The man has just about everything. Super looks and super talent. No wonder his teammates call him Mr. Hollywood; he has the aura of a celebrity from the film studios of Los Angeles. Shane Warne... the name spells magic.
But deep down, the Aussie who often spins a web around the best batsmen in the business, who has done more than anyone else to put leg-spin in the forefront and who is one of the richest players in world cricket today, remains a simple man.
The Victorian has no airs about him, even after a hard session at the nets he patiently signs autographs for the fans, with that smile on his face.
The sunshine leggie has provided us with so many memorable moments - the monster leg-break that left Gatting stunned and changed the course of a series, the amazing hattrick in front of his home crowd against old enemy England, and quite the perfect leg-spinner which did Basit Ali in.
And in this World Cup, Warne came up with a teasing spell at a critical juncture as the Aussies did an escape act at Mohali. He had an off-day in the summit clash in Lahore but as Warne generalises you got to take good days with the bad ones.
Of course, he has had more good days than bad; it seems like it was only yesterday that he made his Test debut and he already has more than 200 Test scalps. He is a blithe spirit and this is reflected in his approach to bowling. He is never afraid of giving the ball air, even when the batsmen are going hell for leather, even in the cauldron of a one-day game.
Warne spoke to Sportstar in Madras.
How did you take to leg-spin bowling and who were your early heroes?
I used to watch a couple of club cricketers, who used to bowl a bit of leg-spin. I was curious, and asked them how to go about it. I asked them about the grip and stuff like that. Then I learnt about it myself. It more or less started there. I worked hard on my bowling, you have to make some sacrifices if you have to get somewhere.
My heroes were lan Chappell, Rod Marsh, Viv Richards, lan Botham. Those sort of cricketers were my idols. I never had any leg-spinner as my idol during the early days. Since I started playing, Richie Benaud has been a great influence on me. You can say he is my idol now. He is a person I really like to have a chat with. He has got a very good cricketing brain. He and Abdul Qadir were probably the two great leg-spinners of the past.
You were one of the early products of the Australian cricket Academy...
I was the first one who played for Australia from the cricket Academy, but I think it is run a lot better now. When I was there it was not all that good, that's why I left. I left the Academy because it was not doing much for me at that stage. Now it is very good with Rod Marsh around. It is always good to have the right people at the right places. It is producing good players now.
When I was there there were two make-shift guvs who were there to coach the players and I was not happy at all. Now with someone like Marsh around, the results are there for all to see.
Two deliveries of yours are special, the one that bowled Mike Gatting at Old Trafford and the one that dismissed Basil Ali at Sydney…
The delivery which got Gatting was a huge leg-break, and bowled him around his legs. It is a delivery I shall remember for the rest of my life. That was my first ball in England, in an Ashes series. Some said they had never seen the ball turn so much. There was a big build-up before the series and my form had not been good before that. It was one of those dream deliveries you can say. It changed the complexion of the series.
The Englishmen were never confident against me after that ball. The Basit Ali delivery was the last ball of the day. The game was evenly poised then. We planned that wicket. Basit Ali loves to waste time, I too wasted some time and made him sweat on the last ball.
Myself and lan Healy had a chat about it. And Healy is really a shrewd observer. He came up with an idea that I should try to bowl him from outside the leg-stump. I got him. Myself and lan Healy had come up with a good plan.
And then there was the hattrick before your home crowd at Melbourne against old enemy England with Boon bringing off a splendid catch…
It was Booney's birthday. I feel sad that he has left now. He was such a great cricketer. I still think he had a lot to offer and he chose to retire. He was a team-man and a real fighter. This is something I shall always remember, getting a hat-trick in an Ashes Test in Melbourne, on Booney's birthday, and Booney taking the catch for my third wicket.
It was a great close-in catch, at short-leg, too. One of the classics. You can always expect Boon to come up with something like that. It was in front of my home crowd and there were 40,000 people on the last day. It was an amazing feeling. There is always that special feeling when you take on England.
