Former Indian spinner Pragyan Ojha talks about different shades of Shane Warne exclusively for The New Indian:
Shane Warne, the bowler: The first time I saw Warne bowl was in the 1996 World Cup in India. I was a kid back then and didn’t know much about him but he immediately caught my fancy. I must say that since I was so young at that time, there was a natural bias against players who are not from India. I was a staunch patriot and didn’t evaluate other players on their cricketing felicity. But as I grew up, I started admiring his sublime skills. The kind of control he had made him stand out, apart from the corkscrew turn he generated. I also became conversant with the kind of impact he had on the game.
Now, every team has a quality spinner but back then it was unusual to see such a brilliant and skillful spinner who was not from the subcontinent. He resurrected the dying art of leg spin and inspired an entire generation of youngsters. When you are born in the subcontinent, you see helpful pitches and that compels you to take up spin bowling. But Warne was born in Australia, where pitches were not particularly conducive for spinners, and yet became the greatest spinner ever. That’s why he was rated so highly.
Shane Warne, the man: Even more than a cricketer, what really impressed me was the kind of man he was. He was a very well-informed man. His horizon was gargantuan and was not just limited to cricket. I was fascinated that he can hold the fort on a gamut of subjects. There are very, very few cricketers who have that kind of cognizance. He could have been a professional in any field. He used to unfailingly upgrade himself and was always au courant about what was happening in the world.
He was such an interesting person. I have never seen any cricketer enter Poker as a professional. He started playing Poker and became so good at it. He was an extremely intelligent man and loved to explore different things. Fascinating!
An evening with Warne and Sachin paaji: I distinctly remember that I was in Melbourne and went out for dinner with Sachin paaji (Tendulkar). It wasn’t a formal setting and I had a great time shooting the breeze to him. But since he was such a respected cricketer and a senior, I maintained a certain decorum. Warne was such a lively person and made sure that you felt at ease in his company. He, of course, had a great sense of humour. It was a memorable evening as I spent time with two of the greatest cricketers of their time.
My personal equation: When I started playing for India, he had already retired. So, I first met him during the Indian Premier League. He was a brilliant cricketing mind but to be very honest, I never spoke about spin bowling with him. His bowling style was different; I was a totally different bowler. But we did talk about tactics, as I always felt he was a master at deploying divergent tactics. The way he used to set up and bluff up batsmen was simply astonishing and something to marvel at. His glittering record is a testament of his genius.
(As told to Navneet Mundhra)
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