Dubai: Enter Shane Warne, still a showstopper in cricket even at 51 years. The brand ambassador-cum-mentor of Rajasthan Royals, who stepped into the Dubai International Stadium after completing his quarantine for his team’s game on Wednesday, caught the focus of the roving camera of the official broadcasters of Indian Premier League time and again.
The Royals, who started the season on a rousing note with two wins on the trot, looked out of sorts against Kolkata Knight Riders on Wednesday - and Warne would have surely taken a note of it. The growing role of spinners in general, and the leggies in particular, in T20 cricket is a fact of life now and is expected to be more so on the UAE wickets as the tournament wears on.
‘‘As we’ve seen for sometime now, leg spinners can win you games. Everyone wants at least one if not two spinners in their team and especially leg spinners, having that mystery. Because they can spin it both ways and we’re actually really lucky to have good leg spinners in our team (Rahul Tewatia and Shreyas Gopal),’’ said Warne, whose bond with the Royals had been an enduring one ever since he led them as a player-mentor to their only IPL crown in the inaugural 2008 edition.
Speaking to Gulf News in an exclusive interview, the spin wizard observed: ‘‘There’s a lot more responsibility now on the spinners in those middle overs where they become weapons as big as the fast bowlers if not more and if you can take wickets in those middle overs, you can really restrict the opposition.’’
A crowpuller, Warne is extremely happy that the IPL 2020 could eventually get off the ground, though he makes no bones about admitting that the closed door affair due to the COVID-19 pandemic is certainly robbing the tournament of it’s sheen. ‘‘It’s such a wonderful spectacle and the Indian fans make it so enjoyable as a player by creating that buzz and hype at the stadiums, so yeah that’s a loss. It’s a big loss and will probably impact some players because they usually feed off the energy from the crowd,’’ said the owner of 708 Test wickets.
If no fans had been one of the features of cricket in the new normal, the other significant change which has come into place is the ban on use of saliva on the ball to retain it's shine. Warne feels this is, of course, good news for the spinners. ‘‘The saliva ban will probably help the spinners.The ball will get rougher, a bit more coarse and it’ll be easier for the spinner to grip it, especially when there’s a bit of dew around. So I think it’ll actually help the spinners and they’ll play an even bigger role in this year’s IPL,’’ he observed.
It’s certainly early days in the IPL 2020 but with the Royals, who are perceived as underdogs, have started the tournament on a strong note and the presence of the inspirational Steve Smith as captain from the first game had been a big plus for them so far. The Aussie flavour in their think tank is hard to miss - what with the captain, Andrew McDonald as coach and now the arrival of Warne the mentor.
So sad to hear, he (Dean Jones) was an innovator, he was ahead of his time, a maverick and if only he knew how much he inspired so many people to play the game and be like him
‘‘Andrew (McDonald) is very well respected around the cricket family and world for what he brings to the table. He’s an excellent man-manager, I think he gets a lot out of the team and he has a pretty relaxed environment and let people be themselves. But if a player needs a kick up the backside, he’s more than comfortable in giving that too.
‘‘So, I think he’s got a nice balance and Steve Smith, we know what a wonderful captain and cricketer he is. So, it’s a good combination and hopefully off the field I can help balance that and help them in some way shape or form that helps the Royals on the field,’’ an upbeat Warne said.
How much of a hands-on mentor will he, given the fact he would also double up as the brand ambassador ? ‘‘First of all, as brand ambassador, it’ll be working with potential sponsors, current sponsors, pushing the brand of Rajasthan Royals globally in everything that I do. I’m representing the Royals, pushing the brand and looking for new ways to push the brand and educating the people about the IPL and Rajasthan Royals.
‘‘As for my mentor role, it’s a bit different this year. I’ll be sitting in the stands, watching the games, not in the dugout. So, I won’t have anything to do with anything actual in-game. I would be watching just like anybody else and then I’ll be sitting with Andrew and Steve after each game, see if I saw anything, talk to them and listen to them talk and their ideas and add some of my thoughts. So that part and then being around training, motivating the group, helping out individuals in the team, trying to get the best out of them and helping the coach and captain in any which way way possible,’’ he said.
Finally, no conversation with someone like Warne cannot possibly end without a word on Dean Jones. What about his thoughts?
‘‘Dean Jones was a friend of mine for over thirty years. He was my first roommate before my first Test match, he became a good friend and it’s just so so sad. So sad to hear, he was an innovator, he was ahead of his time, a maverick and if only he knew how much he inspired so many people to play the game and be like him. I wish he had known that before he passed away. Love to Jane and his two daughters, we’re thinking of you in these tough times...’’ he signed off.