Give Me that Flipper, Shane
For more terrestrially grounded people, writing about cricket can be seen as an exercise in distant planetary speculation. The Nobel laureate Harold Pinter did not think so, calling this old English game “the greatest thing that God ever created on earth.” Others might disagree with mild disgust, finding it archaic, jargon-heavy and slow.
In the early 1990s, one figure broke through the stuffiness of willow bats, pads, leather balls and white flannel. When life left the overly worked body of Australia’s Shane Warne, who expired in Thailand at 52, the reaction was global. In India and Pakistan, hundreds of millions mourned. This most celebrated of error-prone buffoons was, as the emperor Vespasian might have said, becoming a god.
The Melbourne Cricket Ground, on March 30, became the venue for one such occasion: a state memorial service held in honour of the cricketer. For a brief spell, a sporting stadium had become a cathedral, the occasion heavy with solemnity. In it, Warne’s followers and admirers communed.
When Sir Elton John appears to commemorate you, the celebrity value is bound to inflate and discombobulate. There were others from the Hollywood set with recorded speeches (fittingly, Warne, with his peroxide hair, ear adornments and lifestyle had been given the name of “Hollywood”). The more cynical observer might wonder whether these people would necessarily know what a cricket pitch looked like, let alone what Warne’s expertise entailed. But sport in this era can enable a figure to move beyond fringes, catapulted to permanent, social media dissemination. Even prior to the advent of the tech giant platform, Warney had already broken the mould.
Nothing can be taken away from his expertise, in so far as it was practised on the cricket ground. The smell of leather whirring and whizzing upon flattened grass. Deception and guile, packed into the movement of the delivery. A mastery of tactics, field placements, with a sublime ability that enabled him to execute the “ball of the century” in 1993 against England’s bemused Mike Gatting.
Memorials, however, always risk going too far, slipping into soppy hagiography. Malcolm Knox tearily glistens by claiming that the cricketer was “a force of nature and an everyman.” Writing like a starstruck admirer, Knox is dewey. “If you ever walked behind Shane Warne through a crowded place, you might get an idea of what it was like. Some deferred by looking away again. Others grappled with their phones to take a quick shot.”
Another admirer of Warne’s, sports commentator Sam Newman, was aghast about Warne’s other, lesser-known activities. It came out during the memorial service itself. Warne, Andrea Egan of the UN Development Programme revealed, had joined its wildlife fund, Lion’s Share, in 2021. Her address seemed to transform the late sports figure into a modern incarnation of St. Francis of Assisi. She explained how his legacy lived on “in the people of Sri Lanka promoting sea turtle conservation, in an all-female anti-poaching unit in South Africa and the team of the Byron Bay hospital, who were supported in the wake of the bushfires.”
Egan’s appearance stunned Newman. “They had a representative from the United Nations! I tell you what, if that man has not taken all before him, I’d like to see someone who can top that.” It’s not often you hear a good word about the UN in these circles – Newman is as parochially soaked as they come – but he had to concede that Warne’s involvement, and the acknowledgment, “nearly blew me out of the water.”
Memorial services also serve to iron out wrinkles and add cosmetic touch-ups. Brilliance, or genius, can be mistaken as being broad rather than confined, somehow seeping into other areas of life. Unless you have a particular affection for laddish and occasionally loutish behaviour, for acts of spectacular stupidity in public life, cricket remains the throne upon which Warne sat most comfortably. But when he got off it and wandered around without orb and sceptre, the messiness began.
Warne made no secret of this tendency, though he proved unapologetic about it. In one of his three ghostwritten autobiographies, No Spin, he conceded to having “made a number of mistakes in my life and I will continue to make them. This is what it means to be human.”
With that standard in mind, Warne proved particularly human in accepting $5,000 in 1994 during a one-day tournament in Sri Lanka from a shady Indian bookmaker by the name of “John”. This was a stroke of good luck – Warne had frittered away about that same amount at the hotel’s casino in Colombo. This “gift” with “no strings attached” transpired because Warne’s own Australian teammate, Mark Waugh, had received $4000 from “John” for supplying weather and pitch reports.
In reflecting upon this incident, Warne gave one of his famously baffling reasons. He did not wish to insult John, who was offering the money to a figure he described as “a great player”. He would recall that this was “the sort of conversation I might have had with my dad and brother.” This dubious family analogy did not extend to the Pakistani cricketer Saleem Malik, who, fortunately for the slow bowler, failed in an attempt to make Warne throw a match for $200,000.
