Clayton Murzello: Well bowled, Shane Warne? Nah!

Spin legend’s comments on Steve Waugh were unbecoming of an Australian because Aussie cricketers often boast about their unity

Shane Warne is nowhere near being flavour of the month, at least where Australian cricket is concerned.

He played to the gallery yet again when he stated that his former captain Steve Waugh is the most selfish player he played with. Considering Warne played alongside a massive amount of other players apart from his Australia teammates through his association with Victoria, Hampshire, Rest of the World, Rajasthan Royals and Melbourne Stars, to single out Waugh is a big statement.

Shane Warne and Steve Waugh celebrate during the VB Series match against New Zealand at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in January 2002. Pic/Getty ImagesShane Warne and Steve Waugh celebrate during the VB Series match against New Zealand at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in January 2002. Pic/Getty Images

Coming from an Australian, that is astounding because Aussie cricketers never tire from emphasising on togetherness and bonding to give the impression, at times, that only they possess these good sporting qualities and other teams, especially the Indian ones, fall short.

Some even have a problem when a team celebrates hard after a win. While it is fine for them to get intoxicated and rowdy at a post-victory party, it’s considered rich when a team participates in a motorcade after a World T20 triumph. That’s what Andrew Symonds thought when he learnt about India’s 2007 World T20 celebrations.

Warne also pulled open a dry scab when he revealed how dejected he was to be dropped by Waugh and coach Geoff Marsh for the final Test of the 1998-99 series against the West Indies where Warne was the third selector.

In his autobiography, Warne stressed that Stuart MacGill, who replaced him, was not bowling well either. He also admitted being touched when Waugh said later that dropping his reputed bowler was the hardest call he took in his captaincy career. The leg-spinning legend wrote that Waugh’s view, on reflection, meant a lot to him and that Waugh and he developed a friendship over the years.

Maybe Waugh was single-minded in his pursuit of excellence, just like Richard Hadlee was. Is that tantamount to being selfish? Waugh supporters wouldn’t even believe there exists a thin line between being obsessed with personal success and selfishness.

Waugh’s judgment in Antigua could be questioned, but not his best interests for Australia. A high-profile series was on the line. A loss would have resulted in a break in superiority over the West Indies, who were still the team to beat in 1999. Fours years earlier, both Waugh and Warne were part of Mark Taylor’s team, which became the first Australian side in 22 years to win in the West Indies. Waugh had every reason to do everything in his power to ensure the series was not lost. As the great leader Imran Khan once said: “It is straightforward. When a team loses, it is the captain’s head which goes on the chopping block. It would only be a mad captain who would not try to find the best possible team to win a match.”

Australia won the Antigua Test, drawing the series 2-2, and the Frank Worrell Trophy stayed in their custody, so what’s the big fuss about, some may wonder.

While Waugh offered a dead bat to Warne’s recent views, his former teammates like Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer came out and criticised him. Langer, who was part of that Australian team and scored a match-winning century in Antigua, was quoted as saying that he believed Waugh was just the opposite of selfish.

Langer is known to be a big Waugh supporter, but he can also accept the hard truth just as Australian journalist Andrew Ramsey discovered on Australia’s heartbreaking 2005 Ashes tour. Ramsey, who was on tour, writing for The Australian newspaper, was asked by the The Times, London, to pen a piece on Australia’s foibles during the Trent Bridge Test of that series. He was scathing and referred to the article in his highly entertaining book, The Wrong Line — What happens on tour sometimes needs to be told. Ramsey described his conversation with Langer in the team hotel during the Test: “ ‘Saw your piece in The Times this morning,’ Langer said as he caught me up the corridor. He glanced furtively to satisfy himself nobody was peeking through partially opened doors, or eavesdropping near the lift well. ‘Don’t let anybody know I told you this — and if you do, I’ll deny it — but I agree. Absolutely. You got it spot on.’ He patted me twice on the shoulder and then slipped into a waiting lift.”

Langer’s apprehension about expressing an opinion on his team in public was understandable, but he had what Ramsey wanted his country’s team to have — the “willingness to self critique.”

Perhaps Warne ought to have projected his stats while recalling his dreadful dropping in 1999. He had taken just two wickets in three Tests and was obviously not doing well after surgery on his shoulder.

Warne has been Australia’s greatest leg-spinner in the last 50 years. That he could still baffle batsmen after enduring intricate shoulder and finger surgeries made it to cricket’s very own Believe it or Not book. But he won’t score many points for his latest outbursts. Probably, he should be reminded of what another great Australian leg-spinner, Bill O’Reilly, said when he was to asked to speak his mind against Don Bradman: “You don’t pee on statues.”

mid-day’s group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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