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Conflict of interest never too far from Shane’s pen

Posted by on 04/12/2018

 Shane Warne has delivered manifestos before. In his pre-social media playing days, they came on scraps of hotel notepaper, written with a thumbnail dipped in tar, to the ghost-writer of his newspaper column. Or he’d improvise a press conference, where he knew and exploited the golden rule: if Warney says it, it’s news.

Warne was and is an important figure in Australian cricket. Although he sometimes makes himself all to easy to laugh off, those with influence do listen to what he says.

His passionate care for the well-being of cricket and his understanding of how to play the game are unquestioned. And 708 Test wickets buy a fellow a bit of credibility.

When we look back to his verbal eruptions over the years, however, there’s been a common thread. Whatever the commonsense or otherwise of his manifestos, they are incidentally about cricket but principally about Shane Warne.

There were ritualised crises, in the 1990s, where Warney would declare the next England tour would be his last. This was when he was cracking the shits over some disciplinary issue. There were his musings about the incompatibility of leg-spinners working in tandem. This was when he was being overshadowed by Stuart MacGill. He voiced a scepticism about coaching and sports science when John Buchanan had the hide to drop gentle hints about Warne’s fitness.

When Warne took a set against players he considered did not belong in Test cricket, and there were a few who copped his not-very-subtle bullying, it was when Warne felt his own position was insecure.

His senior teammates knew it, and found it easiest to discount: Warney just being Warney, perceiving the outside world with all the insight of a man having a panic attack in a hall of mirrors.

And so it is again. Warne’s viewpoint that ”cricket people”, rather than ”muppets”, should be running the Australian team may well be valid. The case for cricket people against muppets is a strong one. I would rather see Rod Marsh and Michael Clarke selecting teams than Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog. But even if we agree with Warne’s thrust for a ”dream team” of cricket brains, where are two of the sharpest minds and best communicators of the past 20 years? The absence of Steve Waugh and Adam Gilchrist betrays the first criterion of membership in the ”cricket people” team, which is to be an unswerving acolyte of S.K.Warne.

(An itch at old jealousies often undermines Warne’s logic. Waugh famously enshrined the baggy green. Warne describes himself, pointedly, as ”passionate about the white floppy hat”.)

”Rugby people” can’t be ”cricket people”, evidently.

But Warney was never shy about drawing cross-code inspiration from St Kilda men Robert Harvey, Stewart Loewe, or Aaron Hamill. Maybe footballers can understand cricket if they play on the same-shaped ground. As George Orwell might have said, oval field good, rectangle field bad.

About the over-staffing around the Australian team and ”too many people justifying their existence”, again Warne may have a valid point. But what is to be said about his Melbourne Stars? If that wasn’t a well-padded outfit, I’ve never seen one. They even had a team comedian in the dugout to keep spirits up, and a team Viv to keep Warney company. Although, in the end, the Stars’ healthy entourage did prove their non-muppet credentials by not justifying their existence.

As Fairfax’s Jesse Hogan wrote perceptively last week, all of this has most likely been a smokescreen for Warne’s frustration with his own cricket. He is still a proud performer at 43 and must have been embarrassed by his season with the Stars.

His bowling remained up to scratch (even in his prime, Warne could have been taken out of the ground by hitters like Aaron Finch, but in pre-T20 days Warne would have had enough overs to get his revenge). But his fielding made 43-year-olds around the country feel they weren’t as past it as they thought they were. As for his non-batting, was there any more humiliating sight than Lasith Malinga blocking out the last over against the Heat so Warney wouldn’t have to play his first BBL innings? This is a guy who scored 99 in a Test innings against New Zealand one day in Perth; a more than decent batsman. Warne’s professional pride must have been hurt. As Hogan wrote, the brain snap at Marlon Samuels signalled that frustration. The chances of Warne playing in next year’s BBL are about as long as that of a roulette ball landing on red 23.

For all this, Warne’s manifesto won’t and shouldn’t be dismissed. But nor should it be seen as a proxy for Clarke’s private views. Since he came into the Australian team in Warne’s last days, Clarke has walked the line between friendliness and hero worship. He’ll listen to Warne but make up his own mind. Cricket Australia is handling Warne the same way. Until he puts his hand up to come into the tent in an official capacity – and nowhere in his manifesto does he offer to make a sacrifice from his busy schedule – Warne is just another contributor to the suggestion box.

There are good ideas in there, but they need to be sorted out from the Warne-being-Warne malarkey. It’s not too hard. Go to Warne’s website, look below the picture of Shane and Liz and the coat of arms (a wreathed cricket ball rampant – what the hell’s that about?), and find the post titled ”Where is Australian cricket at?” It’s just above ”Shane Warne leads Team 888poker to the tables at the Aussie Millions Main Event!” and ”888poker Super Stack Series Wins Big!”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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