Shane Warne’s Never-Ending Glory
By Gideon HaighFebruary 17, 2012
Is Warney returning to test cricket? As this two-part profile from earlier this year shows, he’s been spinning this yarn for a while.
“Fair set of cheeks on it,” said Jason Warne. It was a bright summer day just before Christmas, and we were looking up at the statue of his brother Shane that had just been unveiled near Gate 2 of the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Fair indeed — one and a half times life size, and rather a contrast to the self-sculpting of the features of Australia's greatest living cricketer by assiduous dieting and well-chosen unctions.
Warne himself was busy being photographed en famille, arm draped round the waist of his fiancée Elizabeth Hurley, whose smile flickered as if in harmony with the flashbulbs. He looked good, too. Snug Dunhill suit, conservative tie, fashionably mussed hair. He even made a self-deprecating joke about the sculpture's obviously more generous figure: 'That's 300kg, so it's pretty lifelike from when I played.'
There was actually a bit of a back story to this. A couple of weeks earlier, I had visited sculptor Louis Laumen in his studio, a Footscray warehouse, in which the wax husk of the bronze cast still towered, and the original model from which the final image had been worked up via a giant pantograph remained on display.
Laumen recounted meeting Warne at the end of May in an office at the Melbourne Cricket Club to take measurements for his vast idol of the idol, the first in a new series of casts destined to line the walk to the MCG across Jolimont Park. Laumen pored over his subject, meticulously documenting each proportion, photographing his head from 16 different perspectives. Some subjects, he finds, writhe in discomfiture as they are boiled down to their dimensions and captured in all their imperfections. Warne did not; he was enthusiastic and engaged throughout, tweeting excitedly on his smartphone: "Feel very privileged and honoured to join so many amazing and wonderful sportsman in the way of a statue at the mcg - thankyou - humbled!"
"He was really likeable, really pleasant, really approachable," said Laumen. "Just one of those guys you know it would be impossible to stay mad with. Five minutes with him and it feels like you're old buddies; he seems to like everybody, so it's just impossible not to like him. I think if I'd asked him to strip he'd have done it." Only once, Laumen recalled, did Warne look slightly perturbed. "You're not going to do me fat, are you?" he asked, a little anxiously. Laumen placated him: "What I want to do is show you at your best as a player."
They discussed how his playing weight had tended to fluctuate, and the periods when he had been happiest with his physique. Looking over the images later and comparing them to images from Warne's career, Laumen was actually impressed: "One thing about Warnie was that whenever he was carrying any weight at all, it went to the throat and neck. So in order to lose it, he's had to work really hard, and become quite gaunt."
It was the representatives of the Melbourne Cricket Club who demurred. They looked askance at Laumen's slimline model of Warne in action, insisting on further layers of upholstery, particularly round the face. Laumen strove to keep faith with subject and client: "I've put weight on, without going too far. There's a hint of paunch without it being overly developed. He's just a bit comfortable. The curve of the belly is there, the pants are down low." He honoured, too, Warne's immemorial habit at the point of maximum exertion of letting his tongue protrude: 'The MCC people didn't like it, but I still had to give a hint of it, just behind the teeth; it's part of the cheek of the man." And now, of the cheeks.
* * * * *
ON PERHAPS NO AUSTRALIAN do so many people hold views as Shane Warne; as the foregoing implies, sometimes they cannot even agree what he looks like. Twenty years of fame will do that to you. Most athletes dwindle in their profile and recognisability when their playing days expire. At what he called 'a young 42', Warne has perhaps never been neither more successful nor more sellable. He leads a jet-set existence flitting between hemispheres; he is engaged to be married to one of the world's most beautiful women; yet Old Warnie maintains a residual hold on imaginations even as New Warnie stretches them.
Last summer, NW filled the breach left by OW. Five years after his Test farewell, Warne returned to big cricket by stepping out with the Melbourne Stars, one of the eight teams involved in Cricket Australia's new city-based T20 competition, the KFC Big Bash League. He became, again, headline news, whether jousting with cyclists, jesting with commentators or nesting with Elizabeth Hurley, dragging along more than 650,000 people in his Twitter slipstream, @Warne888; he felt good enough at one stage to contemplate a return to the green and gold; he rested content in the end with producing perhaps summer's most telegenic moment. Above all, by resuming as a cricketer, Warne showed by just how far he had left that simple designation behind: we watch him now just being himself. "Shane is best at doing those things he enjoys," says his manager James Erskine. "And the thing he is best at is being Shane Warne."
