A severe blow to Shane Warne

IT was like a bolt from the blue. Leg-spin wizard Shane Warne tested positive for a banned substance. The news spread thick and fast, rocking the already troubled World Cup in Southern Africa.

IT was like a bolt from the blue. Leg-spin wizard Shane Warne tested positive for a banned substance. The news spread thick and fast, rocking the already troubled World Cup in Southern Africa.

In Australia, there was both anger and shock, and the master leg-spinner came under media fire. "The career of arguably Australia's greatest cricketer since Sir Donald Bradman could be ended by a two-year ban,'' wrote News Ltd., which described Warne as a "brilliant but disaster-dogged'' cricketer.

Reported the Melbourne Age — "Shane Warne has a talent for producing a dramatic turn, and a habit for producing a dramatic turn of events. If you like your genius flawed, Warne's your man. Should Warne's career end with this latest scandal, it would surprise no one. Drama has been his shadow.

"But for the same reason, it would be less surprising if the 33-year-old father of three emerged from the burning building, slightly singed, ready to fire again.''

The Herald Sun, a Melbourne tabloid, that employs Warne as a columnist ran a front-page banner head-line `Warne Drug Scandal', devoting seven pages to the story.

Sources revealed that the Warne family, hit hard by the news, was in a state of shock. And his mother was reportedly devastated since the fluid pill she gave him might have contained the banned substance. Warne had admitted that he had taken a fluid reduction pill on the eve of his comeback from injury suffered during VB triangular series match against England. He admitted that he had tested positive to a diuretic, on the International Cricket Council's (ICC) list of banned substances.

There was some disbelief among those close to Warne. "Professional cricketers are supposed to know what they are taking, but they don't, you know. It must have been an accident,'' said former Aussie leg-spinner and Warne's coach Terry Jenner.

Considerable sympathy for the leg-spinner was on view. Sachin Tendulkar, who had been engaged in several stirring duels with the champion leg-spinner in the past and won them too, observed, "Australia does have a lot of depth but obviously losing someone like Warne before the first game cannot be easy for anyone. The cricket world will miss him in the World Cup.''

Indian captain Sourav Ganguly described him as a Champion of the Game. He told the media, "It's really sad news for world cricket. To make it worse, it was the last World Cup of his career. I don't know the final situation, on what issue he has been banned, but obviously all the players in South Africa will miss him.''

The leg-spinner's Test captain, the indomitable Steve Waugh, said the incident left him disturbed. "I know how much it meant to him, this last one-day tournament. He wanted to make an impact on the world stage. I hope it works out for him because he's been great for cricket and great for Australian cricket. I personally want to remember all the great things he's done for the game.''

Despite the huge setback of losing a match-winner at the start of the mega-tournament, Steve still believed the Aussies could go on to win the trophy. "They have got enough experience and enough quality players to cope and I'm sure they'll see this as another challenge,'' said Waugh.

The man who was consumed by a beast of a leg-break from Warne on a glorious summer day at Lord's also had words of compassion for the leggie. "I can't believe Warne would do that. I don't think it's anything more than a honest mistake. I know the Australian Cricket Board are against performance-enhancing drugs, and are trying to stamp down on it. He'll be a huge loss to the Australian team. But I think he's done exactly the right thing going back to Australia to sort it out. It should relieve the pressure on the Australian team," says Mike Gatting, former England captain.

Pace bowling legend, Dennis Lillee noted, "I feel sorry for him that he is going through all this. He wouldn't knowingly do anything to jeopardise his career.''

His feared new-ball partner of yore, Jeff Thomson, now a television commentator, summed up Warne's career when he said, "He does good things, then he does bad things, then he does silly things.''

Down under, the incident provoked a strong reaction from the radio-talkback callers. They were annoyed and angry, and some of it centred on the Australian team and its methods - "The Australian team does not know how to win gracefully. Their arrogant behaviour on and off the field has gone too far,'' fumed a caller on ABC radio.

Former aggressive opener, Keith Stackpole, now a radio commentator, said, "There's not a great deal of sympathy. I think they have lost patience with drugs. It's just another one in Shane's scenario. I like him as a person, but unfortunately he's done a lot of dumb things during his career. He's a bit of a rascal I suppose.'' Victorian captain Darren Berry, a close friend of Warne said, "I'm sure due process will prove it is an innocent mistake.'' Former Somerset captain and noted cricket writer Peter Roebuck stated "It does sound like a minor matter, an oversight.''