Sunday, January 07, 2007

Shane Warne

The Ashes: Could Warne Soon Be Playing for the Enemy? Cricket: After announcing his retirement could Shane Warne be next in line to coach England? Kevin Mitchell investigates.
For Shane Warne the future is always a gamble, be it on the dance floor or on the cricket field. But the most intriguing prospect of them all - The Blond helping England win back the Ashes - has suddenly, mischievously perhaps, presented itself as a left-field alternative to the condition he fears most: boredom. The idea that Warne could replace Duncan Fletcher as the England coach after giving his team such a comprehensive flaying for the best part of 16 years is, at first glance, both fanciful and illogical. But the suspicion that it might have been planted by Warne himself after the announcement of his retirement can't be discounted. (Ladbrokes rate it a 200...#8209;1 shot and, while, they didn't get rich getting it wrong, Warne likes a punt at good odds.) A more realistic scenario is that Tom Moody, a long-time Worcester resident and an Anglophile whose coaching contract with Sri Lanka expires soon, would love the job. And he would be quite happy if he had the finest wrist spinner of them all as an assistant. There are reasons to be sceptical, of course. Warne is a 37-year-old playboy still shrugging off the least appealing aspects of adolescence; he is a champion and great players rarely have the patience or the understanding of fallibility to pass on their genius to mortals; and he is, if you had not noticed, Australian to the roots of his bleached hair. Yet three influential voices here, James Sutherland, the chief executive of Cricket Australia, Steve Waugh, Warne's captain in 56 of the spinner's 143 Test matches, and the game's eminence grise, Richie Benaud, think it is not that absurd an idea that Warne would spread his wisdom beyond the place that is girt by sea. 'It would be good for world cricket,' Sutherland told The Observer. Asked if the tearaway would make a good coach, even of England, Benaud said: 'Yes, he would. He's got the best cricket brain of anyone you'll come across. He comes up against all different types of batsmen and then he puts them back in the pavilion.' He has done it 699 times for Australia. Could Shane 'we don't want the English to win at anything' Warne use that superbrain to help England inflict similar damage on Australia? For the moment, dreaming that he would shift his allegiance so dramatically, like a lot that surrounds the life of the man they call Hollywood, is mere speculation. Inevitably, it started in the newspapers. Waugh was the first to utter the heresy. 'I wouldn't be surprised if they offer him to be the England coach,' he wrote in his syndicated column on Thursday, the day Australia woke up to the news that their number-one larrikin was quitting the game. Later, Warne, all gleamingly content and so happy to talk he went on for a quarter of an hour after the cameras had stopped rolling, replied: 'I don't know what Stephen's on. Definitely not in my plans at the moment, no.' Rarely can the words 'at the moment' have been so loaded. As Warne said during an entertaining and frank retirement press conference in a jam-packed members' room of the Melbourne Cricket Ground (played out in front of 23 television crews, 40 photographers, hundreds of journalists after his 100-yard limousine ride from the Cricket Australia HQ to an underground car park), his immediate plans reside elsewhere. He wants to take part in whitewashing England in the Melbourne and Sydney Tests, mull over a few offers from TV and publishers, raise more money for his children's charity, which is on target for $A2million (£800,000) this year, and play cricket in the back yard with his kids. He might have added, but didn't, that he will talk to his estranged wife, Simone, about a reconciliation while he gets used to the unfamiliar sensation of not spending his days in a dressing room full of smelly kit and his nights in various dimly lit pulling emporiums with Kevin Pietersen and unknown, story-selling bimbos and strippers. Certainly, he has no further cricket commitments in Australia. Which is interesting. At the end of the southern summer, Warne will get ready for another stint with Hampshire, where he has two years left on his contract. As he is walking away from the international game, as well as Victoria and his club side, St Kilda, it will be the only cricket he will play - and that will hardly satisfy the ambition of one of cricket's most restless souls, a man, even at 37, for whom a mobile phone is not so much a means of communication as another way to get into trouble. So the prospect of taking over from Fletcher, who will almost certainly step down after the World Cup, or helping Moody remains a tantalising possibility. Also in the mix - if you can stand further speculation - is the outside chance that Glenn McGrath, who announced yesterday that he he too will call it a day after next year's World Cup, might be tempted to join the team, given he spent a season with his old team-mate Moody at Worcestershire. Whatever Warne does, he leaves a trail of glorious memories, some more palatable than others, and cricket owes him a considerable debt. The statistics glow like neon lights on the billboard for a movie. There is nothing left for him to achieve, nothing he could achieve. His bones are aching. He is half a stone overweight and, heroically, he has dragged himself through this series to impose his awesome gifts on batsmen still stunned in his glare. He is, as Benaud says, simply the best over-the-wrist bowler there ever was. He might also be judged to be the best bowler, whatever