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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Where there's fire in his belly there's smoke

Peter Lalor in today's Australian

There is some talk that Shane Warne has been reincarnated in India as the vegetable-curry-eating, team-leading guru of Jaipur's Twenty20 cricket outfit, but it is reassuring to see that, deep down, he is still the same old Aussie Shane.

Just days after he sent waves of hysteria across the cricketing globe by suggesting he might come back and play in next year's Ashes series in England, he has been caught out in a predictable ashtray outrage.

The Hindustan Times caught Warne having a cigarette before the match against Kolkata at Eden Gardens on Tuesday. The stadium is a smoke-free zone, but the venerated leg-spinner, who was known to hang out of dressing-room windows for a cigarette in a past life, has apparently not changed that much.

Bollywood Shane is, it seems, very similar to the old Hollywood Shane, whose exploits dominated newspapers throughout his 708-wicket Test career. Warne was photographed by a schoolboy while having a puff on a tour of New Zealand in 1999 despite having signed a $200,000 deal with an anti-smoking lobby that required him not to inhale.

Social issues aside, the Kolkata match was something of a triumph for Warne, who has successfully combined the roles of captain and coach of the underdog Rajasthan Royals side in the Indian Premier League.

The Royals took on the Kolkata Knight Riders, who are coached by Warne's old coach and nemesis John Buchanan. Warne has been a critic of Buchanan over the years, but was caught out borrowing his former coach's tactics when The Hindustan Times published Warne's secret team-strategy sheet.

Buchanan was mocked by the bowler for his creative approach to preparation and strategies.

Lalor had another sharply observed piece yesterday on a related issue:

Shane Warne's fanciful suggestion of an Ashes comeback has been met with rolled eyes and laughter in Australian cricket circles, but was enough to send a shiver of fear down the spines of England's batsmen.

Those poor, long-suffering souls have seen enough horror movies to know that no matter how dead the bad guy looks, he always manages to reach a gnarly hand out of the grave one last time.

The news might also have Stuart MacGill reaching for the silver bullets. Warne is the body in the lake that has haunted MacGill his whole career.

The greatest leg-spinner of all time admitted the whole notion of an Ashes comeback is a "fairytale" and Cricket Australia treated it as something of a joke, but Warne has never tired of the spotlight and knows that even the peak of his nose through the velvet curtains is enough to raise excitement in the cheap seats


Even Warne himself had offered the odd qualifier and condition to his return.

"If Stuey MacGill fell over and broke his leg, and there were no other spinners around, and Ricky (Ponting) came out and said, 'Mate, can you please help us out for this one-off tour? We need you', that is something I would weigh up," Warne said.

He was not, however, finished with the fine print just yet. "The reason I retired was to spend time with my kids. I was also sick of international touring here there and everywhere, other commitments, and team meetings. If you could just turn up and play Test cricket, that would be cool. I would definitely consider that."

So there you have it: one broken leg (can be arranged), one call from the captain (a text would do) and he'd consider it - just as long as there were no team meetings, no travel, no commitments and, presumably, not too much training.

Oh, and he might have to mind the kids on Wednesdays.

Warne had been playing this same song about one-day internationals since being sent home from the 2003 World Cup because of a positive drug Test. Comeback? Oh, if they ask me I'd think about it, he'd say. And they'd say, if he wants to make himself available we'd think about it.

After you. No, no, I insist, after you ...

Update 24 May

In today's Australian Lalor has another piece about Shane "'Hollywood' Shane can't retire from the spotlight":

In the past month Warne had lured the spotlight to himself, this time via his efforts in the Indian Premier League. It seems the uber riche owners of the new Indian cricket franchises had made the terrible mistake of ignoring and underestimating Warne and he was not going to let them forget it.

During the insanity of the player auctions Warne went for a modest $450,000 and found himself plonked in charge of the bargain-basement Rajasthan Royals. The team had an op-shop feel, the $1m superstars had gone to the other brightly uniformed sides and the money was on the big spenders to dominate the league.

Warne, naturally, defied all logic. He roused his charges to great deeds against the champions of international cricket and in the middle of the Ashes-return story he lead them to a win over gold-plated Kolkata Knight Riders. Warne's op-shop XI was the first side through to the competition's semi-finals.

Making the finals was one thing for the leg-spinner, but beating the Knight Riders quite another. Warne had ensured this meeting was personal, taking aim at the opposition coach John Buchanan - a man he has spent much of the past five years criticising. Warne loathed Buchanan's coaching style when he was in charge of the Australia side and continues to moan about the number of team meetings and odd ideas his former coach was renowned for.

Still, when Warne's team tactic's list was leaked to the Hindustan Times it made interesting reading. Here was an approach that looked like it had come from the Buchanan cricket canon.

Players were given odd titles and roles. He was "the leader of the pack" his duty was "spin to win", show a "match-winning temperament in closing overs with the bat" and to "marshal the troops". Shane Watson was "the enforcer", Yusuf Pathan the "statement maker" and Mohammed Kaif the "guiding light" and so on.

The Warne comeback story had been sparked in part by an earlier Warne news cycle, this time about how the Rajasthan team's success was proof the leg-spinner was the best Test captain Australia never had.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell had always been outspoken on the issue and decided it was time to speak out again.

"He makes the game exciting for his team-mates, which is part of the secret to successful captaincy. Keep them involved in an absorbing contest and the really competitive players will regularly produce their best," Chappell wrote in his Cricinfo column.

"Also, his captaincy creed, 'We can win from any position,' is like the common cold - it's contagious. If a team under Warne pulls off a stunning victory or two, the players start to believe that it wasn't a miracle, just an everyday occurrence. "

Cricket Australia, as everybody knows, got a little nervous in the bowels at the thought of Warne leading the national team. While CA had flirted with the idea and appointed him vice-captain it had eventually been forced to relieve him of this role.

Chappell had an interesting take on what might have been. The former Test captain invoked the Pythonesque notion that "Man has two major organs, brain and penis, but only blood enough to run one at a time".

Chappell suggested that the demands of captaincy would have kept Warne out of trouble.

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