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Ian Healy recalls spin magician’s genius and when it all fell into place v Sri Lanka


“He could vary the leg spinner so much that they felt like different balls. You could tell if it was a small leggie coming up or a big one.”

Ian Healy

Apart from watching Warne closely, Healy had just two simple cues to remind him about before and during bowling spells in those early months and years. They were passed onto Healy from Rod Marsh and Terry Jenner at the cricket academy in 1992.

“There were just two cues, spin it and spin up,” Healy said. “Spin up, so the ball is up out of the hand, which meant his leg drive was good, and then the trajectory of the delivery was perfect. That was the thing. But after a while, a year or two, there wasn’t much need for that.

“It was mainly just lines, lengths, sticking to the plan, reinforcing the plan to this bloke and that bloke, and then if that wasn’t working, what’s next. He had the ability to have a list of plans and be able to execute them. That was our job as a combination, just keep an eye on him when he was cranky or a little tired, and see what we could create.

“He’d bowl a toppie, but he wasn’t bowling a wrong’un that much and didn’t need to. He could vary the leg spinner so much that they felt like different balls. One was coming down, spinning sideways and one was spinning over the top. So he could vary it. ‘Percy’ [Peter] Philpott used to say ‘spin it around the clock’ with different angles on your wrist, and he had all that. You could tell if it was a small leggie coming up or a big one, and all of them would drift if he got them out right.”

Once the ball was out of the hand, Healy worked assiduously at not reacting too early. “It’s your job just to watch what happens after he hits the sixpence,” he said. “Don’t predict, just watch the ball, watch what it does.

“Is it spinning, oh yeah this one’s spinning a lot and being able to be in a power position to move fast enough to get it anyway. That was the challenge and his energy was also a challenge, all day he’d just be at the batsman and at you, ‘what can we try now,’ very engaged.”

Cross-talk, discussing the striker without necessarily addressing him, was a constant thing. So too were Healy’s inimitable “bowling, Shane” and other assorted encouragement. At the other end, Warne charmed the umpires, something Healy saw as a genuine, if mutually beneficial, dialogue.

“That was natural, it’s just how he was with people, his personality and charisma. It goes a long way everywhere,” he said. “It was ‘good morning, how was last night, what did you get up to, how did you pull up from yesterday,’ those sorts of chats with the umpires and with lots of people.”

Ruminating on the DRS era, Healy thinks the addition of ball-tracking but the subtraction of some marginal decisions would most likely have evened out at somewhere close to Warne’s final tally of 708 Test wickets.

“He was known for getting a couple [of lbws] that may have been too far down the wicket or may have been spinning it just past off stump,” Healy said. “But it’d be very interesting to put all his dismissals and non-dismissals back on Hawk-Eye, and see whether he would’ve got more or less wickets. He probably would have lost some of the ones he got, the marginal decisions for an umpire to give, but I reckon he might’ve picked a few more up as well.”

Deceived ... South African Jacques Kallis became Shane Warne's 300th victim at the SCG in 1998.

Deceived … South African Jacques Kallis became Shane Warne’s 300th victim at the SCG in 1998.Credit:Craig Golding

Healy’s view is that Warne’s best years spanned 1993 to the end of 1997, culminating in his 300th Test wicket at the SCG against South Africa in January 1998. “In that ’93-97 period in my career,” Healy said, “he wouldn’t have bowled 50 bad balls in a season.”

As for favourite dismissals, a couple of stumpings off the left-handed Englishman Graham Thorpe stand out – the first on a turning pitch in Birmingham, the second on a bouncing one in Perth.

“Warnie could bowl really good away swing to a left-hander and then it would slide past the outside edge,” Healy said. “Those two bounced as well and then every now and then he could rip it out of a foothole outside the off stump. It was a nightmare for a lefty.

“Like the dismissal of [Shivnarine] Chanderpaul in the last over before lunch in Sydney from way out wide – you just don’t deserve to be bowled from there. But those two would be up there, they drifted, they slid past and bounced quite high. It’s good to be in a great position, that feeling of knowing you’re in a great position where you’re not going to miss anything.”

Once Warne finished as an international cricketer in 2007, he pivoted to poker, something that Healy said made perfect sense after watching him play his metaphorical cards against the world’s best cricketers. That mental game, Healy reckoned, was so much more critical than Warne’s results for skinfolds or time trials.

“Poker was a perfect replacement for cricket when he was finished,” he said. “Reading people, reading different nationalities and how they’re supposed to react, coming up with a plan for them, setting them up. It was just perfect, it was still like he was playing cricket.

“It’d be very interesting to see how cricket would handle him now coming through as an 18- or 19-year-old, what someone might try to do to him to get him fitter or change the things that aren’t important, and not grow his mind.

“That mind is what got him to where he went. Fitness is not that important, looking at some of our greats, their ability to bowl and execute plans for long periods is much more important.”



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