Spin king ~~Hollywood~~ Warne faces disgrace yet again

Published: Tuesday, February 11, 2003, 23:53 [IST]
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Johannesburg: Shane Warne's place in cricket history rests not on statistics but on the fact that he single-handedly revived the art of leg spin bowling in the western world. When he made his Test debut in 1991-92, the game was dominated by fast bowling. Leg spin, apart from the occasional sub-continental maestro such as Pakistan's Abdul Qadir, was all but extinct in top-flight cricket. Warne, whose nickname of 'Hollywood' tells its own story, changed all that. With his bleached blond hair, earring and aggressive, lively personality he made leg spin 'sexy'. Although he was characterised as the "beach bum made good", after he came back from being kicked out of the Australian academy, the tag of a rogue never left him. But this was to prove a double-edged sword. It helped account for his huge popularity, especially in Australia, because the public found it easy to identify with someone they believed to be much like themselves apart from his extraordinary skill. All this, though, was far away when, on his Test debut, he took a hammering from the Indian batsmen at Sydney when he finished with the seemingly hopeless figures of one for 150. But the Australians stuck by him and they were to be quickly rewarded. Warne's first delivery in Ashes cricket, in the first Test at Old Trafford in 1993, was proof that the world had a remarkable talent on its hands. Bowling to Mike Gatting, he pitched the ball well outside leg stump, the batsman went to play the ball but it turned extravagantly and clipped the top of off-stump. That delivery became etched into English memories and was named "the ball of the century". Warne, with is top-spinners, googlies, quicker balls and stock leg spinner soon established a mastery over English batsmen he has yet to relinquish. They were not alone in falling under his spell with South Africa's Daryll Cullinan another regular victim. After Cullinan had unwisely admitted he had sought psychological help in playing Warne, the Australian told him when the pair next met on the field, "Daryll, I'm going to send you straight back to the couch." Records were starting to tumble, even though his career was interrupted by shoulder and finger injuries. But controversy was starting to attach itself to Warne as well. In 1995, he and Mark Waugh were fined by the Australian Cricket Board for accepting money from an Indian bookmaker after providing pitch and weather information during a tour of Sri Lanka in 1994. However, the ACB unwisely kept the story quiet and four years later it emerged amidst a blizzard of headlines. And that was not the only time Warne was front page news. In 1999, he took flak after snatching a camera from a young New Zealand fan who took a photo of him smoking a cigarette even though Warne had a commercial contract which involved him giving up smoking. That same year though, he was man of the match in the World Cup final, taking four for 33 as Australia thrashed Pakistan by eight wickets at Lord's. But, while playing for Hampshire in 2000, lurid headlines in a British tabloid told of how Warne, a married man, had left "dirty messages" on the answer phone of a nurse he'd met in a Leicester nightclub. The subsequent furore cost Warne the Australian vice-captaincy and with his dream of skippering his country. Another shoulder injury last December, appeared to put paid to Warne's dream of bowing out of One-day cricket at the very top. But he battled back, determined that his career would not end with him being dropped like his long-serving team-mates, Mark and Steve Waugh, both axed from the One-day side. "A year or so down the track I don't particularly want to get the tap on the shoulder," he has said. "I'm going out my way, the way I wanted to go out and while I'm still at the top of my game." But now Warne, Australia's leading Test wicket-taker of all time and just nine short of becoming the first spinner in history to take 500 Test wickets, faces the worst exit of all.

Johannesburg: Shane Warne's place in cricket history rests not on statistics but on the fact that he single-handedly revived the art of leg spin bowling in the western world.

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