Family, however, makes an appearance again in 2003. The occasion was the injudicious taking of tablets, which pushed Warne, and Australia, into the less than flattering light of sports doping. That year, Warne was found to have taken a banned diuretic. Like many an idiot son in the lurch, he blamed his unwitting mother, who wished him to look “nice” when facing the media.
At the time, Dick Pound, former vice-president of the International Olympic Committee, found that explanation incorrigible, “laughable” and on par with the excuse, “I got it from the toilet seat.” In February 2003, the Australian Cricket Board drugs panel imposed a twelve-month ban.
An unrelenting Pound would continue to find Warne’s account dubious. In his 2006 book Inside Dope, the former sporting administrator is withering to the cricketer. Pointing the finger at his mother for wishing to see a more streamlined version of her son before the cameras concealed the fact that Warne was nursing a shoulder injury. “The diuretic was a masking agent that could have hidden the possible use of steroids that would help the injury cure faster. He had returned to play almost twice as quickly as the experts had predicted.”
With Warne’s entry into the pantheon of cricket’s immortals, ethicists and philosophers will have no reason to lose sleep. Dick Pound will remain unconvinced. The most profitable exercise will be to regard the player’s talent on the field with admiration, and his ability to command loyalty as remarkable. Keep him on cricket’s throne. He looks best there.
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Your comments and observations about cricket, are more balanced and informed than those you make about international issues.
Stick to cricket.
My God, I am so heartily sick to death of hearing about Shane Warne! Like most over-rated, self-serving cricketers, the right-wing sycophant, Warne, has now been glorified to the outrageous point where he has reached semi-God status! It is thoroughly ridiculous! The overwhelming majority of Australians don’t even like cricket – it is more boring than watching grass grow or paint dry! The eminent American author, Bill Bryson, aptly described cricket as a game so tedious that you could start watching it, go away, have three or more children, attain a University education then return and the game would STILL be going on and on! This country would be far more credible if we praised, rewarded and admired academics, scientists and humanitarians who do FAR FAR MORE to benefit the lives of ordinary Australians (and others).
Warne was a fine cricketer with a fine cricketing brain “. But he was not the greatest ever – not even the greatest Australian cricketer (nor was Bradman, in my opinion.) the greatest cricketer was Sir Garfield Sobers. The greatest Aussie cricketer ever was Keith Miller, who was as great a larrikin as Warnie but with considerably more class.
As to Bradman – his off-field character does not bear scrutiny.
Jack, when commentating after his playing career Keith Miller was talking about a dropped catch. “There are only two people who could have taken that catch. Me or God.”
What a giant he was.
The main difference between Sir Garthfield Sobers and Shane Warne lies in the distinction between being good at a sport and being a good sport (the Maradona/Pele divide)
Warne was one, Sobers was both.
Ps I always thought that Dick Pound (former IOC VP) sounded like a pornstar pseudonym.
Cricket and other team sports: good exercises for players but also bread and circuses for onlookers.
Also exceedingly profitable for bookmakers, particularly those with sufficient influence to ‘massage’ odds & outcomes
Speaking of Bradman…
I was in my early 20s when my mother died, and I went to stay with my oldest brother in Cootamundra for a few months. Cootamundra is the birthplace of Don Bradman.
After bragging to a guy in the pub how good I was with bat and ball I found myself padding up for Coota on the weekend.
Ever since I’ve been telling people what good cricketers Cootamundra has produced, as between Bradman and myself we have a batting average just over 99.
They’re always impressed. 😁
PS: In the first innings we were 3/9 when I strolled to the crease. One ball later we were 4/9. ☹️
At least in the second innings I hung around a bit longer for my duck.
Millers comment to Parkinson when asked about Ashes cricket being stressful was good: ‘Stressful? Having a Messerschmitt up your arse is stressful!’
Miller was a Battle of Britain spitfire fighter pilot.
Being the controller of technologies I have the remote but, for peace we watch what she wants. So I dozed through the show.
She was interested but I thought Warne on a par with newman both worth a ounce of poop.
I was lucky to see the 4th test with Tyson, Miller, lindwall
In trying to confirm my memory of Tyson having a long run, but I abandoned the memory when I discovered the longest run up is 4.2 kilometres. But he was bloody fast, lindwall dragged and I spent the next 10 years copying him.and I could zing a tennis ball in the back yard.
They were products of their times and after years of Bailey and boycott to watch the flashing left hand batsman sobers was euphoric.
I can still see the front foot of Wes hall and the stance of the batsmen verses the baseball stance of today and the front foot rule.
No helmets either.
Of course, these days corporatised sports is less about circuses providing mental anasthesia for the masses and more about exploiting societal addiction to help faciltate the evermore obscene profits of corrupt gambling syndicates (GETYA BETSON PUNTAZ!).