Whenever someone has a brainstorm about Warne - whether they'd like him to drive an $850,000 yellow LamborghiniMurciélago, which he agreed to do, or to promote a herbal remedy for erectile dysfunction, which he didn't - it's with Erskine they make an appointment. Likewise if they have an idea for Harry Kewell, Matt Giteau, Mark Nicholas or Michael Clarke, whom Erskine's Sport & Entertainment Ltd also manages. But it's Warne whose signature is most sought after: without needing to hurry or hustle or pursue every opportunity, he rakes $5 million in a year with ease.
When I meet Erskine at SEL's East Sydney offices, he is enjoying his boss's prerogative by wearing shorts and a polo shirt while a young, fresh-faced and crisply laundered staff toil at their work stations. We adjourn to 'The Library', a comfortable, partitioned anteroom with armchairs, couches and bookshelves heavily stocked with the works of Michael Parkinson. Rightly so: it was selling Parky to Channel 10 in Australia just over 30 years ago that put Erskine, sent out from London in September 1979 to run the Sydney office of Mark McCormack's International Management Group, on the map down under.
Warne entered Erskine's orbit at a similarly seminal stage, shortly after Erskine had struck out on his own at SEL with former IMG colleague Basil Scaffidi and the ubiquitous Allco financier David Coe. Warne's erstwhile spin-bowling partner Tim May had just founded a cricketers' trade union, the Australian Cricketers' Association, to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with a disapproving Cricket Australia. May asked SEL to advise them. The ensuing argy-bargy brought Australia's cricketers to the brink of a strike, with Warne perhaps as militant as anyone.
At the time, Warne was managed by Austin Robertson, previously agent to Dennis Lillee and Allan Border. It was not until the 2005 Oval Test that Warne and Erskine chummed up. Warne was at a personal nadir that English summer: his wife Simone had taken their children back to Australia after wearying of his compulsive infidelity; even his great patron Kerry Packer had lost faith, tearing up a commentary contract worth about $300,000 a year.
Yet, as was often the case with Warne, his cricket burned all the brighter, and his popularity in England was probably at its zenith. In the 150 metres it took Erskine and Coe to walk with him to an Italian restaurant, Warne was stopped five times. The Italian waiters there all recognised him, and his phone rang incessantly - to the point that Erskine had to ask him to turn it off. Harness that irrepressible personality and natural popularity, thought Erskine, and here was a remarkable client in the making. "I'll represent you on one condition," he told the cricketer. "That you will listen."
Which Warne has, says Erskine, even if he does not always hear. Erskine, for instance, would much prefer that Warne did not tweet, something he only began in order to promote his involvement with the British online gaming company 888 Holdings plc, which began four years ago, but which he now does compulsively. "Shane thinks it's wonderful," says Erskine. "I think it's asinine."
In general, though, it's been a happy and lucrative partnership. With the end of Warne's international career, he segued seamlessly into the new world of supranational T20, becoming the captain-coach of the Rajasthan Royals at an official figure of $450,000 a year but enhanced by other arrangements including a 3.5 per cent stake. He mended fences with Nine; he walked into commentary with Sky and writing columns with London's Daily Telegraph. And things kept coming along that simply do not befall the average sporting great.
It was Erskine, for example, who persuaded Warne to see the fun in Eddie Perfect's Shane Warne: The Musical three years ago. Sensitive to 'unauthorised' portrayals, Warne was reflexively hostile to the project, and even fantasised of stopping it legally. On reading the script, Erskine counselled him: "They can do it, Shane. You can't do anything. And my advice would be to embrace it. After all, how many cricketers have had a musical done about them? And by the way, it's bloody funny." Warne agreed to attend a preview at which he was spotted at the interval by two septuagenarian theatre-goers. "You must be very proud," they told him, in all seriousness. "Do you think so?" Warne wondered aloud. On the opening night in December 2008, he joined Perfect on stage, and as Melbourne's Athenaeum theatre rocked with cheers, looked bashfully chuffed.
Not everything has succeeded. Perhaps the worst misadventure was Warnie, the stale, formulaic talk show which topped a viewer poll last January as Australia's worst Australian television program. "We made a huge mistake, for which I blame myself," agrees Erskine. "My idea when I went to Nine was to do a kind of Larry King Live, based on cricket, but also including other people and things. It could basically be at the ground. But we were all too busy, and I got talked - by Gary Burns and his offsider at the time - into a big production with a studio audience…. They tried to do a Footy Show and it didn't work."
Warnie was a strangely telling experiment, nonetheless. Warne, who seems born to television, who has likened his life to a soap opera and refers to its superintending "scriptwriter", who has more screens on his walls at home than he does paintings, was buried beneath his show's layers of production, contrivance and corniness: the exercise probably told you more about television than about Warne.
