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Book Review : On Warne


Of googlies and flippers
SAIBAL CHATTERJEE | Issue Dated: February 17, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Book reviews | On Warne | Gideon Haigh | Hamish Hamilton's book |

His wasn’t a mere cricket career. It was a full-fledged saga, a non-stop media event, as exasperating as it was exhilarating. Shane Keith Warne has been the subject of many books already – at least 15 at last count. His spectacular achievements as a leg-spinner and spate of misdemeanours as a trouble-prone celebrity are well documented. Yet the two dramatic decades that he spent peddling his incredible wares on the world stage were far too heavily laden with both triumphs and controversies to be fully deconstructed in a single tome.

Veteran journalist Gideon Haigh gives it another shot and makes a fair fist of it. Looking at the life and times of the greatest spinner, if not bowler, of all times through a set of different prisms, On Warne comes up with a well-rounded portrait of a natural born champ who made the headlines around the cricketing world with his exploits both on the field and off it.

Based on interviews with Warne and his mentors and teammates conducted over the years and his own recollections of the bowler in action, Haigh provides perhaps the most illuminating account yet of a man bedevilled by contradictions and still completely taken up by the magic of his craft.

The web that Warne spun around batsmen sprang from simple methods. But the results they achieved were anything but. As he has claimed, cricket found him, and not the other way around. “He was taken in by the game,” Haigh writes, “as he floated through it because of a unique set of circumstances; and that embrace was an outcome not of success but of compound failure, in sport in general, and cricket in particular.”
From the making of the legend to the many follies of a life lived under constant scrutiny, replete with brushes with women, diet pills, career-threatening injuries, run-ins with Australian cricket bosses and even a bookmaker, the book tracks the entire Shane Warne story without pulling any punches. The result is a dossier that is as riveting as the master leggie’s magnificent accomplishments.

Warne’s career witnessed many highs and lows, but the unalloyed joy that he brought to the complex art of leg spin bowling remains unparalleled. He was a feared opponent, and not merely for the bag of tricks that he had up his sleeves, but also for the sheer swagger, born from a sense of superiority, that he brought to the contest.

“The essence of spin bowling is to tease and to goad, to incite batsmen to misjudge, overstep, overreach. Warne took it just a little further,” the author writes in the section ‘The Art of Warne’. “He presented the opponent with a narrative. I am better than you, he said; everybody knows this, but circumstances decree we go through the motions of proving the obvious.”

But there was nothing that was obvious in what Sri Lankan batsman Aravinda de Silva called Warne’s “honeytrap”. Haigh refers to Peter Roebuck once likening “young Australians playing English spin in the 1980s to schoolchildren accustomed to calculations suddenly being bombarded with mental arithmetic”. The author stretches that: “English batsmen trying to puzzle Warne out in the 1990s looked like children tackling calculus using their fingers.”

Haigh identifies four distinct stages in Warne’s evolution as a leg-spinner. In the time of Warne 1.0, the bowler “did not so much seem to get batsmen out as defeat them entirely”. He thrived on the novelty factor. This, Haigh writes, “was the ‘leg spin’ about which our elders told us these many years, and damn if it wasn’t just as perplexing as they’d always said”.

While there can be no end to fascinating analysis of the sheer impact of Warne’s bowling on befuddled batsmen, perhaps the most readable part of this book pertains to his relationship with four other ‘pivotal personalities of his era’ McGrath, MacGill,  Waugh and Buchanan”.

Haigh devotes several pages to Warne’s fruitful partnership with McGrath. “For a decade, they were something like an incantation. Other countries had great elisions: Ambrozanwalsh, Donaldanpollock, Wasimanwaqar. But Warnanmagrah were the great conversation stopper. You looked up and down Australia and its opponent on any given day, and there often seemed not much to choose between them on paper. Then you came to Warnanmagrah. They played for Australia, and they were matchless.”
Not an ounce of exaggeration there – Warne and McGrath have the statistics to show for their efforts. Bowlers generally hunt in pairs but partnerships are usually formed between pacer and pacer, spinner and spinner. The Warne-McGrath combo was a rare phenomenon. No pair of bowlers with more than 200 scalps each has played in a higher percentage of victories than the two.

This book is a must-read. It is not only about an individual, but also an entire game and a nation.


Gideon Haigh
Hamish Hamilton
Edition: Paperback   
ISBN: 978-1-926-42899-4
Pages:  205          
Price: Rs 499  

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017