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The Former Sheikh of Tweak

By Sunaad Raghuram
February 14, 2003 14:43 IST
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How dreary to be somebody!

How public like a frog

To tell your name the livelong day

To an admiring bog!

-Emily Dickinson


And they are not admiring Shane Warne any more. Not after he was labelled a 'druggie'. And forced to take the route to an airport to board a plane back home instead of the usual road to a cricket stadium. Where, in the heat of competition, the mesmerizing leg spin of the man from Melbourne's Ferntree Gully, had spelt finis for many a man with a cricket bat in hand, many more times than ordinary mortals could remember, except perhaps statisticians, out of inevitable necessity.

Warne bowled the 'Ball of the Century' in the Ashes series of 1993. When the mysterious turn of the ball bamboozled a certain Mike Gatting. A decade later, the same Warne has become the 'Bawl of the Century'! Shouting out to the world his innocence, crying out loud for succor. And for the 'public frog' that he could be, there aren't too many admiring bogs! Only perhaps the dreary loneliness of floundering in the pond of his own indiscretions. Or so it seems for the present.

Shane WarneAn automated response of 'innocence' came from Shane Warne after his system showed a banned diuretic, which had the capacity to mask more serious performance enhancing steroids. Perhaps Shane Warne never took the banned substance on purpose. Perhaps he did not need to, considering that his performances were any way far more enhanced than almost every other bowler of his type in the world. Perhaps, it was a modicum of arrogance, an intimation of a slight feeling of superiority; a fleeting thought that he could do no wrong that did not allow Warne to think of consulting the drugs' manual before popping the pill that 'mum gave'.

The Australian media has been unforgiving. 'Shame Warne' they say. Of a sporting hero who, by redefining excellence, carved a career where brilliance, bordering on genius, was the buzzword. Of a man who has been arguably their country's greatest sporting icon after Don Bradman.

Warne, though, has always lived and played in a manner that gives you the impression that his cricket kit contains that one extra bit of equipment compared to his team mates-the sword of Damocles! Seemingly self-fitted, it hangs on his head and pokes. Like the time it did when he admitted to accepting a 'gift' from a nebulous bookie for a weather report. Like the time it did when he supposedly made a few indecent propositions to an English nurse over the telephone. When he used his fists, instead of tact, against a persevering photographer, hell-bent on clicking a picture that had Warne with a cigarette in his hand.

The Australian is a friendly person, living as he does, in one of the friendliest and beautiful environs of the world. The long stretches of beach and the even longer stretches of highway, ever competing to win the 'Spot The People Contest', and obviously alluding all the time to the lack of human thronging in a country of so few people; nature's largesse invariably trickling into human hearts, in a country where smiles abound, as much as the ubiquitous pubs, inside which the copiousness of chilled lager, always arouses a kind of rare back-slapping bonhomie.

One of the greatest ironies that confound me is the aggressive, arrogant, animosity-filled, hostility-driven attitude of Australia's cricket team to whom victory matters above all else; damn friendship, fair play and the free play of exalted thought, befitting a cricket field. And to think the men who make up the team, obviously hail from a community of people, who form, by any stretch of imagination, a society, which is among the more culture-respecting, tradition-following ones in the world.

Take a peek at the Australian crime sheet and compare it with a few of those in the other parts of the western world and you'll know why the Aussies have more reasons to smile than most others. No regular violence, no routine gun battles on the streets, and definitely no frequent hot, police car chases would you see in Australia, that seem to have become almost a way of life elsewhere in the so-called developed world and even glorified on television. But I wonder, if its cricketers, who mostly do not figure in the all-time-friendly-and-controversy-free-persons list of the world, compensate for all this, in a sense!

I have heard this argument that the Aussie cricketers are die-hards on the field but sweet-hearts off it. A group of men who don't compromise on their duty during office hours. But how wonderful it would have been for the game and its respectability if those 'office hours' had been treated with a lot more 'touch', that came from humans and not bloodless automatons. And how very wonderful indeed, it would have been, if only Shane Warne had taken that precautionary pill of basic responsibility. Towards himself, his fans, his country. Instead of a pill that seems to have tilled his cricketing grave.

The sight, though, will forever endure in the mind; of the blonde haired magician, whose incantation of 'Abracadabra' was always heard through the rattle of timber; with yet another ill-fated batsman standing transfixed at the batting crease, invariably in a pose of pathetic contortion, having completely misread the googly. In some part of the world. On some cricket ground. With his team mates jumping around like a bunch of Kangaroos, in the throes of indescribable joy.

(Sunaad Raghuram is the author of 'Veerappan The Untold Story', Viking, 2001. He lived in Australia before his return to India in the mid-1990s.)

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