Shane Warne: The Rockstar of Spinners

Arunabha Sengupta

He could turn the ball a huge, huge way from the leg.

And then he could send down a flipper that would almost hug the surface of the pitch.

Late in life, after being banned for using banned substance, he came back to encounter shorter boundaries and exponentially improved bats and in response developed the slider — a ball that followed all the routine preparation and action of the big leg-break, but in the end either went straight or turned just a little.

But, did Shane Warne really invent all those curious new deliveries that he announced almost every season?

The simple answer is no.

Warne had plenty of variations. The balls pitched at the same spot after traversing different arcs, were bowled faster, slower, from close to the wicket, sometimes wide of the crease. Some bounced more, some shot through, some turned much, some turned less, and some not at all.

Yet, his deliveries were limited to two major categories.

The leg-breaks and the ones that went straight through.

He mastered the flipper. But he did not really bowl a googly.

Yes, he did unfurl it occasionally, for example when Jacques Kallis was bowled through the gate after three tossed up leg-spinners to give Warne his 300th wicket at Sydney 1997. But, more often than not, his art was limited to balls that turned from the leg or went straight. It did not keep him from announcing breakthrough new deliveries, though. As he remarked often, “Part of the art of bowling spin is to make the batsman think something special is happening when it is not.” His image got a lot of the wickets.

The expectation of the diabolical that made the batsman commit mistakes.

Then there were the subtle tricks of the trade. The movement of a fielder with elaborate motions and discussions, suggesting to the batsman that he had worked a devious plan to dismiss him. The winces, the facial expressions, the expectant appeals that started with the release of the delivery and stopped with a curious look and hint of smile if nothing happened.

If there was an appeal turned down, the umpire was given a startled stare.

Warne could sometimes cajole out a shocking decision, he did so from Steve Bucknor against Andrew Strauss at Adelaide in his final Ashes series in 2006-07. (Anyone could get a shocker from Bucknor, but Warne coaxed one in his favour, without the randomness generally associated with the glaring inefficiency)

And then there was the scientific art of sledging, customised for each batsman.

He limped to mimic the injury prone Chris Cairns. He taunted Daryl Cullinan by asking him the ‘colour of the couch’. He addressed Brian McMillan as Depardieu, greeted Nasser Hussain as Saddam and Graham Gooch as Mr. Gooch.

For many less-significant batsmen it was just the odd query, at the puzzle that they were playing at this level.

But he knew when not to needle as well. Hardly ever did he say anything to Tendulkar.

Yet, behind all this was a plan built up with every delivery.

Warne planned the whole over before he bowled a single ball. Even if a batsman survived the mind-games, there was a truly methodical strategy being concocted in the fertile brain to bring about his demise.

Warne visualised not where the ball would pitch and which way it would turn. He started thinking about the type of strokes the batsman was expected to play, and how his ball would bait that stroke and get him out.

Gatting was an exception. His wickets were generally not the product of a single miracle ball but the result of a significantly longer plan, with subtle variations, often with spectacular final blows.

When Alec Stewart cut a short delivery past point for four, it was part of a bigger picture visible only to Warne. Not the boundary, but the ploy of pushing him on the back-foot. And next came the flipper that slid through, crept underneath the bat of the confident England opener and rattled the stumps. Warne’s wickets were mostly tales that winded through a series of plots and subplots that ended in a breath-taking climax. Just seeing the end result seen is often a huge spoiler to the real aficionados of the game.

His approach to the wicket was simple.

Never prone to excess effort, he walked up more than halfway and ran just the last three steps.

The amount of torque he got off the shortest of run-ups was incredible.

The ball was given a massive rip and side spin.

The furious rotations gave rise to the drift against the direction in which the sphere rotated, explained in physics as the Magnus Effect.

Often the batsman stretched their pads out but still the ball pitched wider and found its way around the legs because the excess drift carried it further down.

During the opening days of the Test, he came over the wicket.

When the soil loosened and the bowler’s boot-marks grew prominent as the game wore on, he switched to round.

For many spinners who turn from leg to off, the ploy of pitching outside leg is defensive. Not so for Warne. Bowling defensively was never a consideration. Often the ball pitched way outside the leg-stump and ended in the gloves of Ian Healey or Adam Gilchrist outside off.

Later, with the slider, he became more cunning.

He had averaged 25.71 for his 491 wickets with a strike rate of 60.8 when the drug controversy had forced a hiatus in Test cricket. When he returned it was with a rejuvenated body, spirit to recapture the honour, ingenuity enhanced even further. The slider was a weapon of deception that confused the best of batsmen with the presence, absence and varying degrees of spin.

The big leg-break was used off and on, mixed in beguiling proportion. The last 38 Test matches got him 217 wickets at 24.75 at a strike rate of 49.8. Warne would have been a legend with a murky end had he retired after the issues in 2003. From 2004 to 2007, he became almost mythical in his deeds.

Shane Warne was born on 13 Sep 1969.


Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket writer based in Amsterdam. He is the author of Apartheid: A Point to Cover


The full article, including details of Warne’s career, can be found at the following link: http://cricmash.com/biographies/shane-warne-the-rockstar-of-spinners




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