“Standing on top of my mark with the ball in my hand and I am looking down the pitch, it was my domain, my spot. I owned it.”
Those who have seen Shane Warne bowl will find this statement believable. Bustling, intimidating, open to playing mind games whether through sledges, stares or taunts, batsmen succumbed not just to Warne’s sublime skills in leg-spin but also to his aura.
The new documentary Shane, streaming on Bookmyshow from 15 January, is a deep dive into the Australian leg-spinner’s career and life but one that stays mostly in clear waters. It’s a tribute to the star rather than a breakdown of his career, skimming as it does over some of the less laudatory parts from his playing days, missing out on small details that would have made it informative: How did he get that good? Why was he a rebel? How many hours did he practice?
Nicknamed “Hollywood” for his bleached hair and flamboyant lifestyle, Warne’s journey as a cricketer was a rollercoaster ride. Besides the wildly spinning deliveries and some obdurate batting, there was a stream of women, deals with bookmakers, banned diuretics and a subsequent year-long suspension, weight gains and losses, which are all part of the film.
Warne was Jagger-like, says musician and friend Ed Sheeran, with a “don’t give a fuck attitude”. Someone else likens the cricketer to Muhammed Ali and Pele, a once in 2-3 generations sportsman.
“I wouldn’t like to play against me. I was nasty,” Warne says in Shane. He narrates an incident in which he told a defensively batting Sourav Ganguly that people have not come to watch him bat, but the non-striker, Tendulkar. A few overs later, a presumably instigated Ganguly promptly bounces out of the crease for a big strike only to lose his wicket.
Warne’s story, told by him, his family including parents, brother, ex-wife and three children (“He is a dorky, blokey dad”), does mention some of his indiscretions. He is candid about his “wild” ways, like the time when he played club cricket in England before being selected for Australia, subsisting on tens of pints of beer, chicken and chips. But the film directed by David Alrich, Jon Carey and Jackie Munro brushes over the incident in which he and Mark Waugh shared information with a bookmaker, for instance.
There is obviously sufficient time spent on the Mike Gatting “ball of the century”, told through a delightful sequence of different cricketers describing the moment in short sentences with quick cuts. The camera stays on present-day Gatting, sitting in silence for a moment. It’s as if nearly 30 years later, he is still trying to figure out how the ball, which pitched outside the leg-stump, spun in to clip the off-stump. “It was a fluke,” Warne says in the film, because he never did it again.
While credible talking heads include some of his Australian and English contemporaries, like Mark Taylor, Allan Border, Darren Gough, Andrew Strauss, and older ones like Ian Botham, Ian Chappell, only one Asian, Tendulkar, is included. It is also here that the narrative feels incomplete because Warne played over a dozen Tests against countries like South Africa, New Zealand, West Indies and Pakistan.
Another notable absence in the nearly one-hour, 40 minute documentary is fast bowler Glenn McGrath, with whom Warne formed a potent bowling partnership, gathering a cumulative 1011 wickets from 104 Tests.
Shane may, however, be able to contemporise a cricketer whose value to the sport will last longer than his career. Warne not just revived the fading art of leg-spin, he also gave the dour world of cricket, suffering from the slow decline of the West Indies, a larger-than-life character who could dictate headlines without bowling a ball. He got only 43 wickets in 14 Tests against India, which diluted his myth here. But he was instrumental in turning Australia into an all-conquering machine that dominated the sport while he played.
Not really known for humility, Warne puts his over two decade-long career in perspective in Shane: “I liked loud music, I smoked, drank and bowled a bit of leg-spin. That’s me.”