Thursday, May 19, 2011

Warne ends polarising career as a loser

Unusual in his soap opera existence, there will be no fairytale finish when Shane Warne draws the closing curtain.

Warne will end one of cricket's most successful and controversial playing careers as a loser.

The legspinner bows out in Mumbai early Saturday (NZT) when his Rajasthan Royals play their final match of the 2011 Indian Premier League (IPL).

The Royals can't make the IPL finals, so it's the end for Warne - more than four years after quitting Test cricket and nearly four years since his last first-class outing.

Aged 41, Warne completes a playing road with bumps, twists and turns beyond the imagination of the most fanciful Hollywood script writer. Or Hollywood starlet.

Warne, who once described his life as a soap opera, farewells as an undisputed genius of his sport, his influence on Australian cricket second only to Sir Donald Bradman.

But he also farewells as among the most polarising of sportsmen.

His mastery of the difficult craft of legspin returned 708 Test wickets. Toss in 293 one-day international victims, and more than 1300 first-class scalps.

Even the largesse of such figures somehow don't do justice to the guile of Warne, who was revered for his `cricket brain'.

Some say the magnitude of his `cricket brain' left little grey matter for other purposes.

Think extra-marital affairs. Saucy text messages. Saucy baked beans. Diuretics. Crass celebrations. Sledging. Smoking.

Warne was a gifted bowler, but also a wrong'un.

English sportswriter and senior university lecturer Rob Steen succinctly summed him up.

"To some he's been the Messiah of spin, a rebel with a hell of a cause - the personification of competitive artistry," Steen wrote on cricket website, Cricinfo.

"Others, especially older Australians, see a larrikin, a beach bum, a source of embarrassment and even disgust, the very embodiment of insufferable cockiness."

The cross-over nowadays between Warne the flamboyant cricketer and Warne the flamboyant celebrity is minimal.

Warne was paid some $US1.8 million for his last stint as a player in this year's IPL.

He opened the tournament denying he had a facelift, and was frequently pictured canoodling with British model and actress Elizabeth Hurley.

On the field, Warne's powers waned.

He started well enough, initially foxing batsmen with customary turn and flight.

But gradually Warne lost rhythm and even inexperienced youngsters began hitting him for sixes with regular ease.

His returns from the tournament have been unimpressive - 12 wickets from as many games, while conceding 267 runs, for an average of 22.25.

Warne once always wanted the ball, believing he could conjure sporting miracles. And often he did.

But he didn't even bowl himself in the Royals' last start loss, a sign of a dwindling competitive fire.

Indeed, Warne was more fiery off-field when he berated the secretary of the Rajasthan Cricket Association over the choice of pitches.

Warne was fined $US50,000 for the row, destined to become a final footnote of an amazing career.

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