Shane Warne - The Sorcerer: The last true practitioner of the dying art of leg-spin
When you come across the word ‘sorcerer’ what strikes first on your mind? For some, it might be just a wizard in his clairvoyant gown, or maybe even some flashes of the movie ‘Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone’. Hell, who isn’t a Harry Potter fan. Be it the movies or the books or even the fan fictions that are all over the internet. Okay, let’s not ride adrift here and come back to the point. According to the linguists, a sorcerer is a person who practices sorcery – the art of practicing spells to exercise supernatural powers often with the aid of evil spirits and black magic.
Coming back to the world of cricket, there is indeed a name out there which many a batter who was faced with the infelicity of facing him might have thrown that very same word on. Shane Keith Warne was the name of that cricketing shaman. Sure he had no aids of evil spirit and dark objects of black magic to assist him in his ‘sorcery’. But best of luck saying that to the countless number of batsmen he hoodwinked and swindled throughout his 15-year long Test career. Pretty sure you’d be rethinking your stance on the belief.
We all remember Warne’s historic delivery that had his name spoken all over the place. From a local pub in a cozy little English village to the bar in the Australian suburbs, Warne was everywhere. That peach of a delivery pitching on leg and spinning unpredictably long, just inches past Mike Gating’s prod to disturb the off stump which was his also very first delivery in an Ashes test, that too on foreign soil. That ball went on to become the ball of the century alright, besides camouflaging his actual Test debut, which was pretty horrible for the stature he went on to achieve by the time he pulled the curtains on his career. Being called into the side on January 2nd to face India in a Test match at the SCG, Warne had a debut worth forgetting, finishing the match with figures of 1/150 with Ravi Shastri being his only scalp.
Shane Warne was a glaring antithesis to the ‘Morning Shows the Day’ ideology and a slap in the face to all those who believed the same. Heck, he was nowhere near as good as he would go on to be for at least the first few series of his stellar career, even succumbing to the selector’s axe at some point. But that didn’t stop him from rewriting history and most importantly cooking the elixir that would breathe new life to the dying art of leg-spin that was racing towards a rapid death following the demise of Pakistan’s Abdul Qadir in the late ‘80s.
The fielder placed at short leg often heard a whirr when he propelled one of those spin grenades. The battle-worn wicketkeeper with his dead serious eyes, hidden behind the shades, held his breath. Those at the slip cordon chewed a fidgety gum, eying the ball with unbreakable concentration, focusing on the dead spot that was created every time the ball pitched somewhere around the leg stump. What went through the batsman’s mind at the point was anybody’s guess but it was guaranteed to oscillate between pure trepidation and the thought of not getting flustered on live television.
It would often pitch on leg stump, slide and slither past the bat much to everyone’s disbelief and batsman’s relief. Warne was no Michael Holding or Curtly Ambrose or any of those colossus Caribbean giants that would steam in and catapult 90+ mph beamers that would not only jeopardise your stay on the 22-yard strip but also the bones in your body. But yet it is no secret that batsmen often would rather face a 90+ speed-monster than face his astucious leg spin.
Over his illustrious career that spanned nearly 15 years, Warne produced one magic ball after another, adding more and more ballista to his arsenal on the way. As Australia were slowly building a team that would go on to force a shift in the regime, bringing an end to the great West Indian dominion, Warne was in the thick of things. There are no prizes for being able to understand that Australia’s metronomic rise to the throne of the cricketing hierarchy had a lot to do with Warne’s prowess.
As Warne progressively started putting his spells to test, winning Tests became business-as-usual for Australia. Having played under a quartet of Aussie skippers including Allan Border, Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting, the sorcerer bagged the highest number of scalps under Ponting. But he was the most comfortable under Mark Taylor which he has voiced time and time again.
It was all over the world where Warne dominated proceedings. Sure he did have his nemesis in the great Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar whom he described as ‘giving him nightmares’, but he was evergreen. In his debut Ashes series, he quite comprehensively took England by the throat. On a boiling Sharjah wicket back in 2002, Warne demonstrated his perseverance, bowling beautiful sliders one after another and outfoxing every Pakistani batsmen.
In the historic 2005 Ashes series against arch-rivals England, he proved his worth yet again bagging 40 wickets in just 5 outings but saw his side lose 2-1 to England. As the rest of the bowling attack changed around him with virtually every passing game, Warne remained a constant, and a constant threat.
The sorcerer iced a pitch-perfect end to his ostentatious career in 2007, humiliating arch-rivals England 5-0 to regain the Ashes urn. Bagging 23 wickets in his last series, Warne’s tally stood at 708 as he bowed out in front of a packed home crowd at the Sydney Cricket Ground as the then highest wicket taker in the history of the game, only to be bested by Muttiah Muralitharan later on.