A straightforward account documenting the life of an eccentric genius who enthralled the world with his bowling for more than a decade.
By Boria Majumdar
Shane Warne has forever been opinionated and vocal, and his autobiography isn’t any different. From stating that Indian internationals expected preferential treatment during the first season of the IPL and even wanted juniors to carry their bags to arguing that it was Steve Waugh’s unilateral decision to enforce the follow-on in the second Test against India at the Eden Gardens in the 2001 series that cost Australia the game, Warne in No Spin, co-written with player-turned-commentator Mark Nicholas, paints the story as is, without any strings attached.
The book, which starts slow, picks up momentum when Warne starts talking about the Ashes, the IPL, his thoughts on India and on contentious issues like match-fixing. To know that Salim Malik had called Warne to his room and offered $200,000 to underperform in a Test match in Pakistan is indicative of the rot in world cricket in the mid-1990s. Around the same time, Warne accepted $5,000 from a bookie who had been introduced to him by Mark Waugh, an act he regrets and had to pay for later. While he appears a tad defensive when narrating this incident, the fact that he has described it in detail augurs well for the book.
The book scores when Warne describes his association with the Rajasthan Royals. It is interesting to know that he was tempted to play the IPL when Rajasthan co-owner Manoj Badale managed to touch a real raw nerve—captaincy. It was only when Badale said the IPL was a platform for Warne to show the world that he was the best captain ever to lead Australia, did he get convinced about coming to India to lead the Royals. His leadership philosophy, aggressive and inspirational, adds to the Warne aura. The way he discovered Ravindra Jadeja and encouraged him to become a better player is exactly how captains should nurture youngsters and get the best out of them. To know how he stood up for the players he selected even when the management exerted pressure to pick others in the team shows how strong Warne is inside and how much he cared for men he believed in. To turn things around after a disastrous first game against Delhi in the first season of the IPL and not stop short of using unconventional methods like hosting lavish parties after every win adds to the cult of Warne as a maverick genius.
Warne, who seems to have very few insecurities of his own, lavishes praise on his opponents when they managed to outplay him. One such occasion was the 2001 Test match in Kolkata. While Warne argues that it was Steve Waugh’s mistake to enforce the follow-on that cost Australia the game, at no point does he take any credit away from Laxman and Dravid. In fact, he states clearly that Laxman’s innings was an act of genius and despite throwing everything they had at Laxman and Dravid for a good part of two days and two nights, the Australians were without a wicket. He also complements 20-year-old Harbhajan Singh for his exploits in the series. For the record, Singh picked 32 Australian wickets in the three Test matches.
That Warne wasn’t one to take criticism lying down comes across well when he complained about coach John Buchanan to captain Steve Waugh after the coach had made some adverse remarks about him in the media in the aftermath of the defeat in Kolkata in March 2001. He wasn’t afraid of conveying to Buchanan that the coach had lost respect in his eyes and should stay away from him for some time.
While the cricketing portions read well, my issues with the book, or rather with Warne, stem from some of his descriptions of India. To suggest that multiple waiters in an Indian five-star hotel couldn’t provide him with a sandwich of his choice and he eventually had to eat a plate of fries in 1998 in India is ridiculous. That someone had to carry his own food from Australia to India at the turn of the millennium says more about Warne than about India. Clearly, his exposure to global cultures and his ability to adapt wasn’t good enough at that point, making him come across as rude and stuck-up. However, things did change for him in India thereafter and while there is an underlying tone of cynicism that can’t be overlooked, he does enjoy chicken tikka these days and no longer carries food from Australia.
In all, No Spin is much what the title suggests. A straightforward account documenting the life of an eccentric genius who enthralled the world with his bowling for more than a decade. What explains his craft and his genius? Suffice to say even Warne doesn’t have the full answer to that question.
Boria Majumdar is a sports historian and commentator