But the spell that really changed your career was against the Windies at the MCG in 1992…
It really was an important Test for me at the MCG. I got seven wickets on the last day in front of 50,000 people, and Australia won the Test. That was also the Boxing Day. That performance is special to me because that was the first time I won a match for Australia. I remember getting the skipper (Richie Richardson) with a flipper. Suddenly I was a star.
I had been in and out of the side for the previous couple of years and that spell changed my career. There was another great Test in Colombo, earlier on in the same year, when we fought back to beat Lanka when they looked all set to win. Some said I had won the game for Australia. That's not true. I picked up three tail-end wickets. It was Greg Matthews who won that thriller for us. So the Boxing Day performance was the turning point.
There was a lot of pressure on me to perform and I think I came through pretty well in the end.
You have come a long way since your Test debut, in 1991 against India at Sydney…
I had not played too much first class cricket. I had only played four or five games. I made my first class debut in 1990. I had just come back from the Windies, from the tour. Played for Victoria and then got picked for Australia in 1991. In my first Test, I really had nothing to fall back on when I was getting clobbered. The Indian batsmen were playing strokes and I had no experience.
Now I think I have a few tricks up my sleeves and I can call on them if the batsman is going after me.
You are a star now. What about the pressure to succeed and the fear of failure?
People expect a lot from guys like myself, Lara, Tendulkar. Yes, there are a lot of expectations from us every time we go out to play. Now I know that the batsmen are getting used to the way I bowl. But really that can work in my favour also. It does not matter if they pick what you bowl. Does not matter at all. I have saved up a few tricks. Just because batsmen can pick my wrong 'un, my flipper or whatever it might be, they still do not know how fast it is going to come in, how far it is going to turn, how much it is going to bounce.
My leg-breaks really turn and bounce, so they get caught. So I just keep my mind on the job, and 'am not bothered by the other things at all. As long as I go out there and bowl well, I think I have a very good chance of success.
Some days I might get six wickets, on others I might just end with two. You should never give up trying.
If I get that one wicket that changes the game I will be happy. I would like to be the guy Mark Taylor calls on whenever he needs a wicket. I go out in a positive frame of mind. Anyway success and failure are a part of life.
Former Australian spinner Terry Jenner is said to have played a big part in shaping your career…
Terry Jenner is fantastic, got a lot of ideas about leg-spin bowling and is great to work with. I am lucky I have got Ritchie Benaud, Terry Jenner and our coach Bob Simpson. Simpson has got 70 odd Test wickets with his leg-breaks, he is shrewd and is a very good observer. It is good to have people like that in your corner, working for you. Actually their thoughts and ideas are similar to what I have in my mind and we get along very well.
With so much of hype about personalities and duels do you bowl any differently when you bowl to Tendulkar and Lara?
There is no conscious effort on my part to bowl differently, but generally when you bowl to different players you bowl differently. You see their strengths, their weaknesses.
Sometimes their strength can be their weakness. When I bowl to Brian Lara, I bowl differently than to when I bowl at Tendulkar. When I bowl to Mark Waugh in a Shield game I have to think on different lines. The kind of batsmen you bowl to matter more than the nature of the pitch. I have a basic plan to which I work to. If that does not work I have other things to fall back upon. I mix them up and try to have the batsman in two minds. You should know when to bowl your flipper and when to bowl your leg-break.
Even in One-Day cricket you attack the batsman. Does mental strength come into play here?
It can be tough for the spinners in one-day cricket. You got to have a mentally tough side. When somebody is hitting me, I like it. I love it when they come after me. That helps me get wickets. If you keep getting wickets in one-day cricket it keeps the run-rate down. I like to attack even in the slog overs. You don't have to be too much different in one-day cricket. There will be days you get hit around a bit, you got to accept that.
For instance there have been occasions when I could have bowled tighter, but the team -wanted a wicket so I took a few risks and they didn't come off. So I went for more runs than I normally do. I could have bowled tighter. Sometimes you have to make a sacrifice.
