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Shane Warne’s transgressions: The maverick cricketer in his most honest interview ever!

In an HT Brunch exclusive, Warne talks about “Selfish Steve Waugh”, his most salacious tabloid headlines, and the best relationship he’s ever had (with Liz Hurley, who else?!!)

brunch Updated: Oct 27, 2018 22:38 IST
Priya Bala
Priya Bala
Hindustan Times
Steve Waugh,cricketer,tabloid
The reason why Warne seemed to have had enough of the game he so loved was his differences with the then captain, Steve Waugh(Getty Images)

Rewind to the cricket World Cup 1999. Australia blew Pakistan away in the final at Lord’s, winning the trophy in an anticlimax of a match that I watched while spending the summer in England. Shane Warne was Man of the Match in both the semi-final and the final. Yet, stories of the leg-spinner considering quitting the game were doing the rounds. My cursory interest in cricket did not extend to reading the nuances of spin-bowling, but I was certainly a fan of the flamboyant cricketer. I happened to see him and other members of the Australian team during transit in Dubai. Untroubled by the fact that thousands of fans intrude in similar fashion, I went up to Warne and asked him if he was indeed contemplating retirement. That was in the era before selfies. “I’m not sure,” he said. “Don’t, don’t,” I said and he walked away smiling.

I told him about the incident, which I certainly didn’t expect him to remember, during the course of this interview for HT Brunch. “Oh, thank you for that,” Warne said, speaking from London. The reason why Warne seemed to have had enough of the game he so loved was his differences with the then captain, Steve Waugh. He had dropped Warne for the Test in Antigua when Australia toured the West Indies before the World Cup. Then came the tour to Sri Lanka and an injured Waugh wanted to play and field in a helmet. Warne, vice-captain, would not agree. He describes the confrontation in his recent, tell-all biography, No Spin. “As the conversation went on, I became more and more facetious about it. I’d even say I was being a d****head and looking for a bit of revenge. He hadn’t backed me and no I wasn’t going to back him… Steve Waugh was the most selfish player I ever played with and was only worried about averaging 50.”

Another cricket personality Warne has denounced in his book is John Buchanan, who was coach of the Australian team for some part of Warne’s career (Getty Images)

The best policy

Not too many cricketers would dare to so unequivocally criticise a captain of Steve Waugh’s stature. “Look, when I decided to tell my story, I also decided I should be totally, brutally honest,” Warne says. “If anyone has a problem with anything I’ve said, they are welcome to respond.”

Another cricket personality Warne has denounced in his book is John Buchanan, who was coach of the Australian team for some part of Warne’s career. He writes about what he thought were the absurd training techniques Buchanan insisted on, including a boot camp in the wilderness. Has he had anything to say about Warne’s views in No Spin? “Well, we didn’t have much to say to each other in my playing days, so I’m not expecting a conversation now,” he says.

“Steve Waugh was the most selfish player I ever played with...”

Warne chose to write his autobiography at this particular time because he’s turning 50 next year and it seemed like a good milestone to look back on his life and his cricket career. He has been named one of Wisden’s five Cricketers of the Century, has rewritten the record books and is credited with making leg-spin bowling sexy again. “I hope the book will allow people to understand me better and to see what makes me tick,” he says. “Also my three kids, Brooke, Summer and Jackson kept asking me questions about what it was like in my time and I did it for them as well.”

If Shane Warne has lived through many glorious moments on cricket arenas across the world, winning down-to-the-last-ball matches for Australia, being named Man of the Match and celebrating victories in his rambunctious way, he has also been dragged into every sort of controversy in the realm of cricket – from match-fixing to doping. Warne admits that in 1995, he accepted cash from a man he did not know was a bookie. He was fined and let off. The incident would blow up again four years later when the Australian Cricket Board was forced to make the matter public and the newspapers described Warne as a match-fixer.

He had his own experience with match-fixing when Salim Malik offered him and Tim May $200,000 to throw a game in Pakistan. Warne reported it to Mark Taylor – whom he considers one of his best captains ever – and coach Bob Simpson. As it happened Australia lost the Test and Warne remembers Malik rubbing it in and saying, ‘You should have taken the cash, shouldn’t you?’ The Australians called him the Rat and Warne says he rejoiced when Malik was rubbed out of cricket.

As captain of Hampshire, Shane brought a competitive edge to often laidback county cricket and expected every one of his players to deliver (Julian Kingma)

The errors of his ways

His own transgressions have made for plenty of salacious headlines in the tabloids. There was the infamous Playboy underwear episode when Warne was caught on camera during a drunken night with two women, one of them a friend. Warne claims he was set up. After that particular night of abandon he drove to captain Hampshire even as the tabloids went to town about it. How does a team react when their captain’s louche side is in the news? “The guys don’t judge you and if they respect you as a cricketer and captain, they aren’t affected by what appears in the tabloids,” Warne says.

No Spin by Shane Warne was published early this month

He is quick to admit that he’s made lots of mistakes. “And I’m going to make plenty more. They say 50 is the new 30,” he laughs.

Even if Warne has been in the news for the wrong reasons on various occasions, on a cricket field he’s a different person, giving his very best and demanding the same from his team. As captain of Hampshire, he brought a competitive edge to often laidback county cricket and expected every one of his players to deliver.

How did his team react to the infamous ‘Playboy underwear’ episode? “The guys respect you as a cricketer and captain and aren’t affected by what appears in the tabloids!”

His other rewarding stint leading a team has been as captain of the Rajasthan Royals, he says. He set high standards of discipline, making Ravindra Jadeja get off some distance from the hotel and walk because he had been late two mornings in a row. “The Indian public watched me work with the kids and appreciated what I was doing. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done,” Warne says. The 2008 IPL victory was a reward for his work with a young team and he describes the party afterwards: “We had one of the great nights, a party to match any Ashes victory and anything else. It’s a night like that you play for. From the moment Manoj (Badale) and Ravi (Shastri) talked me into the IPL, to the party after the final that went deep into the next morning, this was one of the best experiences of my life.”

Puttering on

Golf and poker are Shane’s other passions (Julian Kingma)

Warne says he felt the India of the IPL era far more approachable and easier to navigate than the country he came to as a young cricketer in the mid-’90s. “It was so different from the culture I was used to and I found everything very overwhelming,” he says. Also, he has no love for curry and remembers living on fries and milk shakes during those early tours to India.

In fact, pizza is Shane Warne’s idea of a great meal. He credits Elizabeth Hurley whom he married – again causing a media stir by the manner of it – with changing his eating habits for the better. The marriage was not to last, but he describes it as the best relationship he’s had. Was that a message he was sending out to her in his autobiography?

“I still love her, but I am no longer in love with her, if that makes any sense,” he says. His personal life has always been in the public arena and in the glare of that spotlight he tries to be a good father to his three kids.

“I still love her [Liz Hurley], but I am no longer in love with her”

On the verge of turning 50, Shane Warne continues to be connected with the game he served so well, now as a commentator. Golf and poker are his other passions.

The interview comes to a close. “I hope we bump into each other at an airport again,” he says.

The author is a Bengaluru-based senior writer who specialises in food, travel and lifestyle writing. She has edited several major mainstream publications in the past

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From HT Brunch, October 28, 2018

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First Published: Oct 27, 2018 22:36 IST