The boorish bratpack behavior of the Warne/Waugh generation turned many Australians away from any further interest in cricket, for others their dodgy involvements in shonky bookie schemes sealed the deal.
Phuq the cricket.
The sports news items, hours of it on eg the BBC, too often interspersed with long pronouncements by privileged, at times inarticulate sporting types, make me think of : 351 mined and mutilated bodies so far found in the Ukraine city of … / a thousand people were successfully gassed today at …/ floods have destroyed an area the size of Ireland / mega fires have destroyed x homes and killed y today/ , followed immediately by who won a football match or similar. Sports should always be a stand alone thing, easy to turn off.The BBC does that better than the abc, I think.
Don’t troll me; for me at least this sequential stream is discomfiting – cognitive dissonance. Does anyone else feel the same? Thanks.
I see an opinion piece from this author has been removed.
Just as a matter of interest, I think it is important and worthwhile to publish the opinions of verbose, self important apologists for the rich, expansionist, murderous, criminal, fascist dictator Putin
They are entitled to be publicly exposed and shamed.
A C, I removed it. Not to deny you the thrill of publicly exposing and shaming the author, but because it was against my better judgement to allow it to be published. I take responsibility for that.
Carol and I have an unwritten policy that we want to give every author a voice and they are free to write on any subject they wish. Also, Carol and I are 100% supportive of our authors. We appreciate and respect them all.
The article I removed, however, was not one that was in The AIMN’s interest to publish.
Thrilling or not, I am happy to point out the tactics of those that appear to be so disaffected with western democracy, that they seek to excuse (or contextualise) the most outrageous brutality of Putin.
And you’ll recall that Tony Abbott gained political success through constant negativity, magnifying and exaggerating missteps and undermining public confidence.
Those are the tactics Binoy applies.
I see your cognitive dissonance and raise you a lucid disparity.
On cricketing news, it was awesome seeing the Australian women’s team win against England.
When comparing eras, it is interesting to see photos of the quick bowlers from the Bradman era. The back foot drag that was legal meant that the ball was only released about a yard (or even a metre) beyond the batting crease, which meant the batter had only about 18 yards to sight it – no helmets and precious little in the way of padding. And I remember a photo of the England player Brian Close, stripped to the waist after an inning -,against the Windies I think it was – with about 30 cricket-ball sized bruises on his body.
Jack, a bit like Colin Cowdrey at the WACA in the 1974/75 tour of Australia.
By memory he scored 22, which isn’t a high score, but it was the manner in which he scored it. If an innings could be called ‘brave’, this was it.
He faced 101 balls. For every ball he didn’t score from … he had a bruise to show for his troubles.
I’ve met a few famous cricketers.
I spent an hour sharing a table with a couple of Pakistani players in the late 70s: a true gentleman by the name of Zaheer Abbas, and a young arrogant upstart on his first tour of Australia who went by the name of Imran Khan.
Many, back in those days, thought I was Imran’s lookalike. A mate’s mother – when watching a test between Aus and Pakistan – wanted to know why I was playing for the Pakies. I’ve a few funny stories about being mistaken for Imran, but I’ll leave them for another day.
The other famous cricketer was David Hookes, in 1986. Charles and Di were in SA to commemorate the state’s 150th anniversary, and as I knew the Lord Mayor I received an invite to his cocktail party in honour of the Royal Couple. Hooksie, as SA’s cricket captain, also received an invite. Hooksie, for some reason, singled me out as a drinking partner and we both ended up smashed.
Charlie was telling us that the Ashes urn – which he brought to Australia with him (the first time ever it was away from Lords) – could not be insured because it was too valuable.
Hooksie, when not sculling drinks with me, was whisked off by John Bannon for a little while to have a talk to Lady Di. What he said about her to me afterwards wasn’t very complimentary.
I won’t repeat it here.
Email me at email@example.com if you want to hear what he said.
Jeff Kowalic, a young darwin high teacher, went back to adelaide and was chosen as a sheffield shield fast bowler. In his first match he dropped cowdrey who proceeded to get a double century and pasted him all over the ground.
The bruises from the draggers were found on all of us. Especially on the matting and concrete pitches. Which reminds me of the brains of cricketers and men in general’ The box was invented in the middle of the 19th century and the helmet 100 years later.
wam, they were clearly more interested in protecting their balls rather than their brains.
It seems like many of today’s Australian men still have their brain firmly packed in a scrotum?
Albo is going to need a miracle now that Scummo has boosted the QLD townesville seats with defence spending.
More importantly ken needs a miracle tomorrow?