Once in Sharjah, Vinod Kambli really went after you, and was successful too…
That was only once. We needed wickets, so I threw them up and I really think he got lucky that day. Kambli since then has not made too many runs against us.
You were involved in a controversy regarding the Salim Malik affair and then there were some unsavoury incidents during the Lankan tour of Australia. Did all this put more pressure on you to perform?
What pressure? I just go out and enjoy the game. I don't think I have to prove anything to anybody. Actually I am not out to prove anything to anybody. I am out to play my cricket. I enjoy playing for Australia. I enjoy that feeling. Nothing else matters.
A bowler gets a lot of satisfaction when he plans a dismissal…
I remember getting Graham Gooch in Edgbaston. He was playing the sweep and we decided to get him on the shot. When I bowled around the wicket he kicked me away. So we moved a guy really fine, I decided to attack him on the sweep shot. Finally he was bowled around his legs trying for a sweep. Generally you have a plan. Most times it doesn't come off. Once or twice it comes off but when it does come off it makes the whole thing very enjoyable.
Leg-spinners have been doing very well of late. Apart from you, we have Mushtaq, Kumble and now Paul Strang…
I think Mushtaq is a very good bowler. I had a good chat with Mushtaq in Melbourne, we had a little bowl in the nets. Myself and Kumble get along well. We had dinner a couple of times, had a chat, bowled a few balls together, taught each other a few grips. I think he is an exceptional bowler, I think he is very, very good, especially in the One-Day games. He bowls very tight, gets a lot of wickets.
Paul Strang will improve by leaps and bounds if he gets more opportunities against quality batsmen. He has good variations and possesses a good temperament.
Can you tell us about Zooter, a delivery with which you have bagged quite a few wickets?
It is the one which looks like a leg-break but goes straight on. Slower than a flipper. It has got me leg-before verdicts.
There is a feeling that you don't bowl the googly too often…
To the left-handers I do. I got Andy Flower with a wrong 'un in the Zimbabwe game. But I bowl it only when I think I need to. I generally bowl it when the left-handers are at the crease. Basically I love to bowl big leg-breaks and try and make the batsman play across the line.
I think I have a better chance of getting them like that than bowling wrong 'uns and things like that. The leg-break is definitely my strong point. And the flipper is a useful ball, especially in the One-Dayers where the batsmen often go for the pull shot. But I do bowl the odd wrong 'un.
What is the price you have to play for being a celebrity?
There is a lot of responsibility on me all the time. Maybe, I lose my privacy a bit. Cricket these days comes with the territory. Cricket is a worldwide sport now. At present, myself, Lara, and Tendulkar are the highest paid cricketers. Mark and Steve Waugh as well. Those two guys are right up there, they have been around for long. We have a role for the public and a role for the kids. I love the kids.
I always sign autographs for the kids. It is true at times it can be hard, but then you realise you are lucky to be where you are.
You seem to have good rapport with Mark Taylor, your skipper…
Mark Taylor is a very, very good captain. We get along very well. We always think along the same lines, about the field setting and about everything. He is not much different to Allan Border. He communicates with us all very well, just like Allan did. We are all behind him and I think he has done very well since he has taken over. The side too has done well. He is a real asset to the team as a batsman also and we are playing good, hard cricket under him.
Can you tell us about Shane Warne, the person?
I am a pretty cheerful guy. I like relaxing. I love going down to the beach, I go surfing or just lie down under the sun. After a game, I like to unwind... have a few quiet drinks. I also like going out for dinner, I like to generally have good fun. I play golf, tennis.
Though you are a spinner, you are aggressive. Michael Slater said you are a fast bowler in the body of a spinner…
This aggression comes from within me. Today, the game is hard and you can't afford to relax. You got to compete all the time. It applies to all Aussies. We like to play the game hard. But I think this sledging thing has been played up by the press. We like to play fair and like to share a drink with the opposition.
(This interview was first published in the Sportstar magazine dated 30/03/1996)
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