x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Warne is in royal command

The spin bowler has proved an inspirational captain as he leads by example to get the best out of his Rajasthan team.

Yusuf Pathan of Shane Warne's Rajasthan Royals is congratulated by teammates after taking a wicket in this year's IPL.
Yusuf Pathan of Shane Warne's Rajasthan Royals is congratulated by teammates after taking a wicket in this year's IPL.

Some cricket supporters have been amazed to find Shane Warne indulging in hyperbole in his praise of his Rajasthan Royals teammates. Before last year's Indian Premier League (IPL) in South Africa, he had to chose between calling Kamran Khan, the rookie left-arm fast bowler, "Wild Thing" or "Tornado", as every player was given a nickname to define their role in the side . This year, he felt Yusuf Pathan's thunderous 37-ball century against the Mumbai Indians in his side's opening match of the tournament at the Brabourne Stadium was the best innings he had ever seen.

Warne could have brooded over the wafer thin-margin loss to the Mumbai, but he gained more mileage for his team with his statement. He is a master of both spin and PR. Considering that Warne played international cricket for nearly two decades, even some of his biggest admirers found his judgement far too flippant. What about Brian Lara's knocks which denied Australia a series win in the West Indies in 1999?

Wasn't Sachin Tendulkar's 155 in the Chennai Test of 1998 a knock of a lifetime? Or for that matter, VVS Laxman's 281 in Kolkata. Warne saw all these gems from a 22-yard distance. Even the importance about respecting the view of the greatest modern spinner did not convince the disbelievers. However, even Warne was been the subject of seemingly over-the-top hype. Rodney Hogg, the former Australia fast bowler, took one look at Warne long before he played first-class cricket for Victoria and wrote in a newspaper column that he would go on to claim more than 500 Test wickets.

Hogg's view got him the sack as The Truth's columnist, but Warne ended up with 706 Test wickets. Probably Warne is convinced that talking up his teammates in public will motivate them to greater things. "He makes you believe you can do it even if you are crippled with self doubt," a Rajasthan Royals teammate of his once told me. When some IPL franchise bosses this year decided they had no room in their squads for Indian youngsters Warne expressed his regret on the social networking website Twitter.

There is a lot of cynicism about the IPL, but the fact that several young Indian players are benefiting from the knowledge passed on by experiences players such as Warne has to be a positive. Apart from the countless net sessions they take part in together, a cricketer can develop simply by watching and listening. Sunil Gavaskar, the Indian batting legend, will never forget how much he picked up by listening to his senior players in the Mumbai Ranji Trophy team on train journeys while travelling to inter-state matches.

Considering how much Warne loves mentoring young players, even a bus ride to the ground must be a learning experience. Warne also profited from speaking to great players. Richie Benaud, the former Australian captain and slow bowler, remembers Warne asking him about ways to master the art of leg-spin at a golf event in the early 1990s. Benaud agreed to help, saying that he would pass on a secret which Bill O'Reilly, another former Australian spinner, told him very early in his career.

Despite being an established member of the Australian team, Warne was always looking for ways to get even better. While doing some work for Channel Nine during the Augusta Masters in 1996, Warne spoke to Ian Chappell, who captained Australia between 1971 and 1975, about improving his batting. Chappell promised to have a net with him the next time he came over to coach at the Australian Cricket Academy in Adelaide.

The session helped Warne with the hook shot. Alas, he ended his Test career with no century, but he came quite close - a 99 against New Zealand in Perth 2001. Knowing Chappell well over the years must have helped Warne with his own captaincy. Like Chappell, he is an out-and-out players' man. If you follow Warne on Twitter, you will notice how he still mentions Ravindra Jadeja as one of the players the Royals are missing this season.

Jadeja is a banned player because he looked to get a better deal from another IPL team. He may be forgotten by the Royals, but he is still remembered by his former captain. "Something I've always enjoyed doing in the dressing room is observing how different players react to different situations," said Warne in his autobiography. "And that is something a captain can use in motivating his players. Once you get to know players you can generally tell if someone is on song or not."

Warne goes out of the way to get to know his players better. During the first IPL season, the Royals took a break in Goa, the home of Swapnil Asnodkar, his opening batsman. So what did Warne do? He accepted an invitation to visit Asnodkar's family and enjoy a meal with them. This sort of thing may not make it into a "must do" section in any captaincy manual, but it does wonders for a captain-player relationship.

It may sound audacious to suggest that he would be a good man for the Indian cricket board to rope in to improve their spin stocks, but who knows modern spin bowling better than him? With his huge presence in the IPL, Warne has made a favourable impression on young Indian cricketers and if they happen to be picked to train under him, the results will always bode well for India, who desperately need to unearth some new spinners.

Yes, Warne has more to give than just to the Royals. And even non-supporters of the IPL should be happy to hear that. Clayton Murzello is the Group Sports Editor of the Indian newspaper Midday @Email:sports@thenational.ae