‘Come on ladies, all together! Shane Warne, Shane Warne, you are a big flirt.’
1998, 2nd Test between India and Australia at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata – It was at the back end of the day’s play and India was cruising to a huge total. The stadium was chock-a-block, and the crowd cheered every nudged single, screamed home every boundary and broke the permitted decibel levels whenever the ball soared into the stands.
However, the noise and enthusiasm was predominantly high-pitched at the block just behind the third man boundary. A group of ladies sat chanting – ‘Shane Warne, Shane Warne, you are a big flirt’ - with flawless synchronization.
Shane Warne was done bowling for the day and as usual, was pasted for plenty by the one and only, Sachin Tendulkar. But that was not a factor for the ladies sitting in the block behind the third man.
The screaming and chanting continued, but Shane Warne didn’t respond and refused to divert his attention. He pulled up his sleeve, adjusted his white floppy, wiped the sweat off his hand and concentrated on the game.
Maybe he had too much going through his mind. He must have been feeling flat after a really bad spell on and off the field. He was easily coming second best in his duel with Sachin Tendulkar, and the media had quite a lot to say about everything he did – the brand of zinc cream he smeared on his face to the baked beans he ordered while dining to avoid the “Indian Curry”.
‘Shane Warne, Shane Warne, you are a big flirt’ - The women were persistent and as soon as the umpire called “Stumps”, something spectacular happened.
Shane Warne turned around, took off his floppy, took a bow and blew air kisses to the women in the stands. That was enough! The entire stand bounced to its feet and cheered off the greatest leg-spinner in the history of the game.
Watching Shane Warne in action, on the cricket field, was perhaps the greatest show on the turf. He was not only the greatest leg-spinner ever, but also a complete entertainer and he pulled off both his antics with ultimate ease.
“Leg-spin bowling is perhaps the hardest and most complex facet of cricket… and the easiest thing starting out would be to keep it simple and true to your ability.” – Richie Benaud
That’s exactly what Shane Warne did. He took a very complex skill, mastered it and executed it with an easy on the eye approach. The genius of Shane Warne lay in his simplicity. His easy flowing action and charismatic personality offered inspiration to most aspiring leg spinners and since his retirement, talented leggies have devoted their life to model themselves on the dazzling Victorian.
However, it wasn’t as easy as he made it look.
According to Allan Border - “Warnie was a freak. He had these big fingers, a strong wrist and shoulder and he could do it all off a few paces with a shuffle to the wicket. But I am wondering whether that is the right way for a lot of the bowlers who have tried to copy him.”
Clearly, it isn’t. Thousands of young leg-spinners have been coached the “Warne way” but none have made it to big because – “Most bowlers just can’t walk up and bowl like Warne. They need rhythm and momentum…. I reckon it might be time to try something new.” - Former selection chairman Trevor Hohns
Both Border and Hohns are right. Shane Warne was not only gifted, but also an athlete par excellence. His front-on action was quite different compared to the traditional leg-spinners and “the Warne way” of walking in eight or nine steps before a gentle three pace run-up and a power-packed delivery stride was certainly unique.
His action didn’t involve extravagant movements like Abdul Qadir and Mushtaq Ahmed, neither did it have the roughness of Anil Kumble’s “jumping jack” rendition.
He walked, leapt and delivered. He had a lazy elegance about him and executed his bowling style with so much panache that it often appeared misleadingly lethargic.
However, Shane Warne, as a cricketer, goes beyond the realms of technical gibberish. Despite the heap of wickets that Warne sits atop, it will be complete injustice to his cricketing persona to talk about him in technical terms and numbers alone.