He terrorised us for years. He pushed the laws of the game to the limit (and sometimes overstepped the mark). He was suspended for using a banned diuretic. He gave information to a dodgy Indian bookmaker – a kind of cricketing ‘cash for questions’ scandal – and he badgered match officials into giving dodgy decisions in a way that Christiano Ronaldo would have been proud. Yet, amazingly, the English public absolutely love Shane Warne! The man can do no wrong. It’s like a deviant variation of the Stockholm Syndrome, when victims become enamoured with the captors that abused them. No matter how much pain he has caused us in the past, we simply can’t get enough of Warne’s cheeky smile.
One of the best aspects of the Pakistan v Australia test series which started at Lords on Tuesday was the return of Warney to the Sky commentary box. As usual he added insight, humour and energy. In fact, he was even more entertaining than Ricky Ponting’s second innings duck! In a week when Warne’s big rival, Muttiah Muralitharan, finally retired from test cricket, once again it was Warne that stole the spotlight.
Comparisons have inevitably been made between the two great spinners of our era – and perhaps the two greatest bowlers of all time. Statistically, Murali has the better record. However, if you exclude the meaningless matches against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, their records are remarkably similar (averaging approximately 25 in tests). However, the English have never really taken Murali to their hearts. Murali has his admirers – and his detractors – but it’s Warne who we consider to be the greatest of all time.
But why? Perhaps it’s because Warne was more of a showman. Maybe it’s because Warney had the knack of seizing big moments and turning a match on its head – who could forget the last test England played at Adelaide? Maybe it’s because of the doubts about Murali’s action? When Murali went past Warne’s record of 708 test wickets, the spin guru Terry Jenner was less than polite about the Sri Lankan – implying that the ICC should have stepped in and banned Murali from bowling before he had taken hundreds of wickets (at which point it became nonsensical and embarrassing to ban him). Meanwhile, Graham Thorpe’s autobiography implied that the ICC set the level of tolerance for straightening the arm at 15 degrees simply to incorporate Murali and avoid an embarrassing situation. Thorpey was not amused.
Although Murali answered many of his critics in an amazing interview with Mark Nicholas on the Lords Nursery, in which he bowled with a brace which prevented him from straightening his arm, there were never any doubts about Warney. He was a genius. Murali was also a genius, but an unorthodox one. Perhaps that’s why England cricket fans love Shane Warne the most. The English are, after all, a conservative nation at heart – and we prefer orthodoxy to invention. But then why do we love Warne’s extrovert personality? And why have we taken Kevin Pietersen and Eoin Morgan to our hearts? It’s impossible to say. Love, it seems, will always remain intangible.
So who is the greatest spin bowler of all time – is it Warney or Murali? Or is it someone completely different? Beau Casson gets my vote. Just kidding. Let us know what you think.