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Warney wows 'em with the microphone

Roar Rookie
13th August, 2009
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1481 Reads

Typical Warney. Even when he isn’t playing, he seems to command centre stage. Quite the best thing about viewing the Ashes series this winter has been Shane Warne’s commentary for the Sky/SBS team.

It’s the first Ashes battle in 18 years without Warne as a player, but much that we’ve lost in on-field spectacle is being made up for in commentary.

His delivery from behind the microphone is proving to be almost as compelling as with the six-stitcher.

And just like his bowling, he does it with apparent ease. His fellow commentators marvel at how Warne can be lounging in the back of the box eating pizza and playing computer card games, then when it’s his turn to go on air he strolls over, picks up the microphone and immediately knows exactly what’s been going on, and what’s likely to happen next.

No wonder he’s such a good poker player.

English audiences, by all accounts, are charmed by him. In truth, they’ve been in awe of him ever since his first delivery in Ashes cricket, the so-called Ball of the Century that dispatched Mike Gatting so comically at Old Trafford in 1993.

As a commentator Warne is confident, witty, informed, relaxed, and bursting with information. His brain, so scatty in other parts of his life, seems hard-wired to cricket.

When he comes to the microphone you find yourself leaning forward in your seat that little bit. Just as when he got hold of the ball, you know things are about to happen.

He is a born communicator, without need of charts or graphs or slow-motion replays to let you know what’s going on, in language everyone can understand.

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He can take you through an over ball by ball, telling you what the bowler is thinking and how the batsman is trying to counter it.

He’ll tell you how the field should be set, how fast a spinner should be bowling, how wide the slips should stand, and how a bowler is trying to draw a particular batsman across his crease.

Even from a distance of 16,000km Warne has the knack of holding you a finger’s breadth from the action.

“Some people have just got it, and he’s got it,” says Channel Nine sports boss Steve Crawley, who is looking forward to having Warne in the commentary box for a few Tests of Richie Benaud’s farewell summer.

“It’s just something that he’s made for.”

Crawley says there are no plans for Warne to take over from Richie when he retires at the end of the next Australia season. “He’s got too much else on.”

Although their styles are very different, Warne has Benaud’s skill of being able to tell you things you haven’t already worked out for yourself.

Benaud maintains the secret to television commentary is keeping quiet until you can add something to what is already on the screen.

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He learnt it at a BBC training school in 1956. Though Warne opens his mouth more often than Benaud, it is something he seems to know by instinct.

What is it about these leg-spinners? Perhaps, as they’ve always had us believe, they really are the game’s artists and philosophers.

The first great Australian leggie Arthur Mailey wrote about the game with immense grace and wit – his autobiography “10 for 66 and All That” is a classic.

Bill O’Reilly also wrote beautifully, penning acerbic and insightful columns for the Sydney Morning Herald right up to the time of his death in 1992, the year Warne announced his genius (just as O’Reilly had foretold).

Terry Jenner is renowned for his forthright views and insights, while his contemporary Kerry O’Keeffe has reinvented himself as cricket’s funny man, adding gravitas to the vaudeville with his astute reading of the game.

Trevor Hohns became the shrewdest of selectors and now we find Warne’s long-suffering understudy and sometime Test partner Stuart MacGill suavely hosting SBS’s Ashes coverage, in addition to fronting his own lifestyle show.

Warne, however, is different from all of them. A one-off, just as he was as a bowler.

Perhaps, as in his private life, it’s his utter lack of inhibition and self-consciousness that makes his commentary so good. He has the gift of just being himself.

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If you’ve been photographed in your Playboy undies cavorting with a couple of good-time girls or happily spruiked hair-growth machines there’s not much that can embarrass you any more.

He is unafraid to say what’s on his mind.

When the cameras picked out a young woman – wearing not much – dancing in celebration of a rare England success at Headingley, Warne started enjoying the view out loud.

Fearful of what might come out next, sidekick David “Bumble” Lloyd jumped in to change the subject.

Above all, though, it is Warne’s instinctive knowledge of the game – honed over 145 Tests and almost 6,800 overs – that make him worth listening to.

Before a ball was bowled in the series, Warne said England No.3 Ravi Bopara did not have the temperament for Test cricket, even though he had just made three consecutive hundreds against the West Indies.

“He’s too worried about how he looks,” Warne said.

On cue, Bopara has been ruthlessly exposed.

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When Ben Hilfenhaus clanged an inswinger into England captain Andrew Strauss’s pads with the first ball of the Headingley Test, Warne called it out straight off, while his fellow commentators thought Strauss had got an inside edge.

“That’s a shocker … he should have been given out,” Warne said, and so the replay proved. Even when Hawkeye counters Warne’s call on lbw decisions, it’s difficult not to believe Warne has got it right.

New Zealand umpire Billy Bowden, whom Warne clearly did not rate in his playing days, came in for further withering assessment at Headingley.

At one stage Bowden awarded a leg-bye to a ball that came off Marcus North’s glove, prompting Warne to say: “Billy, just count to six and if it hits the glove it’s a run.”

It was almost prescient. Bowden later allowed overs of five and seven balls.

“Not sure Billy’s a hundred per cent about anything at the moment – maybe where to stand at square leg,” Warne said.

“One-two-three-four-five-six. It can’t be that difficult, surely. I might get my son to help him count to six.”

Bagging the umpires from the commentary box is not to everyone’s taste, but Warne gets away with it because he does it with a smile in his voice.

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He is not above making fun of himself. When the subject of his sliders, drifters, gesunters and myriad other mystery balls came up, he admitted: “I probably had about six names for the one that basically went straight.”

Warne’s commentary underlines what many of his supporters (Ian Chappell foremost among them) advocated in his playing career – that he would have made a brilliant Australian captain.

Tactically, there’s no doubt about that.

The problem is, even as a man of 40 (come September 13), he’s still Warney, the bogan from Ferntree Gully.

It would have been like making Paul Hogan prime minister.

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