Warne's world of Hollywood and the modern Ashes

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"It’s been an interesting few days since the Perth Test match, trying to work out what the Ashes urn actually means."

– Shane Warne, Retirement announcement, December 21, 2006.

Saint ShaneShane Warne was happy as he announced his retirement. One of the most highly anticipated Ashes contests in living memory was well on the way to ending in a drubbing. As England licked the most savage wounds inflicted by an Australian team in eighty five years, the Australians pondered the retirement of four players.

The honour board reads like a casualty list: Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Justin Langer and Damien Martyn. Warnie’s exit was announced once it became clear that the baggy-green machine was unstoppable. Martyn’s was the most curious, anti-climactic announcement, conspicuously lacking an explanation.

Rather than engaging in Warne’s narrow exercise of 'working out' the significance of the urn, a better question might be what has happened to the sport in the last fifteen years. This period has certainly belonged to the man called 'Hollywood'. Its vagaries, its successes, were to a large extent his. The other retirees have added their gloss: the metronomic McGrath, bowling tirelessly and hitting the same five cent-piece-sized spot, ball after ball; a gritty Langer, who blossomed after awkward beginnings and 'Marto', who added polish to the middle order.

One is tempted to draw parallels with the Marsh-Lillee-Chappell trio who slid out of the game in early 1984, having re-written cricket history. That trio fought the establishment, aligning themselves with the Packer universe in which increased pay, television rights and one-day cricket were pre-eminent. Out of the chrysalis of the pre-Packer era came a new breed of ugly Australian cricketer, mean 'sledgends' who pioneered a brutal banter that hankered for 'Pommie' blood.

Warne is, in many ways, their successor, though less loved. He was, in his own words, in for a 'wonderful ride'. Left out in the cold by creeping political correctness in on (and off) field protocol, his character report card is bleak. Warne was crude and brash on the field, dangerously talented, and naïve off it. Writer Louis Nowra put this down to an immature life, one never lived outside stardom.

Warne's world of Hollywood and the modern AshesRash with his decisions, he ignored the judgment of the public eye, taking diuretics from his mother, casting caution to the wind in frivolous pursuits with women. Nowra recalled an indignant taxi driver anxious to see 'Hollywood' banned after the scandal hit the news in 2003. The liberal press, Nowra sneered, had fallen to the depths of 'pompous' sanctimony and hysterical 'tall-poppy bashing'.

While Nowra’s thoughts on the painful cant of 'liberal boofheads' may or may not be apt, the Warne era was marked by episodes far murkier than errant phone messages. In December 1998, it was revealed that Australian players had suddenly 'fallen prey to bookies', selling information regarding pitch conditions on a tour of Sri Lanka in 1995. Upstanding elder statesmen of the game such as Neil Harvey were outraged, never believing he would see the day an Australian cricketer could 'slump to these depths'.

Whatever criticisms have been levelled against Warnie, Australians remain loyal to his superiority. Warne is seen as the reviver of cricket, bringing slow bowling back from the desert. The wizardry of the Pakistani wrist-spinner Abdul Qadir, who showed his genius in an age dominated by the West Indian fast-bowling quatrain, is ignored. Warne’s virtually unplayable contemporary Muttiah Muralitharan is blacklisted and is seen to deserve no mention (the perception being he 'chucks' his way past records).

Warne's world of Hollywood and the modern AshesWarne’s world, for better or worse, brought cricket up-to-speed with other sports, in terms of quantity and scandal. Match-fixing reared its ugly head, crowned by the flawed Hansie Cronje. Drug-taking, or at least the taking of drug-masking agents, took place. Cricket exploded, saturating screens and stadiums. Australia spent a staggering 274 days of the last three years playing cricket. Warne's became a sort of secular saint.

Perhaps it is fitting that the symbolic Ashes remains in Australia, if only to remind us that something else may have passed on after the Sydney Test in January this year. The Ashes thumping suggested that the urn had gone the way of all flesh: it had ceased to be a symbolic register of a great rivalry, the paternal lodestone of an imperial game with quarters at the Marylebone Cricket Club. Australians wanted it because they saw it as a trophy, rather than a commemoration. Perhaps this quintessentially English game has simply become another sport, where the stakes are high and the consequences of failure great.

 

 

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Existing comments

Goodbye, and good riddance, Shane Warne. you might have been a master leg spinner, but your buffoonery and lecherous ways will not be missed!
Andy Johnson | 24 January 2007


Love the artowrk for this one. great to see that some recognise Warne might be treated by the media as a secular saint, but that the truth is a little further from that...
Thomas D | 24 January 2007


I'm just glad that Damien Martyn has retired...Warnie will be missed, and McGrath and Langer were decent sorts. MArtyn was,on the other hand, self-indulgent, half as talented as Mark Waugh, and could barely be rel;ied upon.
J.Anderson | 24 January 2007


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