Penguin Books India
Rs. 499 pp 212
While his leg-spin bowling exemplified all that is romantic about cricket, Shane Warne also made sure his actions, through a brilliant international career and beyond, were never short of drama. Unlike his illustrious contemporaries Sachin Tendulkar, who has built a monk-like aura around him, and Brian Lara, who stood out in a team in decline and has willingly faded away from the eye of the cricket world - the let-it-rip master can't have enough of the public glare. Thus for anyone attempting to re-tell Warne's remarkable cricketing journey, it has to be more about the narrative than about facts.
And this is what Gideon Haigh, renowned Australian cricket writer and author, achieves with stupendous success in On Warne. The book is born out of the quest to take a fresh look at the craft of the greatest spin bowler the game has seen; the career of a man who oozed Aussie aggression but was guided by common sense and a remarkable cricketing mind, and was never excited by a regimented approach (read John Buchanan).
The author draws upon interviews conducted with Warne during his international career, his experience covering the Australia Test team, and his immense ability to paint an unceasing series of word pictures, whether it is to describe the man's art, audacity or penchant for controversies.
Haigh mesmerises the reader while describing the art of Warne's bowling and there is not a hint of fatigue in his retelling of the story of the free-spirited youngster taking his early steps towards international glory. If Warne hit the high notes with his 'ball of the century' dismissal of Mike Gatting on the 1993 Ashes tour, his first two India tours were forgettable, coming up against Tendulkar in his pomp and the batting artist, VVS Laxman, in 2001.
Warne's tense relationship with skipper Steve Waugh and how the man who could have been one of Australia's great captains came close to quitting the national team on the West Indies tour before the challenge of the triumphant 1999 World Cup campaign will encourage one to read the book in one go.
This is a must read for anyone who loves great writing, sports books in general and those on cricket in particular. However, one feels Haigh could have dealt with two issues differently. Writing about the issues before and after the Australian board fined Warne and Mark Waugh for links with an Indian bookmaker in 1994 and about Australia confronting offers on their subsequent Pakistan tour, corruption in cricket is made out to be a purely subcontinental scourge, which is not the case. Warne's bowling in India could also have got more elaborate treatment. Unlike at Ashes, he did not stamp his authority here until the 2004 tour, his third visit. In fact, one would rate his spell in the heat and dust and against a murderous Virender Sehwag in the drawn Chennai Test of that series as being truly memorable.