A spin like no other

A spin like no other

Australian cricketer Shane Warne’s is a multi-faceted life and retelling it in an autobiography is no mean task

If there is one cricketer who blended spin, chutzpah and the page-three life, it has to be Shane Warne. The magical leg-spinner and Australian legend dominated cricket for a decade-and-a-half. His twirly-wrist yielded a mind-boggling 708 Test wickets and 293 scalps in ODIs. He may have bowed out of international cricket in 2007, but stays relevant as a frank commentator and as a mentor to players like Kevin Pietersen and Michael Clarke, who were high on talent but remained strong-willed.

If Warne the spinner strangled batsmen and also formed a potent combination with pace-ace Glenn McGrath to help Australia emerge as a dominant force, his personal life was forever lit up by strobe lights, flashing cameras and sleazy headlines. Warne’s affairs, his broken marriage, the romance with Elizabeth Hurley are all now part of pulp history.

Warne’s is a multi-faceted life and retelling it in an autobiography is no mean task. It is a challenge that his co-author and former Hampshire captain Mark Nicholas wades into while churning out the book titled No Spin. Nicholas, a writer known as much for his flair as for his attention to details, stills his natural voice and adopts the direct and sharp tone of Warne. Just recently, Warne mentioned that the touring Indian team in Australia ‘has smelt blood’, and that’s the way he talks, writes or comments. Nicholas has done well to present the book in Warne’s baritone, expletives and all.

The early pages do a back-and-forth between his retirement in 2007 and his rough debut at Sydney in 1992 with India’s Ravi Shastri and Sachin Tendulkar shredding his tepid leg-breaks.

Born to an immigrant family with roots in Europe, Warne grew up in the Victorian outback, ever aware of the tough times of his ancestors and at the same time keen to draw joy from sports. Adolescence bought with it a perplexing phase which he dealt through the odd smoke and a crate of beers. Interestingly, football was Warne’s first love, but he was rejected. While it wasn’t football’s loss, cricket gained one of its finest.  

He recalls those early days and records his gratitude to spin-coach Terry Jenner, who taught him the nuances that included planning, positioning the trap, springing the ambush and savouring the resultant joy. Just after his forgettable Sydney debut, Warne drives to Jenner, and the coach in irrepressible Aussie style holds an unflattering mirror.

The beers are dumped, fitness is worked upon, and Warne whirls his arm over after over in the nets. He a willing sponge absorbing everything that Jenner distills into him. And in a classic case of passing it forward, later in the book, Warne dissects his craft. Those pages are a must-read for both fans and rookie leg-spinners trying to get a grip on a difficult skill. They are at once absorbing and enlightening.

Warne is unsparing when it comes to scything through the façade of team-bonding. While he lauds the tough-as-nails attitude ingrained among Aussie sportsmen, he has no time for woolly-headed sentimentalism and with no love lost for Steve Waugh, Warne tears into former captain’s obsession with the Baggy Green cap. “I mean wearing it at Wimbledon! Who wears a green cricket cap at Wimbledon,” Warne writes with absolute scorn. And he adds with a good measure that he felt like wanting to ‘puke at the Baggy Green worship’.

Despite all the bonhomie in group pictures, cricket squads are made of diverse men with their angst. Warne is critical of Adam Gilchrist, who made disparaging remarks when the spinner admitted to taking a diuretic pill to hasten weight loss. But it is also a bit rich that Warne states that he was naïve, be it in using a diuretic or in passing pitch and weather information to bookies along with his buddy Mark Waugh. Something doesn’t add up.

Yet there is an air of frankness permeating the book. Once when Tendulkar carts him all over the park, Warne tells his then captain Mark Taylor: “Well we are @#$%ed.” The great spinner raves about Tendulkar and Lara, pays his respects to VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid for their epochal Eden Gardens turnaround in 2001, and reiterates that characters like Pietersen should be handled sensitively.

For Indian readers, there is enough to chew upon, including Warne’s observations about the inaugural Indian Premier League in 2008 when he led the Rajasthan Royals to a title triumph.

This is largely an honest book, with Warne even casting a caustic inner eye at his affairs that wrecked his marriage, admitting to his resultant guilt, while also stating that he loved the company of women. Warne has many layers and Nicholas adroitly peels them away. 

For those interested in Warne the spinner and the man, and the rise of the Australian team under captains ranging from Allan Border to Ricky Ponting, this book is a terrific ally. And yes, coach John Buchanan and his cerebral ways get some caustic lines, too! Be it the googly or sarcasm, there is no stopping Warne.