the discipline, and (according to Wisden) one of the five best cricketers of the twentieth century, alongside four knights: Sir Jack Hobbs, Sir Garry Sobers, Sir Viv Richards and, of course, Sir Don Bradman. More words are superfluous. All we need to do is rerun the images of all those incredibly clever dismissals, those dipping, spitting deliveries that reduced very good players to dupes. But there was always more to Warne than his fingers - as any number of women will testify. All his supposedly adult life, Warne has been mesmerised by anyone in a short skirt and who smelt nice. It is said by his unauthorised biographer (the best kind), Paul Berry, that he has slept with a thousand women - which is 300 more than his wickets tally. However, when the sun finally faded on his career, he went home to the one who mattered most, Simone. She was the only person who could have made him take stock. She and their three children, apparently, want him back. He wants to go back. Even the prurient and the judgmental (of whom there is no shortage in Australia) ought to cheer on that prospect. While their Brighton mansion in Melbourne's suburbia often resembles a besieged castle, surrounded by camera crews and journalists, it is his only haven now that he has left his other home, the Australia cricket team. He hasn't always been the perfect, house-trained occupant there, either, and there have been tensions within the side in recent years that have been conveniently ignored in the interest of team success. When I asked Steve Waugh earlier this year whether he thought Warne might have made a good Test captain, he replied with a steady gaze and unquivering certainty: 'Mate, I think we made the right decision.' And that choice was SR Waugh. SK Warne was never going to get the plum. And, whatever we thought outside the dressing room about his obvious tactical acumen, the inner sanctum would not have it. Adam Gilchrist, as straight as a five-bar gate, indulges him up to a point and Waugh often lost patience with him. John 'Buck' Buchanan, the coach in touch with dead Chinese warlords, was not a soulmate. He has friends, of course - Michael Slater, also marginalised because of his eccentricities; Michael 'Pup' Clarke, whom he has mentored; and, to the annoyance of some of his compatriots, another youngster, KP at Hampshire - most of them away from the mainstream. Clarke only now is shredding his image as a bit of a lad, a nightclub starlet dazzled by his own image, a Warne in the making. In his own circle, Warne seems to be more admired and treasured as a player than clung to like an old friend. He runs his own race, does his own deals, creates his own noise - and makes more money than any of his team-mates. He drags people along in his wake. Warne, more enthusiastically than the others in this rather amazing cricket team, embraces celebrity. Yet - and this throws up uncomfortable contradictions for his critics - he is the most affable man. I interviewed him at the end of Waugh's last Ashes tour, in the team hotel in west London. It was the usual deal, arranged by sponsors, the clock ticking. But he would have talked all day. He expounded on all aspects of his life and his cricket. He could not have been more charming. And then, halfway through the interview, the photographer John Riordan moved about the hotel room to grab the best shot. Warne was sitting near the window. On the sill was an ashtray, and in the ashtray was a cigarette swimming in what might have been brandy, whisky or beer from the night before. He was keen that it not be in the shot but didn't say so; instead, he slowly and surreptitiously put a finger on the ashtray and dragged it from view along the window sill. He is a lot like a boxer, the kid from Ferntree Gully. He has grown up in the art of deception. As Benaud observes, he puts batsmen back in the pavilion. What he does to Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood and countless others on the pitch, he does to others away from his workplace. It is not malicious, just deep-rooted. Berry seems to have taken a hard line on Warne, although you could hardly question his forensic skills given the number of people he spoke to in compiling Spun Out: the Shane Warne Story. But, personally, I'm drawn to the player's obviously self-serving and maybe unconvincing defence. He calls Berry's book 'a pack of lies', which it isn't. He told Alpha magazine in his most recent interview: 'People are wrong when they think I'm a bighead. I'm not arrogant. I'm confident in my ability on the cricket field but, away from cricket, I think I'm very generous, genuine, loyal and fair.' Simone might quibble with some of that. But she's still there. The night before he announced he was retiring, they went out to dinner in Melbourne. It was some statement. You would have to be a particularly callous critic not to wish them the best. He goes on: 'A lot of people don't like me and that's fine. The general person in the street is very nice to me. They think a lot of the media attention has been unfair as well.' That's nonsense. The media, here and in Britain, have been in turn adulatory and hard on him - for good reason: he's a brilliant twit. And often he's in denial about his poorest traits. Warne is selfish. He is often what the Australians call 'a hoon'. Or a 'two-bob mug lair'. But he's like most of us. He is fallible and amazing, all in one. Nobody in sport that I can think of so embodies the oddity of being simultaneously an idiot and a genius. For most of us, that's good enough. We are privileged to have been alive in his time.
By Guardian Unlimited © Copyright Guardian Newspapers 2006Published: 12/24/2006