James Lawton: Forget the foibles and mistakes, Warne demands place alongside the game's other immortals
Saturday 21 May 2011
Shane Warne's road from Upper Ferntree Gully, Victoria – which sounds like a fair dinkum birthplace for a fully fledged larrikin if we ever heard one – ended in Mumbai last night when he bowled the last competitive delivery of his extraordinary career for the Rajasthan Royals.
This gave Warne almost a sense of finished business, though it would be nice, he remarked, if someone quite soon got around to addressing the matter of his knighthood.
Surely, it is on the way. He is, after all, the last of Wisden's five cricketers of the 20th century still waiting to be ennobled. Sir Donald Bradman, Sir Jack Hobbs, Sir Garfield Sobers and Sir Vivian Richards have their achievements registered at the front of their names. All superb batsmen, it is true, but what of the bowling arts? Sobers was a mesmerising sight running to the wicket, no doubt, but he didn't re-invent cricket's most subtle art.
He didn't deliver a ball that not only shook the cricket world but also re-defined it.
Of course he didn't say this in quite so many words. Rather, his hint had the effect of one of his flippers. It left you with a whole larder full of food for thought.
Among his admiring audience was opponent Sachin Tendulkar, who will inevitably be enshrined by Wisden as one of the five greatest cricketers of the 21st century, and for Warne this was beautifully appropriate.
The Little Master is the first name he reaches for when he is asked to nominate the three batsmen who most challenged his ability to bowl the leg spin of the sorcerer gods.
Placed second, for sheer blinding virtuosity while at the top of his game, is Brian Lara, who burned so brilliantly for the West Indies, and for his wild card in the pack Warne picks out the fiercely enigmatic Punjabi, Navjot Singh Sidhu, "who could dance down the wicket with such an eye you knew he could easily send you to row Z".
It is at such moments that Warne, ever so briefly, sheds his larrikin clothes – those in which Aussies dress young, or in Warne's case, early middle-aged, men of boisterous and quite often bad behaviour – and becomes a seer of the game he did so much to enrich and revive.
Another of Warne's reflections in Mumbai was that cricket continues to put at risk its ability to so brilliantly re-invent itself with a money-scouring schedule guaranteed to take the edge off a brewery shire horse.
Yet if any man has ever proved himself capable of meeting the demands, of not only surviving but never yielding the ability to intrigue and delight and amaze, it is surely the 41-year-old Victorian who as recently as last December was still inspiring the desperate Australian hope that he might walk back into the Test arena he left in 2007 and turn around a deepening Ashes debacle. All across Australia there were plaintive cries that he should come back, and this was so even when he flew away to London for the problematic wooing of Liz Hurley.
Even now, Warne's team-mate in the India Premier League, Shane Watson, swears that he is still just a little time and application away from the ability to undermine any batting line-up. It may be fanciful but it is not so hard to understand when you consider the nature of this particular aura.
It is not just the product of superb sporting ability. It has another source, one of mystery and imagination, and if you should have any doubts about this you should get hold of a copy of Amol Rajan's Twirlymen: The Unlikely History of Cricket's Greatest Spin Bowlers, published by Yellow Jersey Press.
This is a forensic and often lyrical examination of the history of spin, and if a legion of inventive, quirky, brilliant and in some cases tragic sportsmen come back out of the mist, there is one self-evident certainty. It is that Rajan's "Twirlymen", despite grave threats to their existence, have provided cricket with an enduring dimension without which it would long ago have dwindled into something as brutishly functional as mere speed and heft.
Of course, Warne's supreme distinction, one which carries him beyond all of his mistakes and his foibles, came in that moment when he bowled Mike Gatting so astonishingly at Old Trafford 18 years ago – and set himself a standard that he never willingly surrendered.
There is an image of him which is as imperishable as the memory of his ability to transform any cricket. It was of him sitting in seat 1A of a Quantas flight from Brisbane to Adelaide for the second Ashes Test in 2006, one which he would come to shape on the last day. He seemed lost in a world undisrupted by admirers and autograph hunters. He sat there like a hermit, all the time rolling a cricket ball across his hand.
Rajan's cast list of heroes stretches across 379 pages but there is no place for anyone who did not contribute in some way of trial and error and triumph to the evolution and the survival of an embattled and often ill-considered art. Pick any page and it will be inhabited by men like Clarrie Grimmett, S F Barnes, Abdul Qadir, Anil Kumble, Richie Benaud, Jim Laker and the great Muttiah Muralitharan, who at 800 Test wickets finished 93 ahead of Warne.
The worry of the author was the one that made John Keats fretful when considering the advances of Isaac Newton and fellow scientists, that in explaining the rainbow they might "unweave" it.
Last night though, we were reminded that some men are beyond the rigours of scientific, even rational explanation. This is the redeeming glory of the larrikin we might call, if only for a day, Sir Shane Warne.
Rethink on Qatar may just pull Fifa back from abyss
Could it just be that Fifa president Sepp Blatter has stumbled upon a way out for both himself and an organisation stripped of the last of its credibility?
His tentative suggestion that the outrageous, mind-numbing decision to give Qatar the 2022 World Cup might be re-visited might indeed be the thin end of a redeeming wedge or, put another way, a stepping back from a truly appalling abyss.
If this is indeed so, the Football Association should not be in any rush to congratulate itself on abstaining from the presidential election between Blatter and the man who orchestrated Qatar's successful bid. No doubt it was an embarrassment, as were the belated revelations of former FA chairman Lord Triesman, but let's be sure about quite what has lit the burning bush which Blatter may just have noticed on Fifa's road to the desert.
It is not any moral grandstanding. It is the sensational force of irrefutable truth. It has left Blatter and his cronies blowing in the wind, though maybe now it is in the right direction.
Will he stay or will he go? Tevez is testing City's limits
One day Carlos Tevez is on the move, the next he is not. He is a significant talent, no doubt, but you have to believe there are certain limits to Manchester City's sense that he is indispensable to their hopes for the next huge season.
For all their progress, they know that they have to move up another notch, both in terms of performance and the kind of unity which is almost invariably the mark of champions.
Tevez plainly represents a strength and a weakness in these separate demands. The touch, the force, is self-evident. So, unfortunately, is the idea that he is only dimly aware of any existence beyond his own.
In the build-up to next week's Champions League final, it may be that City manager Roberto Mancini will reflect that if Tevez and Lionel Messi have the same origins they have also come to live on different planets. Sooner rather than later, Tevez, for everybody's sake, needs to call somewhere home.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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