IPL's first game was bigger than Super Bowl, says Rajasthan Royals' Shane Warne

All the fans are still watching and tuning in, but let’s hope they can come back to the ground very soon, says the Australian legend.

Shane Warne and Steve Smith in discussion during a Rajasthan Royals practice session.   -  Rajasthan Royals

From being the first captain of Rajasthan Royals to becoming the team’s mentor, Shane Warne has been associated with the Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise in varied roles. And the Australian spin legend has enjoyed his long association with the team, which thrives on young talent and believes in playing fair.

As captain of the team from 2008 to 2011, Warne has seen millions of fans cheering for him from the stands, but things are different this time around. With the 2020 IPL season shifted to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the matches are being played in empty stadiums.

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“It’s a big loss and will probably impact some players because they usually feed off the energy from the crowd,” Warne says, hoping that fans can return to the grounds very soon.

Back with the Royals as a brand ambassador and mentor, Warne promises to work closely with head coach Andrew McDonald and captain Steve Smith. “As far as the games go, I will be sitting in the stands and won’t be there in the dugout with the boys — watching them from far, but watching every ball and speaking with Andrew McDonald and Steve Smith whenever they need my help,” the 51-year-old says.

You have been part of the IPL since 2008. This is the first time the tournament is being held in empty stadiums. What are your thoughts?

It’s such a shame for all the fans that love to come to a game and create that atmosphere for the players. It’s such a wonderful spectacle and the Indian fans make it so enjoyable as a player by creating that buzz and hype at the stadiums. So yeah, that’s a loss.

It’s a big loss and will probably impact some players because they usually feed off the energy from the crowd. There were around 200 million eyeballs watching that first game, which was bigger than the Super Bowl. So all the fans are still watching and tuning in, which is fantastic. But let’s hope the fans can come back to the ground very soon.

You have been part of the bio-bubble in England, too. How was that experience?

Well, we’re all really getting a lot of work done in a bubble. Normally, you’d choose to be in your hotel room and that would be fine. But when you have to stay in your hotel room, it’s a bit difficult. But look, it is what it is. It’s important to do this so that everything can go ahead and we can see some IPL action and be involved, so I’m happy to do it.

Warne led an inexperienced Royals to the inaugural IPL title in 2008.   -  K. Pichumani

 

You are back as a mentor and brand ambassador of Rajasthan Royals. What will be your role? And how do you plan to motivate the team?

My role this year is in two parts. One is the brand ambassador. I am pushing the Rajasthan Royals brand around the world and helping them here in Dubai, working with the sponsors. As far as the games go, I will be sitting in the stands and won’t be there in the dugout with the boys — watching them from far, but watching every ball and speaking with Andrew McDonald and Steve Smith whenever they need my help.

I will be trying to help the boys stay motivated and get the best out of them — what McDonald and Steve Smith want. I will be on hand for them, which should be pretty good fun. I am really excited about the squad; it has got great balance.

As a mentor, what are your thoughts about the team? Do you think that this squad has the potential to win the title?

I think the squad looks great — some great young talents, some experienced players, good variety in the bowling attack, power hitters and manipulators of the ball. There are some good players of spin and pace, a good combination of left and right-handers. So I think the squad is there. It’s about them being able to deliver. If we can deliver our skills, it could be the Royals’ year.

Hopefully, Ben Stokes will play a part this year. He’s a big loss and our thoughts are with him. But you know, you add Ben Stokes to the team that played the other night and it looks a very, very good side.

Warne is a supporter of Rajasthan Royals player Sanju Samson. “Sanju should be playing all forms of the game for India. He is such a quality player... If he has a consistent tournament this year, I think you’ll see him representing India in all forms of the game,” says the Australian legend.   -  Sportzpics / BCCI

 

You have always backed Indian talents. Given the way Sanju Samson has evolved over the years, do you think that he deserves a longer rope with the Indian team?

I have been saying it for a long time now. Sanju should be playing all forms of the game for India. He is such a quality player. He’s shown that class again in the first game and I hope he has a consistent tournament this year. If he has a consistent tournament this year, I think you’ll see him representing India in all forms of the game. He is just such a talented player. I’ve seen a lot of talented cricketers in my time, but watching Samson bat, in the nets being around him, speaking to him over the years and now watching him evolve — I mean, he is something else. He is a very special talent and I hope he hits the international stage very soon.

A lot of under-19 players are making their debuts in the IPL. Any advice for them?

It’s very exciting for all the under-19 players to be involved in the IPL. What experience and exposure you are getting from some of the best cricketers on the planet! To have the opportunity to train, chat with them is wonderful for these guys. The IPL has been fantastic for world cricket, but also for Indian cricket.

The younger players that are playing on the world stage and for India are now in different franchises in the IPL.

That’s fantastic. Some of the players that are coming through — their skill is just amazing. So yeah, good luck, enjoy and ask all the questions to the senior players who have been around for a while. Don’t be afraid to go up to them and ask questions whichever franchise you are from.

Warne remembers Dean Jones...

It’s been a very sad couple of days, losing one of the cricket family in Dean Jones. I first met him in the late 1980s, when I got into the Victoria state team. He was a senior Australian player with Victoria. He has been a friend for 30 years — a dear friend. When you lose someone like him who loved the game of cricket — there was passion about the game and he could talk about it for ever — it’s a shock. A lot of us, Australian players and a lot of people from across the world, have been speaking over the phone for the last couple of days and we can’t believe what has happened. Our love and thoughts and prayers are with his wife Jane and his two beautiful daughters. We are thinking of you. It’s so sad and just shocking. It’s been pretty tough, but rest in peace, Deano!

Steve Smith is captaining a team after two years. What are your thoughts on the way he has made a comeback to the international circuit?

I think Steve Smith brings a lot to the table. His overall experience. He’s obviously a phenomenal batsman and is a good leader of men. He’s very good tactically and I think he will get the best out of his squad and give them confidence and I’m looking forward to watching him in action. I have watched him captain different sides over the years. He’s done a good job and hopefully he can do a great job for the Royals.

Sharjah is the Royals’ home this season. You have so many memories in this venue. If you could share a bit and also explain how challenging is it for a bowler to tackle these hot and humid conditions.

Every now and then there are some special innings played, and then Sachin (Tendulkar) played a couple of great knocks against us in that desert storm. He smashed us all over the park; smashed me, smashed our quicks, and it was two wonderful innings. So yeah, I won’t be in a rush to get back to Sharjah. Hopefully, the Royals can win and that will erase every single memory I have of Sharjah!

 

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