Erskine's strictures notwithstanding, @warne888 seems somehow truer to Warne's nature - his spontaneity, his sentimentality, his ingenuousness, his impetuosity, his utter everydayness - whether he is soliciting views about budgie smugglers, mentioning his dreams featuring Scooby-Doo, exchanging love-struck notes with Hurley, or simply chewing the virtual breeze (verbatim: 'UNSTACKING DISHWASHER !!!!!!!!!!!!!!', 'How much does it hurt when you cut your finger nails to short !!!!').
Sachin Tendulkar's tweets soon petered out thanks to the unappeasable cravings of his two million followers. Warne, with the aid of his personal assistant Helen Nolan, keeps the faith with a rapt audience who cheerfully retweet everything from his philosophies of life to pictures of his son's Lego creations. Packing his three children off on their new school years took four continuous Tweets that would have struck a chord with any parent. Twitter helps Warne corral and control his fame, while radiating an air of accessibility.
Warne's breezy comfort with mainstream and social media also draws commercial opportunities. To use an idiom of public relations, Warne has "cut-through". When the Australian arm of Mattel went looking for an Australian personality for the Hot Wheels 'Designed By' series last year, for instance, it faced an immediate problem. In other markets, Mattel had used a motor sport hero to promote the series: MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo in Spain, F1 driver Felipe Massa in Italy, NASCAR's Danica Sue Patrick and Dale Earnhardt Junior in the US have all worked with Mattel designers to produce personalised toy cars. The possibilities in Australia, says Pulse Communications account manager Steve Munachen, were altogether thinner: "There was Mark Webber, who spends ninety per cent of his time overseas and lives in Switzerland. There was [V8 Supercars'] Jamie Whincup, who doesn't really have a big profile. Not all that much else."
Then Munachen thought of Warne, with whom he had worked on a promotion, the Pop-Up Pub, for VB in 2009: "He was really good, a nice guy, easy to deal with - I never had a bad experience with him. Very personable, chatted to everyone." Like his Porsche-driving father Keith, Warne has an abiding fetish for cars: he used to own a Brock Commodore which his wife Simone called the "Boganmobile". Mucking round with his children, too, has become a recurring theme of @warne888 ("Played laser force with kids So much fun. Now 10 pin bowling I just bowled a gutter & yep the rails are up- kids laughing at me - classic !!").
What could be more ideal? 'Not only is Shane probably our most high-profile domestic sportsman,' says Munachen, 'but this was a car that was going to be available in all markets, including England and India, as well as Australia. Shane worked well almost everywhere.' A toy car is a toy car. A toy car associated with Shane Warne is paraded on The 7pm Project, and launched at a press conference where Warne answers questions about just becoming engaged to one of the world's most beautiful women. Cut through: that is what in the middle of last year, Cricket Australia badly needed.
* * * *
It is usual to say of sporting properties that they are unveiled in a "blaze of publicity". The KFC Big Bash League (BBL) was not. When Cricket Australia revealed the new competition structure, franchise team names and colours in April 2011, there was both widespread public indifference and acute private misgivings.
The BBL's purposes were twofold. Externally, the promotion of it as a fun family night out with lots of music and hoopla was CA's attempt to reconnect with young fans too impatient for longer forms of the game. Internally, it was aimed at providing a new television revenue stream, weaning CA off a dependence on international cricket, where the value of bilateral series is dwindling - CA earns big dollars only when Australia play India and England.
Yet the BBL was not to make money immediately. After approving minority private ownership in the franchises, CA went cold on the idea. And because it would remain subject of the same rights agreement with Fox Sports as the old Big Bash, extending to the end of the 2012-13 season, there would be little to defray its $24 million start-up costs. At least in a cricketing sense, too, it was nothing very much: essentially the same players as in the tournament's previous iteration, spread over eight city-based teams rather than six state teams. When CA revealed that Cricket Victoria would be setting up two teams in Melbourne, the Stars at the MCG and the Renegades at Etihad Stadium, it was hard to see how it would work - not even the ubiquitous Eddie McGuire quite understood.
McGuire Media's office is upstairs in a reconditioned terrace house on East Melbourne's Jolimont Terrace. As the offices of the Melbourne Football Club, it was where the first million-dollar Australian rules football deals were done, bringing Peter Moore and Kelvin Templeton to the Demons; with McGuire officiating as president of Collingwood, it was also the setting for the "Kirribilli agreement", which club coach Mick Malthouse struck with his heir apparent Nathan Buckley. It has a wall of bookshelves of seemingly unread books, and a wall devoted to Eddie's honours including his AM, but is otherwise built for purpose, not prestige. It is the office, in fact, of someone who prefers being out of the office, shaking hands, doing deals, rationing his time, channelling his energies - being busy, always busy.
