It’s not a rule but a belief in general in sport that a team can only win some of the close encounters it comes across. It’s rare in football that a team wins each time it goes into a tie-breaker. There are exceptions and Shane Warne’s Rajasthan Royals are turning out to be the ones of that kind in the IPL.
They won the final last year off the last ball after having had the last laugh in a few cliffhangers earlier and this tale of clinching narrow ones under pressure goes on. Thursday’s last-over thriller against Mumbai Indians was an extension of this amazing sequence including the ‘super over’ stunner against Kolkata Knight Riders.
What makes them tick? Yusuf Pathan plays the saviour at times, Munaf Patel bowled an ice-cool last over on Thursday and they have found unknown heroes like Kamran Khan and Abhishek Raut. But the man who stations himself at short extra-cover when everything seems lost is impossible to overlook.
Shane Warne doesn’t only effect stunning saves off full-blooded shots and convert them into run outs. He gets big men like Sachin Tendulkar out and gets men of lesser stature to deliver in crunch moments.
“We warned him that he would be inviting trouble to his injured hamstring if he played this match (against Mumbai),” revealed coach Darren Berry after that game. “He said ‘I’m playing’. When Warne says that, what we say doesn’t matter.”
In their brief history in IPL, the Royals might be wondering that Warne would be the best captain they could ever think of getting. For a low-budget team to be giving the bigwigs a run for their money, they needed an extraordinary man. In him they have one.
“Not only does he command respect from the players, they believe in him. And Warne has shown how strong he is, mentally and physically. He was in no shape to play against Mumbai and did so because he wanted to play the big match… ,” Barry said. Warne demonstrated how he does that, taking key wickets.
“The hairline is receding, yes. But it still feels great to get Tendulkar,” Warne said.
He had to get rid of Tendulkar in that over, his last. After trying in vain to land the skidder in line and straying down the leg, he got one on the spot for the most important wicket.
Warne was leading from the front after that too. Bringing the fielders inside the circle in the last over and then crowding the on-side fence with Harbhajan Singh on strike, Warne showed how practical his game reading is. Throwing himself to his right to stop the ball from racing towards the deep extra-cover region, he defied age and injury.
The maverick champion of numerous off-the-field conquests, Warne showed he is still good to better the best on the field. There could hardly be a better inspiration for the bunch he is leading.