In another part of the southern hemisphere, even as one of the game’s living legend prepares to walk into the sunset in the new year, another of cricket’s greats took time off here to talk of the man whose life he once made miserable.
Shane Warne has an undeniably mesmeric quality, not just because of his near 700 wickets, an unbelievable feat in itself, or the way he gets them but also because of the soap opera kind of life he leads that constantly gives the rest of the cricketing world vicarious pleasure.
But in celebration of the man and his feats, what is often forgotten is that against India, these feats were strangely missing, and even his best figures in an innings against India (6-125 in Chennai 2004-05) were overshadowed by Anil Kumble, who took 13 wickets and was declared the Man of the Match.
A quick glance at the stats will tell you that in the 14 Tests Warne played against India, he took only 43 wickets (or about six per cent of his 699) at 47.18 apiece, which is a world away from his career average of 25.49. In one-dayers, his record is worse. In 18 games versus India, the leg-spinning legend has only 15 wickets at 56.26 (overall, he has 293 at 25.73).
Still, on Thursday at Kingsmead here, Tendulkar, who Warne once famously said gave him “nightmares”, chose to heap praise on the Aussie, calling him a “great ambassador for cricket and Australia”, and a “good friend”.
“It’s unfortunate that he’s retiring,” said Tendulkar. “He’s been a treat to watch. He’s surely one of the greatest to have played this game but above all, I think he’s a wonderful person. He’s a good friend and what he’s been able to achieve for Australia is something special. There are not many guys who can stand next to him and say that they have done similar things. You don’t get to see such cricketers every day.”
But while most put Warne at the top of their list of spinners, Tendulkar chose to put him as one of a special threesome. “He’s certainly been one of the top spinners. Another great spinner is playing in my team, Anil Kumble, and then there’s Muralitharan. These three are the best, and anyone would want to have them in the side.”
Tendulkar said he and Warne had competed on the field and shared some fun on and off it. “I remember the first time I scored a hundred against him in one-day cricket, in Sri Lanka. I hit him for a six, and he said something. I didn’t really follow it because I started walking towards the square-leg umpire. I caught up with him after the game and told him: ‘Now you can tell me what you wanted to say on the field’. We shared a joke."
Kumble, someone who has lived in the shadow of Warne, called him a “dear friend” and while saying he was somewhat surprised by Warne’s decision, said it would leave a huge void in world cricket.
“A lot of young people took up spin bowling because they wanted to be like Warnie. He’s responsible for making spin big and that’s his legacy,” said the Indian leggie, and then added a rider. “He has changed the benchmark in terms of wickets but I think Muralitharan, who is close behind, will change it again.”
But Tendulkar had the last word, when he summed up the Aussie. “You had to be awake to play Warne. There was no breathing space at all. Warne being such a fierce competitor, you knew that at no stage could you bat him out of the game. He was always coming back at you. That kept me on my toes.”