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December 22, 2006
Australians, as a rule, pride themselves on being an egalitarian people and an egalitarian country. But, like for every rule, there is an exception.
In 1998 when the Aussies toured India, Raj Singh Dungarpur asked me to be their liaison in Bombay on behalf of the Cricket Club of India, as I knew a few of the team from my previous 10 years of residence in Australia.
I was told immediately after they landed up in Bombay by Dr Cam Battersby, who was the Tour director, and Stephen Bernard, who had just taken over as manager of the team, that I should try and ensure that Warne was "looked after".
The team officials told me not to worry too much about the others but to try and ensure that Warne was well looked after -- security, attention etc.
This is, and was, most unusual in a side where everyone is treated as equal to everyone else and yet it was soon obvious that Warne was the undoubted superstar in their ranks and was to be wrapped in cotton wool....
Everywhere in India people would mob him for a photograph, autograph or try and engage him in a chat. To his immense credit, he was a dream to look after. Always, unfailingly polite, considerate and helpful. Rarely did he ever disappoint any fan. Women, in particular, were always asking for him or about him. Not once did he misbehave -- even though some girls behaved provocatively.
He would often be the last to get on the team coach back to the hotel after the match or a practice session because he would have been signing autographs for his legion of fans.
It was the same story on the 2001 tour as well.
It is rather unfortunate that we never saw him at his best in India, as he was recovering from injuries when he toured in 1998 and in 2001.But not once did he make excuses.
Allan Border (AB) chided me on the 2004 tour when I once commented to him that I thought that Warne was bowling negatively. He told me, 'Mate, you don't understand -- Warney is the greatest team-man in the world'.
I said, "Really", in a skeptical tone.
He said if the team has decided that someone has to do the job of bowling defensively and keeping one end up, Warney would be the first guy to put his hand up to do the stock bowling instead of the strike bowling.
It was a revelation to me -- just imagine the world's greatest ever bowler having no ego whatsoever and always considering his interests subservient to the team's!
I then asked AB why Warne had taken to bowling an occasional bouncer -- in frustration? He said 'Mate, he probably wants to keep the batsman at that end so that his bowling partner can have a crack at the non-striker'!
Warne is a larger than life character and always did things differently or on a grander scale. He had to have the latest mobile phone, changed mobile numbers often and always seemed to have them finish with a 023 023 at the end! The latest sunglasses. The snazziest cricket shoes. The latest bat -- he was crazy about bats and had tens of them.
I had to act as the go-between when he asked Sachin Tendulkar for a bat after the Bombay Test of 2001.
Sachin, of course, obliged.
Vasu Paranjape Bombay's cricketing sage had an appropriate word for him: Jaadugar -- the magician. He could conjure up a wicket out of nowhere.
Vasu as well as [the late] Hanumant Singh thought that he was as good a bowler as Subhash Gupte. No Bombayite of that era can say anything more flattering. The one thing Warne had more than anyone else they had seen, they opined, was "ticker" or heart. He was lion-hearted and never EVER gave up.
Warne wasn't a fan of Indian food -- he had a terribly unhealthy diet -- pizzas, ice-cream, junk food were staples.
A champion, albeit flawed as geniuses often are, who was innately modest, though not a saint, was more sinned against.
Raj Singh summed it up most colourfully yesterday when told me, "Dikra, champion cricketer, but naadi no thodo deehlo aato" (son, he was a champion cricketer but he had loose pyjama drawstrings).
But man-o-man, could he bowl or what?
Darshak Mehta, who lives in Sydney, is a friend of the Australian cricket team. He accompanied Australian touring teams to India for the past ten years.
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