The Warniefesto: a good discussion executed badly
There’s one thing I’ll give Shane Warne credit for as he reaches the ‘angry old man’ stage of his retirement from top-level cricket: he does genuinely only want the best for the game in Australia.
That said, his sudden falling out with Cricket Australia – for what I can only assume has its roots in Warne’s inability to read the Big Bash League playing conditions – is degenerating with all the grace of an Anthony Mundine loss.
Describing those that run the game in Australia as “muppets”, and declaring there was no place for “rugby people” in cricket was about as subtle as claiming he wasn’t talking about any one particular person was pointless.
Following on from this, late last week we were treated to the first part of his vision for Australian cricket, and the second part emerged yesterday. There were suggestions early on that this was going to be a five-part thing, but I’m honestly not sure what’s left to say.
There was no hiding what we were in for, with “Where is Australian cricket at?” about as creative and enigmatic a title as “My Autobiography”.
Who’da thunkit that Warne doesn’t like what he’s watching from the Australian team currently? Join the line, Shane.
Actually, scratch that. It appears that Warne’s beef is not about the team and the players at all, but rather the structures around them.
And it’s here the irony in Warne’s view begins. A man who in his day bemoaned formal structure, and claimed that players made coaches, is now suggesting the coaches and selectors are the problem.
Why couldn’t it be that the team Warne played in was more than just a touch better than is the case currently?
Anyway, the reporting of Warne’s plan/opus was interesting for its damning nature. The use of the word ‘manifesto’ was curious, too, as it brings with it images of an evil genius at work.
However, as I mentioned at the top, Warne certainly isn’t being ‘evil’ opining on Australian cricket, and, well, no-one’s ever accused him of being a genius either.
Chloe Saltau’s headline in the Fairfax Press was the equally accurate and stinging “Plenty of jobs for the boys in Warne’s manifesto”, while for News Ltd Malcolm Conn declared it “a wonderful job articulating the bleeding obvious.”
Gideon Haigh and Wayne Smith in The Australian both took aim at Warne’s claim that “The current set up is not working, as the results are showing!” by pointing out that when the current set-up took over, Australia were ranked fifth for Test cricket, and are now only a point behind second-placed England.
If not for a broken-down paceman in Adelaide, a different series result against South Africa would have had Australia on the top step of the podium.
The biggest flaw in Warne’s thinking, as far as I can see, is that barely 18 months after the Argus Report also surmised that “The current set up is not working, as the results are showing!” his solution is to put the broom through the place again and throw up some new names.
Except that some names aren’t necessarily that new. And those that are new aren’t or wouldn’t be interested.
He’d hardly be the first “emotional, passionate Australian cricket supporter” to call for James Sutherland’s head, but how much thought went into Mark Taylor being CEO material?
Let Warne’s own words answer that question directly:
“The reason why I would choose Mark is that he has an understanding from both sides and is a wonderful communicator as well as being very approachable and respected.”
And that’s all fine and good, but I think there’s a touch more to the job than being respected and approachable. I mean, aside from his record as an air-conditioning salesman, and that his persistent persuasiveness means I’m now really looking forward to The Block – All-stars this year, what exactly are Taylor’s credentials?
Then there’s the small detail that he’d already knocked back the chance to be the Chairman of the new football commission-style Cricket Australia board last year.
Frankly, I’m not sure ‘Tubby’ could afford the pay cut.
In nominating Rod Marsh as his new Chairman of Selectors, does Warne really believe that Marsh has been the sole dissenting voice in the selection room this summer?
If John Inverarity, Andy Bichel, and Mickey Arthur are losing their positions as selector, then on what justification does Marsh not just keep his, but get promoted?
That Warne has suggested former teammates, his long-term confidante, and “the best opposition captain we played against” into key coaching positions should surprise no one.
Warne’s say-so has been getting mates picked and employed now for years. His sense of nepotism is so obvious now that he doesn’t even bother hiding it.
But either way, if Mike Hussey announced his retirement from playing because he dreaded the thought of being away from his young family for months on end, he’s hardly going to sign up as a batting coach and do all that again, is he?
As for the teams he named in Part two, well, there really weren’t any earth-shattering revelations, save for the inclusion of James Faulkner and Nathan Coulter-Nile in all three forms of the game, and giving the Twenty20 captaincy to Matthew Wade.
Oh, and he named Nathan Hauritz as the sole specialist ODI spinner.
But again, Warne circumnavigates himself with his own logic. He maintained his stance of picking the best 11 for all forms of the game, but then named an 18-man Test squad!
In fact, in saying at the top of Part two, “It’s simple, select your best 11 for each form of the game, not the same 11 but your best available team at all times,” Warne is essentially conceding that there will be some form of rotation within the squads, even if it’s forced by injury or performance.
It’s already been reported that only three players have been rested or rotated from a Test side when otherwise fit to play in the last 12 months, so what Warne’s advocating isn’t that far removed from what’s happening anyway.
It would’ve been interesting to have been a fly on the wall when Warne met with James Sutherland over the weekend, because I suspect by the end of the meeting, they might have concluded that Warne’s thinking isn’t that far off Cricket Australia’s.
The issue then becomes one of communication, in which case I don’t think there would be many arguments from anyone that the messages coming out of CA this summer, particularly around selections, have been confusing.
I don’t think there’s any question the selectors have often been guilty of saying something when they should’ve said nothing, with the admission that Phillip Hughes was “shielded” from the South African bowling attack being the classic example.
Even if that was true, there’s just no benefit to anyone for that to be made public.
Let me reiterate that I am sure Warne has purely good intentions in publishing his thoughts.
He even says himself that he hopes his paper “opens the floodgates for discussion and a positive outcome”. There’s no doubt it has, judging by the mainstream and social media commentary.
And so perhaps the solution is not Warne’s paper itself, but the discussion that the ‘Warniefesto’ has generated. Cricket Australia wouldn’t be so stupid to implement his ideas in full, but they would be plain dumb to ignore the underlying message completely.
Forget the broom; forget the new names. For now.
But don’t ever forget that Cricket Australia’s purpose is to foster the game in this country at all levels.
That obviously means not only looking after the grass roots and all its structures, but also to ensure the highest possible performance from the national teams.
I’m sure CA will argue that that’s exactly what they’re trying to do. And that’s fine. But they shouldn’t ever rest comfortably that they’re on top of all cricket issues at any given time. This summer has shown that they’re clearly not.
This has been and is a discussion worth having. And if any the areas targeted in his two parts show some signs of improvement in the next year or so, then Warne might be well entitled to rock back in his over-sized chair and stroke his feline.
He’s certainly not evil, but there perhaps is some hidden genius lurking in his methods.
Brett McKay is a former non-tackling scrumhalf and not-quite-first-grade middle order stalwart. A rugby and cricket expert for The Roar since July 2009, Brett has written for Inside Rugby and Cricket Australia, and is also PLAY Canberra's rugby correspondent. He tweets from @BMcSport