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Warne's world of Hollywood and the modern Ashes

  • 22 January 2007
"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.

Shane 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.

Rash 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