Over the two editions of IPL, I have greatly admired Shane Warne the Captain. His captaincy has been wonderfully spontaneous, aggressive and articulate. His ability to assess situations and think ahead of the game has put him in a league apart.
The fact that he has tasted tremendous success with a bunch of virtual unknown Indian cricketers speaks volumes of his ability to bring out the best in his men.
That Munaf Patel and Yusuf Pathan have been able to play at a higher level under him than at any time previous while playing for India is a testament to Warne. Ravindra Jadeja, too, has blossomed.
In fact, any one and every one under Warne has been able to express himself. Shane’s now also a pro Poker player and gambling is his thing. Perhaps that is why such exotic nicknames like Hollywood, Suicide, Showbags!
It is difficult to comprehend how such a self-confident cricketer is profoundly insecure off the pitch. He is such a typical Aussie with an in-your-face kind of personality. He plays to win and enjoys being the leader of the pack. He enjoys limelight but is susceptible to its pitfalls. Such a paradox!
Many called him Australia’s "Greatest Captain That Never Was" even before he made his name as a skipper in India with Hampshire and Rajasthan Royals. Even Warne counts not captaining Australia as one of his career regrets. He writes in his autobiography:
"I have given my heart and soul to Australian cricket and like to think I’ve earned the respect of the ACB. I have helped to put a few backsides on seats and made spin bowling more interesting.
"I have played in an aggressive, animated, emotional way which reflects the pride I take in representing my country. That should have counted for something, I would have thought."
Warne’s charms and special talents kept him in good stead even during school. He went to Mentone Grammar in Melbourne and was the leader of its Second XI and was destined to take over the reins of the First XI as well.
But his school demanded good passes in at least four subjects so as to pass the High School Certificate (HSC) and to be eligible for sixth grade.
Warne failed the test. It was deemed that he was never interested enough in his studies, and in order to keep him in line to take over their First XI, the school had to fabricate exceptions in order to make Warne eligible for sixth grade.
Warne went to the sixth grade, and went on to lead Mentone’s First XI to victory. In fact the Warne-led Mentone First XI remained unbeaten in the competition. The school’s 1987 yearbook states:
"Shane Warne’s captaincy was to be one of the major reasons for our successful season. He believed there was only one way to play the game and that was to attack. He led by example and was able to get the best out of the team. He was justly rewarded with the captaincy of AGS First XI."
It’s strange that someone with his track record as a captain in school cricket, grade cricket and later for Victoria never went on to captain Australia in Tests.
He was vice-captain for quite a bit and even captained Australia in One Day games when the regular captain was unavailable.
He was overlooked for captaincy when Taylor retired. Warne’s off-field affairs (nurses, playboy models, waitresses) and his apparent disregard for team protocol and curfew on drinking during games weren’t helping in his quest to become the captain.
His dislike for coaches and military style fielding drills didn’t win many friends among selectors. Later, drugs were to become a problem as well.
Ian Chappell, though, had been a great admirer of Warne as captain. He believed that Steve Waugh was a selfish cricketer and that Australian cricket would be best served if Warne took over when Taylor retired.
In his book Chappelli Speaks Out, he recalls an incident which he believed gave an insight into Warne as a cricketer.
It was the time when Warne was recovering from a finger injury and was bowling 30 minutes every day to get back to match fitness. Chappell asked if he could have a hit against him and he narrated thus:
"Hogg gave me a few outside off and I hit him through the covers. Warne was smart. He only tossed the ball up when he bowled a middle and leg line. When he got to off stump, they were quicker and flatter.
"I reckon he saw Hogg give me room outside off and decided I wouldn’t get any there. That gave me a great insight into his thinking. A very smart cricketer, Shane Warne."
Whatever Warne’s regrets as a non-captain of Australia, Hampshire and Rajasthan Royals must be immensely happy to have invested in him as their leader. Kevin Pietersen, Dmitri Mascarenhas, Yusuf Pathan, Munaf Patel, Shane Watson and Ravindra Jadeja have greatly benefited.
He has also shown that he knows how to make the most of the talent at his disposal. Some captains have struggled because of injuries to key players in their scheme of things. Many have been unable to change the team strategy because of lack of form in their key players.
Few have been able to match Warne for making the most out of the players he puts out on the park. Many have been able to rise above their capacity for him. Many, understandably, credit their success to him.
When Warne finishes with cricket as a captain two contrary feelings with dispute within him: regret, that his phenomenon was oppressed for as long as it was by the Australian selectors whatever their reasons; and relief, that he was finally able to establish his genius as a great leader. And he has IPL to thank for his relief.
This is a published article in Cricbuzz.