And at his first encounter with representatives of Cricket Victoria offering him the presidency of the Stars, McGuire could not immediately see why this project should detain him. Little in detail seemed to be nailed down. There was a fuzzy Asian-focused notion, for example, that putting a pentangular star on the Stars' uniform would win it the allegiance of fans from Pakistan. McGuire himself suggested calling the team Collingwood, leveraging his football club's brand, and his own. There seemed little common ground; the parties parted without agreement.
Curiously, given that they are often regarded as synonymous, Collingwood was involved before McGuire. The Stars started with nothing, not even an office: 35-year-old chief executive Clint Cooper, a former accountant seconded from Cricket Victoria, operated at first out of the MCG's Hugh Trumble Café, with personal assistant Megan Keating as his sole administrative support. He later rented a small suite on top of a management consultancy and a property planner, which being near Cricket Victoria had the advantage that he could pop in and use its really good photocopier. Rather than put staff on, he signed a service agreement with Collingwood's director of operations David Emerson, under which the football club provided support for membership, hospitality and backend marketing, rather as it already did for the Melbourne Vixens netball team. The deal had the side benefit of making McGuire feel involved even before he actually was - because under the influence of John Wylie, the tony investment banker who chairs the board of the MCG Trustees, he was coming round.
McGuire's lifelong loyalty to the Magpies has left him fascinated by clubs, and why people follow them. He is intrigued that his sons have become fans of the Lakers, Dodgers and Celtic without the ability to watch them live. He had observed also their discovery of Warne, whom they are too young to remember playing for Australia, via the wonders of You Tube. When at last he accepted the presidency, with Wylie acting as his deputy and backstop, his strategy could be condensed to two words: Get Warne. Looking out his office window, he could see the looming bulk and soaring towers of the MCG: venue of the first Test match, of the first one-day international match, and potentially of the first big Australian club match. He felt his sap rising. Warne could be a part of history!
Warne was interested. But Warne tends to be interested in everything at first; he commits more gradually. SEL prices its superstar client's services at about $100,000 a day. After 15 years following cricket schedules, Warne prefers keeping things casual. Warne once spent nearly a day trying to choose between refrigerators. "How much did that fridge cost you, Shane?" Erskine asked. "Oh," said Warne, "about $1,500." "No it didn't," Erskine explained. "It cost you $80,000. Because while you were shopping for it, that's what you could have earned."
On 20 May 2011, Warne played what he announced as his last game of competitive cricket: for the Royals against Mumbai Indians at Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai. He then spent most of June, July and August in the northern hemisphere, commentating with Sky in England, recreating with Hurley in the US. He lost weight, and kept losing it - the work of TaiSlim shakes, apparently, and became an object of ceaseless tabloid fascination. He joined Hurley at Estée Lauder's breast-cancer charity functions, and on the New York set of Gossip Girl, in which Hurley plays vampish Diana Payne. He accompanied his friend Joe Hachem, another SEL client, to Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker; by Twitter, he organised a spontaneous fund-raising auction for his Shane Warne Foundation, which began with Hurley offering a pair of her jeans for sale, and ended up with items donated by the likes of Stephen Fry, Chris Martin, Dannii Minogue, Gary Ablett Jnr and Sir Elton John all pitching in to raise $18,000. Erskine doesn't chivvy his client along under such circumstances: it's just the way Warne rolls. "I've never really had an argument with Shane," he says. "I have, occasionally, been curt."
There were some impediments to a BBL deal, too. David Gyngell wanted Warne for the Nine Networks's commentary team over summer. James Packer wanted Warne to promote Crown Casino's new luxury lounge Club 23, whose name derives from Warne's lucky number, and to participate in its Aussie Millions poker tournament in January. For the preceding four years, in fact, Warne and Hachem had held their own charity event as a precursor to the Millions. There were overlapping dates, unclear priorities and multiple potential conflicts of interest - although, of course, it was James's father who once said if you didn't have a conflict, you didn't have an interest.
In the medium-term, however, it meant that the Stars had to chug along without the figure whom McGuire envisaged as the biggest Star of all. It was a discontented winter. Stars and Renegades were essentially to split the old Victorian Bushrangers between them, a process that Bushrangers and Stars coach Greg Shipperd likened to "dividing your children". Worse, the players were signed on one-year contracts, guaranteeing that however much they bonded during the season, they would at the end of that time inevitably be broken up again. There was lots of kvetching about the way the 2011-12 season was to be front-ended and back-ended with first-class cricket so that the prime time of summer could be parcelled out for one T20 game per night. The answer was, of course, that in any contest between the priorities of television and the priorities of cricket, what is best for the former will almost invariability have to be sucked up by the latter - but that did not make it much more palatable.
