Shane Warne’s rapid descent from buoyant to embittered over the past six weeks began in the match that was supposed to further the claims he made on the eve of the Big Bash League that the only thing preventing him from again excelling for Australia in tests was his contented family life.
It was not just an unprecedentedly expensive bowling stint in the season-opening Melbourne derby for the Stars against the Renegades – 0-41 from two overs – that was cause for alarm but also the embarrassingly easy catch he dropped off Faf du Plessis in the same match.
Each in isolation was hard to fathom based on his mighty on-field reputation, yet together they were a sign a 43-year-old Warne succeeding was not guaranteed.
Given Warne’s pre-Big Bash declaration he was ”jumping out of my skin to have a bowl”, the prickly manner with which he finished the tournament, in regard to the Stars’ semi-final exit and a string of disciplinary charges, seemed symptomatic of a champion player struggling to accept, while under the public glare he has relished for almost 20 years, that he is no longer capable of doing what he used to do so effortlessly.
Warne has already been pilloried sufficiently for his rabid baiting of opponent Marlon Samuels and, less seriously, for devising a captaincy rort in the Stars’ semi-final away to Perth that, unbeknown to him, had already been outlawed.
For all the condemnation over those incidents, particularly the former, defenders retort he was never a cleanskin, even during his peak, so should not be expected to fulfil that role now.
Season one of Warne’s comeback to the Big Bash was not a success in terms of wickets – he claimed seven in eight matches – but he was the Stars’ most economical bowler with 6.74 runs an over, a sign of his impressive accuracy and also that batsmen were cowed by his reputation.
The key difference between season one and season two was how little, in comparison, Warne was willing to trust himself.
When Cameron White was in charge, in season one, the leg-spinner bowled his full allocation in all but one match. This season, he bowled his full four-over allocation in only three of seven matches.
While Warne was accused of lacking mettle for not bowling himself at all in the Stars’ semi-final loss away to Perth it was actually justifiable for him to have preferred the seamers, given the greasy conditions and the way Perth’s spinners were flayed beforehand. In the other three matches, however, there were no comparable explanations.
In the 20 overs Warne bowled for the Big Bash, from which he claimed four wickets at an average of 39.75 and conceded 7.95 runs an over, he was struck for four, on average, once every 2½ overs and for six just under every 3½ overs.
By comparison, Warne’s long-time spin rival Muttiah Muralitharan boasted not only better overall results from his 32 overs – 11 wickets at 17.36 while conceding 5.97 runs an over – but also about half the boundaries, with a four every 4½ overs and a six once every eight overs.
Muralitharan also bowled his full four-over allocation in every match. Like Warne a year earlier, Muralitharan’s great record was due not just to his good bowling but because batsmen still feared him.
It would be wrong to say Warne was inept during the Big Bash because, with the exception of his fielding, he wasn’t. He suffered few yips with the ball and was still adept at landing his leg-spinners.
But the fear-factor among his opponents was not there. All the evidence suggested that while Warne remains a handy leg-spinner, he is no longer a champion leg-spinner.
Warne’s hard-earned reputation from his international career is intact. He could conceivably return next season and still do a solid job for the Stars, and be paid handsomely for it. The long-time star of the show would just have to brace for demotion to supporting actor.
– The Age