Spin has always been king in Indian cricket, especially when the fantastic four of Bishen Bedi, B Chandrasekhar, E Prasanna, S Venkataraghan flourished under the canny captain Ajit Wadekar. Later down the years, spinners Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh and Ravichandran Ashwin earned reputation as match-winners in world cricket with piles of wickets. The latter is India’s second highest Test wicket-taker (442) and trying hard to be relevant in the T20 format, playing for Rajasthan Royals in IPL 2022.
The late Shane Warne, Rajasthan Royals’ first and most successful captain in IPL, was remembered for his contribution to cricket at a state funeral in the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). The Australian leg-spin wizard brought crowds to cricket stadiums wherever he performed, across formats. There could be no bigger tribute than this to a cricketing performer than getting universal acclaim for using craft to popularise his sport. Cricket is still trying to recover from his shock demise at 52 years.
For us in India, Warne was a world-class slow bowler against whom our best batters put their best foot forward to conquer the Aussie on his home wickets Down Under and away in India on tracks the spinners in visiting teams were eager to perform. Ravi Shastri (206), Sachin Tendulkar (148 not out) hammered his bowling on Test debut at Sydney 1992. The Test was drawn, but a young spinner was taken apart by two attack-minded Indians in their own different ways. India remained a formidable opponent till the end.
Tendulkar repeated the dose of the same treatment when Warne toured India in 1998, setting the dominating tone of bat over ball with a double hundred in a three-day tour match between Mumbai and Australia at the Brabourne stadium. The leg-spinner remained at the receiving end of ruthless batting from India for the remainder of the series, struggling to recover from the shock treatment at the hands of a ruthless Mumbai, for whom left-arm spinner Nilesh Kulkarni flourished with seven wickets in the game.
After this assault on home debut and in an away series in India, Warne retained a healthy respect for Indian batters, among whom VVS Laxman (281) and Rahul Dravid (180) stood out for the game-changing partnership in the second Test of the 2001 tour at Eden Gardens. Warne got three wickets in that landmark Test, from two innings after the home team was asked to follow-on. Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh displayed heart and craft for a match haul of 13 in an impossible India victory which will be talked about forever.
The Aussie ace’s most successful experience in Indian conditions happened in T20 format, displaying absolute mastery over control in four overs of tantalizing spin bowling in IPL 2008. Warne’s ability to get the best out of teammates at Rajasthan Royals, the surprise element in decisions as captain set the tone for spin to gain respect in the 20-over game, a format loaded against bowlers in general. The change in approach is evident, spinners are bowling the first over in T20, tasked to bowl in death overs by bold captains.
Warne, one of the boldest leaders in the sport, will be remembered for reviving the art of spin. He infused a huge dose of self-belief in slow bowlers on dominating batters when backed by captains, supported by fielders and most importantly, banking on supreme self-belief. This flamboyant Aussie, enjoying cricket and life, played 145 Tests (708 wickets), 194 ODIs (293) in an action-packed career for Australia, quitting to pursue other passions. Run-ins with the administrators back home ensured he did not get a chance to lead Australia, a mystery going by the way subsequent captains there ended up on the wrong side.
Test cricket’s master of spin has carved his place in T20 cricket, particularly in India for innovative, imaginative captaincy at Rajasthan Royals in IPL season one. Every member of that champion team in 2008 and those who played against Warne will carry lessons. valuable for the rest of their cricketing career… playing, captaining, coaching, mentoring and beyond. Current India coach Dravid, was a teammate of the Aussie at Royals, later took over captaincy of the team, excelled as mentor for India U-19 and India A.
The friendship between these two contrasting characters is an example of why Warne was so popular worldwide. Tendulkar, fierce competitor once, was close and they mutually admired each other. For generations of cricketers and followers, who grew up hearing about the exploits of Bedi, Chandra, Prasanna, Venkataraghavan against the world-beaters of that era, a stout Aussie expecting a wicket every ball represents a sample of cunning and control the Indian spin kings demonstrated over decades.
Rajasthan Royals striving to reach the IPL 2022 summit, attempting to emulate Warne’s warriors in the first edition, will be a fitting way to salute a maestro, who started it all at Mumbai’s D Y Patil stadium in the 2008 final against Chennai Super Kings. Left-arm spinner Shakib Al Hasan (Bangladesh) heads the T20 wicket-takers list with 119 victims. Muttiah Muralitharan is sitting atop the Test heap with 800 wickets in 133 games, overtaking the second-placed Aussie who can go away with a smile, secure in the knowledge that spin is king.