As for developing a buzz around a new cricket competition … well, it was football season. Who wanted to talk cricket? The teams were called what? It would be held when? Would it be on television? Was there to be private ownership? Cooper put a marketing manager on a six-month contract at the end of August, but found sponsors non-committal at best: "You'd spend the first half hour trying to explain what the competition was. There was nothing for anyone to see." Wylie introduced Cooper to Richard McIndoe, chief executive of TRUenergy, which was planning an IPO in the next twelve months: green might be a bad colour in marketing, but has congenial associations in power generation. But McIndoe was reticent. The Stars needed star power, of the kind that the Brisbane Heat briefly generated by wooing Matthew Hayden. As if on cue, Warne returned to Melbourne to spend time with his children in September, and confided by Twitter that he was "keen to be with a team" in the BBL, to "play a few games-help off field".
There was, by now, competition. Expressions of interest came from Brisbane, Adelaide and Sydney; Footy Show host James Brayshaw, a former Sheffield Shield rival, rang Warne directly with his own offer on behalf of the Renegades. Everyone had their pitch; everyone knew Warne was busy; everyone was prepared to be flexible. If Warne only wanted to play one game, that would be fine; what was wanted primarily, of course, was his aura. In fact, only the Stars were ever really in the race, because of their MCG home ground, and because of McGuire. "I've known Eddie McGuire since he was a journalist at Channel 10," says Erskine. "Nobody is wired into Melbourne like him. I promised Eddie it wouldn't be a Dutch auction."
It became a multi-unit auction instead. After Warne's teasing Tweet, Erskine spoke to Patrick Delany, newly promoted to running Fox Sports, broadcaster of the BBL. "At Foxtel we're been right at the forefront of innovating in live and high-definition sports coverage," Delany says. "Where we hadn't been as good had been in innovating in our commentary, and I wanted that to change on my watch." Delany was keen to have Warne's services in some capacity; to his surprise, Erskine volunteered that Warne was willing to be "mic'd up" - that is, to interact with the commentators whilst actually playing, a technology that had been used in T20 coverage before, but mainly as a novelty. What Fox calls "In-Play Insight" is seldom enough on its own. "A really crappy movie in High-Definition," observes Delany, "is still a really crappy movie." Delany, though, was captivated by Warne's confidence. Warne did not have to be pushed or prodded into wearing the apparatus: he wanted to wear it, just like Delany wanted him to want to, in as many matches as possible.
Warne had been thinking too. Why play two games when he could play all of them? It was, again, a characteristic Warne whim. He might take time, but when he commits he commits totally: in for a penny, in for a pony. The idea of a full-fledged comeback appealed to his children, who had little recollection of him playing; the idea of appearing in a new competition probably appealed to his own inner child, to which novelty has always been an allure.
This was a big deal, Erskine concluded: he could leverage it a little further still. "Before you go off half-cocked and say yes, let me ring Cricket Australia," Erskine told his client. "They've invested a fortune in this." So Erskine spoke to CA's CEO James Sutherland - something with a certain piquancy, given that for many years he had been persona non grata with the organisation because of his role in the Australian Cricketers' Association's original memorandum of understanding. CA agreed to top up the sums already offered by the Stars and Fox Sports, making for a package rumoured to be worth about $650,000, plus, as was the case with Warne at the Royals, an equity component: Warne is entitled to Stars shares in the event that private ownership proceeds, and entitled to compensation if it does not.
Warne himself made two further telephone calls. Firstly, he rang David Gyngell, McGuire's successor as Nine's chief executive, and asked if the network would release him from his summer's commentary obligations, which were in any case on a casual basis. Rather as Kerry Packer's grandfather eighty years ago released Bradman from a contract to write for his newspapers in order that the Don play for Australia, so Kerry Packer's last noteworthy protégé freed Warne from calling cricket in order that he might play for the Stars.
And at last Warne was in a position to telephone McGuire, who was coincidentally watching his sons play in an under-11 game for Prahran in the sylvan grove of cricket grounds that make up Melbourne's Fawkner Park. 'What would be the best result here?' Warne asked. Still reluctant to seem greedy, McGuire asked if Warne would consider playing the Stars' four games at the MCG. "What about the lot?" Warne asked. McGuire was momentarily speechless. Having excitedly agreed, he rang Cooper. "Are you sitting down?" he began.