EVEN if Shane Warne wanted to return to the Big Bash League, there is no guarantee the Melbourne Stars would have him back.
As Warne penned the first part of his plan to save Australian cricket last week, the Stars worked through meetings with players to review the season.
Teammates are divided in their attitude towards Warne; some stand by him, and are prepared to put his tantrums (both in public and private) down to passion and frustration with a team that didn’t live up to its on-paper potential. Others have simply had enough of him.
How did it come to this? How did one of Australia’s greatest cricketers, a legend who was worshipped, especially by the Stars’ younger players, fall from favour? How did one of cricket’s few genuine celebrities, whose presence boosted crowds and television audiences for the new league and brought sponsors flocking, take some of the lustre off the Stars’ ”brand”?
Many of the answers have been well-documented but one incident helps explain how some of Warne’s teammates lost patience with him.
Warne is said to have berated the Stars’ English import Luke Wright after a game at the Gabba. The captain had called Wright, who was out of position, into a catch that Warne himself was better placed to attempt, then demanded to know why the Englishman didn’t go for it.
Off the field, the Stars are trying to salvage a partnership with the Transport Accident Commission after neither was made aware of a speeding fine Warne clocked up in Scotland in September.
Warne fronted the TAC’s Home Safely campaign with Melbourne Renegades captain Aaron Finch. The TAC this week is expected to hand down a penalty to the Stars, which could range from a heavy fine to ripping up the contract.
Routine season reviews are under way with commercial partners Jenny Craig and Energy Australia, and the feedback is they are happy with their association with Warne and the Stars.
Warne, with friend and Stars president Eddie McGuire by his side, met chief executive Clint Cooper last week to talk about the season, including what went wrong.
Though friends of the 43-year-old are under the impression he has played his last game of competitive cricket – and he is expected to be involved in television commentary of the Ashes next summer – Cooper said neither Warne nor the Stars had made a decision about the future.
”He hasn’t made up his mind, we definitely haven’t made up our minds, but we’re working together, and I just think the dust needs to settle,” Cooper said. ”He was as disappointed as anybody with the way we finished.”
The Stars scraped into the semi-finals, then suffered a last-ball defeat in Perth. Warne, who had served a one-match ban for his part in an infamous altercation with Marlon Samuels, failed to turn up to a second Cricket Australia hearing for a ruse in which he handed over the captaincy to avoid being rubbed out a second time for a slow over rate. On Twitter, he shifted the blame to the Stars, claiming he didn’t know about the rule.
It didn’t help that in the semi-final he was a non-batting, non-bowling, unofficial captain. Cooper said Warne’s relationships at the Stars were intact, and that he had been enormously important to the team and the BBL.
”He’s a different type of leader but he’s team-first and trying to get the best outcome. Probably some people mightn’t perceive that,” Cooper said.
”It’s premature for me to say I’ve spoken to all 20 players on our list, all management and all staff and got a fair opinion of what’s going on. But we all knew going in that there’s Shane Warne and then there’s the team, there’s a lot of Hollywood around him … It’s a unique circumstance compared with what most players are used to.
”I don’t think there’s been damage to relationships, things are said in the heat of battle on or off the field but the sign of a good team is one that can move on from those.”
Though Mike McKenna, CA’s executive general manager (commercial), who runs the BBL, acknowledged ”some things happened that we wish hadn’t happened”, Warne’s enduring celebrity, even as he spun out of control in the final month, suggests the league would have him back in a heartbeat.
While another CA insider says he stayed a year too long, the three biggest crowds this season were at Stars games.
Warne’s team also had the best TV audiences, featuring in six of the top 10-rating games, while opponents pulled more viewers than usual when they played against the Stars.
Warne was paid about $1 million over two BBL seasons, including a marketing fee from CA. Despite venting his spleen about the ”muppets” running Australian cricket, he could yet be asked to stay involved in a non-playing capacity.
Whatever happens, Warne’s latest missives suggest he won’t fade into the background.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.