Royals' guiding spirit

Mark of a champion...Rajasthan Royals captain Shane Warne and his team-mates celebrate with the trophy after winning the inugural IPL in 2008.-PTI

Shane Warne, who set his own benchmarks and kept raising them, was at his best as a leader in the inaugural season of the IPL. His presence meant a lot to Rajasthan Royals and its young players. He meant the world to them, writes Vijay Lokapally.

Shane Warne, a master of his art and a lovable servant of the game, will not bowl another ball in competitive cricket. The leg-spinner last played in a Test in January 2007, at the majestic Sydney Cricket Ground. Two years before that, he had given up playing the ODIs. But it was hardly surprising that he agreed to join Rajasthan Royals in 2008 when the Indian Premier League was launched. Warne could not stay away from cricket and the Twenty20 format offered him the chance to weave his magic once again on the cricket field.

The maverick Australian, who set his own benchmarks and kept raising them, was at his best as a leader in the inaugural season of the IPL. His presence meant a lot to the franchisee and the young players in the team. He meant the world to them; and he changed their world too. Rajasthan Royals defied all expectations to win the IPL in 2008. And the main architect of its triumph was Warne, the captain-cum-coach.

IPL-1 had many stars. Stalwarts, past and present, made a huge impact in the tournament, but Warne was exceptional. He led Rajasthan Royals by example, motivated the team to great heights and taught the essence of professionalism to a bunch that was willing to die for its captain. It wasn't that Warne was demanding. He had the knack of getting the best out of his players. And how? By allocating responsibilities among his players and ensuring that none was overburdened.

“IPL is about promoting young cricketers in India. We have done a great job. Pretty good job the way Rajasthan Royals have gone about. Looking back, Lalit Modi did a great job, the razzmatazz and all that,” remarked Warne.

Warne had wished to lead Australia and on a few occasions he had made his desire public too. But the honour proved to be elusive. So, when he got the chance to captain Rajasthan Royals, he grabbed it and then led the team to title triumph.

Siddharth Trivedi is a fine example of one who has benefited under Warne. The Gujarat medium-pacer went through a rapid transformation under the Aussie's leadership.

Warne also helped the spinners to strike with some innovative field settings. He was the first captain to open the attack with spin in the IPL.

“He is a great leader. The way he motivates the team and the way he gets you to perform is unique. His on-field communication gives great confidence to the players,” said Trivedi, who learnt to bowl well in the death overs, thanks to Warne's guidance. “I have been extremely privileged to have shared the dressing room with him. I have improved as a cricketer.”

Not just Trivedi, but there are quite a few others who have become wiser and stronger after interacting with Warne. Writing in his official site, Warne, 42, acknowledges: “Sometimes you feel like your life is constantly see-sawing and it is difficult, at times, to keep everything in perspective — right now I am in the best place I have ever been — happier than ever — content and found a nice balance in my life. Living in the public eye as a professional sportsman, the difference between the highs and lows is so much greater as you are constantly judged and scrutinized. I have been extremely lucky to have had the opportunity, I've worked hard and like to think I repaid the faith shown in me from an early age.”

Sunil Gavaskar has credited Warne for having revived the dying art of leg spin. With some sensational bowling, even when the pitch was least helpful, Warne had his way. He had no competitors, only admirers, either in his team or the opposition. Batsmen did not feel embarrassed about being snapped up by Warne. Even the most successful one have admitted that “there was no shame in getting out to him” because he was the best.

Warne's first and last season in the IPL were contrasting. He was the talk of the tournament in 2008; so also in 2011, but for a different reason. He was at loggerheads with the Rajasthan Cricket Association and added one more controversy to his long list when he invited a fine of $50,000.

A stiff fine no doubt, and, as he confessed, “for speaking the truth”. But the authorities were convinced Warne was at fault. He had played true to his character, taking on the authorities, even if it meant being fined so heavily.

“It is not about individual. It is about the friendships we have made in IPL,” he said. A strong enough reason for Warne to push for a window for the IPL. “This is the new cricket. IPL is very, very good for world cricket,” he added.

A great friend of Sachin Tendulkar — who once invited him for dinner and kept him awake until 2 in the morning — Warne respected quality opponents and would be the first to compliment them. A true competitor and a match-winner at all levels, Warne picked up 57 wickets in 55 matches in the IPL. In his farewell interaction with the media after the match against Mumbai Indians, he admitted, “Definitely, 100% won't be here as a coach for the entire tournament (in 2012). There's no point (being here as a coach) for seven weeks, I might as well be playing. The consultancy role might be with Rajasthan Royals. I have had four years with them so they might think it's time for a new injection from someone else with some different ideas. They might still want me, I'm not sure. In the next 12 months I might be associated with somebody else. Who knows what will happen? Rajasthan are my first priority but if I can't come to an agreement with them then I'll look elsewhere.”

Warne was emotional when sharing his thoughts with the media.

“Thank you to my family and friends for helping me keep my feet on the ground along the journey,” Warne says in his blog.

Cricket fans revere Warne as one of the greatest bowlers in the history of the game though not necessarily an ideal role model. But Warne himself would want to be remembered for the way he played the game — with freedom and dignity. That Rajasthan Royals won the last match under his captaincy by a whopping 10 wickets was indeed a deserving farewell for Warne even though he signed off with a pleasant, “I never say never in my life”.