It is an unwritten fact of life that journalists, once past their formative years, turn into cynics and nothing disturbs, shakes or exhilarates them. There is no more beauty or sadness left in life for them and they find it hard to connect with a world that they think exists like a rock that refuses to change or move.
But one day, all of a sudden, the emotion called sadness overpowered me. I was transformed into a child who felt the world would never be the same again. This had not happened in years, but it did on the day Shane Warne told the world he would no longer play cricket.
Years of writing and watching the same stuff unfold again and again, with the only difference being the changing faces of the protagonists makes even sport get boring. But thank heavens for someone like Warne, who lights up the sporting field with his craft and skill with such magic that even an inveterate, hardboiled cynic rediscovers the innocence of sport and the joy it provides.
Enigma is his middle-name
In an age where the word genius has been so abused, Warne will always remain an enigmatic personality whose mysterious skills with the ball and an off-field lifestyle combined to create a persona with almost mythical qualities.
Look at our world today. It delights and takes vicarious pleasure in exposing the ‘other’ side of its celebrities but wants its sporting idols to be paragons of virtue. We, at least in India, would never forgive a Sachin Tendulkar for even the slightest indiscretion off the field, and in all probability would dump him from the legendary status he holds, if we discover that he has a few skeletons in his cupboard.
Yet, we have forgiven Warne. We have forgiven him for being part of the match-fixing scandal. We have forgiven him for all his off-field romps, for cheating on his wife, for being caught taking drugs, for doing everything that a good, well-behaved sporting idol is not supposed to do. We still love him.
We do it because it is unimaginable that in a sport where we would love the cricket ball to be bowled at more than 100 miles an hour at a batsman who will either be hit or retaliate by smashing it to all parts of the ground, here was a man who could take more than 700 wickets by just tossing the ball in the air at the speed of a snail.
There lies the beauty of Warne. The small leather ball in Warne’s hands would behave as if attached to a string and would twist, turn, dip and change angles so abruptly that all you could do was sympathise with the batsman. There was more variety in Warne’s armoury than in the sounds and smells of this world.
It was this unknown factor that drew people to their television sets whenever Warne was bowling. The intricate patterns he would weave with the ball, the manner in which he would entice a batsman to his doom had such a chilling pattern that it made for compulsive watching. It was like watching a dramatic performance, worth its weight in gold, even if the side-show may have been boring and mediocre at times.
Even his failures against India have not made any difference to his popularity among the masses here or the respect he has from the same batsmen who never allowed him to dominate them.
Had Sachin Tendulkar not pulverised Warne when he came to India for the first time, the world would probably have never hailed the Indian batsman among the best ever the game has seen. Warne went back home after the hammering he got from Tendulkar and told the world: “I get nightmares of Tendulkar.” Immediately after that, Australia’s, and world’s, greatest cricketer Donald Bradman said, “Tendulkar bats like me” and the legend of Tendulkar was sanctified by the White world.
Some day, someone will tell us why Warne, the greatest among the great spinners, never succeeded on Indian wickets, that are supposed to be a pathway to heaven for slow bowlers.
Maybe, when a more dispassionate history of Warne is written in the years to come, this would be considered one major drawback in a career that forced people to come in droves to the cricket ground or switch on their idiot boxes to watch how magic can be created with a five-and-half ounce leather ball. So what if the magician himself had a lifestyle that would make grandmothers squirm.