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On Warne - Gideon Haigh


Published: 20th November 2013
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Now that the cricketer who dominated airwaves and headlines for twenty years has turned full-time celebrity, his sporting conquests and controversies are receding into the past. But what was it like to watch Warne at his long peak, the man of a thousand international wickets, the incarnation of Australian audacity and cheek?

Gideon Haigh lived and loved the Warne era, when the impossible was everyday, and the sensational every other day. In On Warne, he relives the highs, the lows, the fun and the follies. Drawing on interviews conducted with Warne over the course of a decade, and two decades of watching him play, Haigh assesses this greatest of sportsmen as cricketer, character, comrade, newsmaker and national figure – a natural in an increasingly regimented time, a simplifier in a growingly complicated world. The result is a whole new way of looking at Warne, at sport, and at Australia.

Winner: 2013 Jack Pollard Literary Award (Australian Cricket Society), & the 2013 UK Cricket Society and MCC Book of the Year

About the Author

Gideon Haigh has been writing about sport and business for more than twenty-seven years. Out of the Running: The 2010 Ashes Series is his twenty-fourth book; he has edited six others, including The Penguin Book of Ashes Anecdotes. Haigh lives in Melbourne with wife Charlotte, daughter Cecilia and cat Trumper.

Warnie: he was always Warnie. You can thank television for that – all those exhalations of 'Bowled, Warnie' from Ian Healy filtered through the pitch microphones. But it suited him. After all, you could hardly call him Warne. One syllable, origin Cornish. No, you needed that little Australian tick at the end, in the spirit of prezzy, telly and rellie, identifying him as ours, and also making him everyone's. Because everyone knew about whom you were talking, didn't they? Yes, other cricketers have been identifiable by nicknames, but 'The Don' was to ennoble Donald Bradman, 'AB' partly to reflect Allan Border's primacy. Warnie? It was familiar, playful, companionable. It was the sort of appellation you might attach to a cricket clubmate, a workmate, or even just a mate in general. I'm catching up with Warnie tonight. Warnie's coming over tomorrow. You'll never guess what Warnie's done now.

Warnie was likewise never other than himself. There might at first have been a desire to fit him into the continuum of Australian wrist spin: Hordern, Mailey, Grimmett, O'Reilly, Benaud, etc. But he was never the new Benaud, and certainly never the next Bob Holland or the coming Jim Higgs. When he made his Test debut, he actually looked like that friend of a friend who turns up to help your club out on Saturday, who used to play but hasn't for ages, who didn't have anything on and thought it might be fun to have a bit of a run-around, albeit he'd had a few the night before and maybe you could put him somewhere quiet. Warne completed the parallel by turning up to his first public appearance as an Australian player badly hung-over, reporting afterwards: 'I headed straight for the safety of the toilet but didn't make it in time.'

No, there was not really a lineage for him to join that day – probably the opposite. When they took the field together, Allan Border actually invoked a less happy memory. 'Don't do a Johnny Watkins on us,' he urged – a reference to the luckless leg-break bowler who had panicked at his only Test outing twenty years before. It was not, perhaps, the most sensitive of allusions, but there was a certain rough-house humour to it, as well as some worldly wisdom. What you're about to do is difficult. What you're about to do will test your resilience, and now and again you may cop a hiding. But don't drop your bundle, because nobody else will pick it up.

And while it was one of those days a hiding came his way, Warnie did as he was bidden, and within eighteen months had the cricket world at his feet, having bowled what was instantly dubbed 'the Ball of the Century'. He was twenty-three – a young twenty-three, too, with little education, little self-awareness, still leading a sheltered life at home. The cultural historian Leo Braudy has observed that those who succeed in youth sometimes become symbolic before they become real – that one is 'created by others before one can create oneself'. Yet the 'Warnie' persona appeared to rest lightly on him: a bit flash, a bit lairy, everyone's mischievous pal, everyone's incorrigible kid brother. So it was that even as he wrote the book on leg spin, he also wrote the book on fame.

In our age, only two other cricketers have enjoyed comparable renown, dealing with it rather differently. Sachin Tendulkar veered one way, preserving his excellence by sequestering himself from a clamouring public; Ian Botham veered the other, allowing his legendary self-belief to become self-parodic. Warnie swaggered down the middle of the road, living large but always bowling big, revelling in the attention while never losing the love of his craft, seeming to treat the tabloid exposés as lightheartedly as sixes hit off his bowling. Just an occupational hazard. He'd put things right soon enough.

In doing so, he became Australia's best-known sportsman; perhaps even the most recognised Australian. Yet for all that visibility, large parts remained out of view – perhaps even to himself. 'I am pretty simple, I think, don't you?' he proposed when interviewed by Jana Wendt in 2006, only to respond when she questioned him about his aberrations of behaviour: 'a lot of people don't understand. I don't understand.' She left, like many an interviewer before and since, concluding that it was 'uncommonly easy to like him and a little harder to explain why'. I know exactly what Wendt means.

ISBN: 9780143569176
ISBN-10: 0143569171
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 224
Published: 20th November 2013
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Country of Publication: AU
Dimensions (cm): 20.1 x 13.1  x 1.7
Weight (kg): 0.22
Edition Number: 1