SPIRO: Oh no! Warney’s the Gorgeous George of cricket
Shane Warne and Elizabeth Hurley. AFP PHOTO/GREG WOOD
You know you are in trouble as a credible celebrity when the media starts to make mocking jokes about you and your activities. This is what is starting to happen with Shane Warne.
The Sydney Morning Herald’s chief sports columnist (and a very good one, too), Richard Hinds, has reported that an American reporter at the Australian Open tennis tournament has tweeted: “Shane Warne? That’s Liz Hurley’s boyfriend. Right.# handbag.”
And Hinds himself made a rather good joke himself when in reference to Ms Hurley’s appallingly ungracious behaviour to a female journalist at Perth Airport after her fiance’s team the Stars were defeated in the semi-final of The Big Bash.
He said the encounter proved one thing: “Liz Hurley and Shane Warne are perfect for each other.”
Asked the reasonable question of what she thought about the game, the English rose Hurley told Cathy Price, “I think you should f*** off.”
Last season, the first year of The Big Bash, there was considerable excitement among cricket lovers (myself included) at the return to prime time cricket of Warne. The chance to see the ‘Sultan of Spin,’ rated by Wisden as one of the five greatest cricketers of the 20th century in action again was a thrilling proposition.
And Warne didn’t disappoint. He bowled well, with a characteristic bravado, craft and intelligence. All miked up (and hyped up, too) he told the commentators, in one game, how he was going to dismiss Brendan McCallum.
And, would you believe it?, he did just that by spearing a quicker, spinning delivery outside the leg stump and bowling the bewildered batsman around his legs.
The miracle man strikes again!
This season though the talking up how batsmen were going to be dismissed blew up in his face. Presumed wicket-deliveries soared over the boundary rope into the stands.
Warne was reduced to a caricature of the scheming and brilliant exponent of deceiving batsmen with sleight of hand. He had become an old conjuror who had lost the magic in his fingers to deceive his opposition.
You had the sense that he had morphed into something different from a smart, clever, extrovert and brilliant bowler into a sort of showbusiness conman posing as a leg spin bowler.
I am an ancient and my sporting memory goes back to the 1940s (dimly) and gets stronger from the 1950s onwards.
And the more I watched Warne go through his antics on and off the cricket field this season the more I realised that he had morphed into a 21st version of of the ‘charismatic … flamboyant … outrageous’ American professional wrestler of the 1940s through to the 1960s, George Wagner aka in the ring as Gorgeous George.
You can see some of Gorgeous George’s antics below. His pre-match routine required his butler to spray the ring with a perfume before the golden haired (heavily peroxided) Gorgeous George began to strut around, teasing his flowing locks and provoking the spectators with his mincing strut into howls of rage.
Gorgeous George did stunts like getting married in the ring, a ceremony that was re-enacted many times. He invariably went through a routine, too, to prevent the referee or an emboldened opponent from opening his dressing gown.
His butler did this, or he occasionally did the opening routine himself. And then he pranced and cavorted around the ring, somewhat like a more muscular and aggressive Liberace, to provoke the cries and shouts of the spectators.
There is an excellent Wikipedia account of Gorgeous George’s life under the heading of: George Wagner. The point to make here is that Gorgeous George and the wrestling original Lord Patrick Lansdowne developed an act that would play on the newly emerging media outlet, commercial television.
Wrestling changed virtually over-night from a world-wide professional sport with its champions and world titles to a part of show business with phony titles, phony outcomes and phony performers.
And as this happened, the sport turned into a business with smart operators taking over parts of wrestling and making it more and more outrageous and much more more vaudeville than any notion of a sport.
And with every new projection of the outrageous, a newer and more outrageous projection of the sport was needed.
Now wrestling is being supplanted by cage fighting which will, probably, go through the same gyrations from a sport to a total spectacle when its promoters decide this is what has to happen.
This brings us back to Shane Warne. There is no doubt that his involvement with The Big Bash has helped immeasurably in ensuring its success. It is expected that without Warne next year, this season’s ratings which have fallen 30 percent from the 2011-12 season will fall another 30 per cent.
But I believe that Warne must be kept out of the next Big Bash. The SMH conducted a poll on who was wrong in the Warne-Samuels argument.
An astonishing 66 per cent voted that Warne was in the wrong.
My take on this is that the days of Warne getting away with anything and everything because he is ‘Warnie’ are over. The regard for him as a cricketer is going, if it hasn’t disappeared.
There is a growing understanding that he has become an idiot celebrity with his insistence on everyone calling paramour Ms Hurley his ‘fiancee,’ his capped teeth, faux hair and waxworks face and body.
The Big Bash has a strong place in the cricket calendar. But, and this is a point that Gideon Haigh makes strongly, the tournament has to be a cricket tournament. If the emphasis is on the game and the way it is played and on the competition, it will be a great hit with supporters at the ground and watching on television.
This means killing off Shane Warne as a ‘Gorgeous Shane’ player before he turns The Big Bash into a celebrity-driven nonsense.
Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.