge to destroy many a reputation, I asked him to show me the six different balls that he could bowl after the interview — the leg-spinner, the googly, top spinner, flipper, straight ball, and the zooter — all deadly and pulverizing. It is an abiding memory which I have kept in my recesses for I admired his tradecraft and devotion to the game, despite an array of distractions — booze, women, poker.
Australian cricket’s irrepressible playboy and cricketing icon took 708 Test wickets in his illustrious 15-year career. His India connect grew manifold when he came here to captain Rajasthan Royals in season one of Indian Premier League and triumphed with a team of young turks.
He delivered the Ball of the Century and became part of folklore with his first ball of the 1993 Ashes tour, bowling Mike Gatting with a ball that turned from well outside leg-stump to clip the off bail, leaving everyone watching in a daze.
He bowled many such deliveries, another being the one that bowled Andrew Strauss when the batter shouldered arms.
Warnie’s genius was that he gave the ball a tweak or imparted revolutions to the ball which enabled it to spin sharply. He used his burly shoulders and strong wrists to deliver a wide variety of lethal tricks. The eternal bad boy, he was banned in 2003 for taking a prohibited substance – which he blamed on his mother for giving him a diuretic to ‘improve his appearance’.
However the alchemist returned in 2004 and in the third Ashes Test of 2005, he became the first bowler in history to take 600 Test wickets.
By the time I met him, he had begun to transmogrify into a deeply tanned, much fitter, very sculpted Mr Hollywood.
What one remembers most about him was the art of psychological warfare that he unleashed on batters, one where he used his art to bamboozle the batsmen. Always masking the scent of the snare, making the batsman walk the gangplank of doom.
To have met Warnie was a privilege, may he rest in peace.
An iconic cricketer, a showman and a master strategist — Salute.