One of the reasons I watched the 2008 IPL was Shane Warne and I just couldn't have enough of this legendary leg-spinner, for he seemed to bowl better after his international retirement even as he showcased his leadership qualities that took Rajasthan Royals all the way.
The subtle variations in line, length and pace, the gentle arc as he tossed the ball up, luring the batsman into a trap, were an education and also made for fascinating viewing. Not many batsmen could even read him, much less play him with a degree of comfort. And to think that we will not see him ever again playing competitive cricket!
Warne's respect for Tendulkar is evident
In fact, if there is one delivery that remains deeply etched in my memory, it is Warne's dismissal of Gatting with a ball that pitched outside the leg-stump and knocked the off-stump as the batsman was left clueless. Of course, I couldn't watch it live, but have seen the replays far more times than Sachin's blitz in Sharjah.
All that is in the past, but the Warne of today still possesses a bit of that magic that made him an all-time great leg-spinner. An IPL without Warne next season, for sure would be poorer as his absence would certainly rob the tournament of some class.
I am pretty sure that some of the older players still active and who are in Warne's age group or thereabouts would be looking at themselves in the mirror and wondering whether it was time they followed suit. I can readily think of a few who I feel are well past their best, but seem to hang on for no better reason than having nothing else to do outside of cricket.
Watching Ganguly the other night, nudging and pushing, I wondered aloud what was Dada trying to prove? He's been there and done that, and yet, swallowed the humiliation of being ignored at the auction, floated around until Pune picked him. It was a sad sight seeing him struggle against bowlers whom he would have played blind folded during his peak.
Look at Laxman, for instance. Dropped by Deccan Chargers and looking out of sorts in the IPL that is clearly not suited for his style of batting, he continues to hang around, though I am not sure what for. At least, Dravid has been scoring some runs while Laxman has been found wanting in the three games that he played for Kochi Tuskers.
When viewed in this perspective, the fact that Warne lasted as long as he did and more importantly, was not an embarrassment is a testimony to his class and calibre, besides a desire to excel regardless of the challenges. I guess, it boils down one's pride to do well, having decided to play in a format that is for the young guns and not for creaking limbs. I suspect that Warne would have finally realised that he just couldn't go on for another season or two without proving to be a liability.
There is only so much that a reputation can work for you, but when push comes to shove, there is no substitute for youth. IPL demands agility, alertness of mind and a willingness to go through the grind day in and day out for some seven weeks and yet be fresh for another game. There have been occasions this season when even the great Tendulkar appeared jaded and simply going through the motions.
I strongly believe that the IPL is heading for a shake-down where the over-ripe apples get chucked into the bin with the franchises opting for fresh fruits or those about to blossom. Quite a few established stars and some "just retired" players had no takers at the auction and in hindsight the franchises cannot be faulted.
I also wonder what Gilchrist, who will be 40 in November, would have thought when he learnt of his long-time mate Warne deciding to quit competitive cricket. After all, Gilly, hasn't quite looked the part, the century against Bangalore and a 51 in the last game notwithstanding. At the end of the day, reputation can only get you so far, and there will be a stage when those who pay you demand the kind of performance that fetched you the high price at the auction!
Perhaps, Kumble alone among the older lot made the wise move by pulling out of the auction. Whatever the reasons he might have proferred, I am convinced that Kumble saw the writing on the wall once Bangalore released all their players, except Kohli, for the auction. Getting on in years, Kumble saved himself possible embarrassment by walking out with his dignity intact.
Not many cricketers of his generation have been as smart. Perhaps, now with Warne packing up, a few others might follow suit, if not immediately, then certainly in the near future.