The Rajasthan Royals skipper has an organised programme for his team, writes Peter Roebuck
Rajasthan Royals have established their base camp in Cape Town. As the South Africans and Australians played the third one-dayer on Thursday, the smartly-attired Royals cricketers sat in a nearby corporate box sucking in the atmosphere and watching the cricket.
Already the Indian Premier League (IPL) has flexed its muscles. Until a few days ago the box was due to be occupied by its long-standing owners. The Royals have changed all that. The offices on the second and third floor of the administrative block have been taken over and 90 free tickets were demanded to a match supposedly sold out. The big boys are in town.
Shane Warne, cricketer extraordinary, appeared in the media centre to catch up with old pals and fulfil his obligation to promote the tournament.
Looking fit and slightly scandalous, the old trouper said he had not bowled a ball for 12 months and was unusually nervous. No sportsman, let alone a champion, wants to make a fool of himself. His hide is not quite as thick as it seems.
Talking about his team, Warne outlined an organised programme of preparation and reported that within a week the squad would be cut down from 27 to 18. Nine of the young Indians will be sent home but they’ll live to fight another day.
Between them, IPL and ICL have changed the lives of thousands of young Indian cricketers, opening doors, persuading parents. It’s not so long ago that talented lads were punished whenever their thoughts turned from study to the game of bat and ball.
Warne likes taking charge. Typically he has surrounded himself with advisors able to work with him, youngsters happy to listen to him and overseas cricketers with good track records.
Darren Berry, his team-mate and pal from Victoria, coaches the side and Jeremy Shape, the balding Englishmen previously known for is flat off-spin, serves as mentor. The Royals have also made shrewd signings.
Whilst others have thrown money around, Warne and his owners have played their cards carefully. Money has been spent on respected but obscure Australians and South Africans, nowadays including Tyrone Henderson, Lee Carseldine and Robert Quiney.
Warne and Graeme Smith are the only stars of this show, the rest are performers. Accordingly, it’s been easier to turn them into a team as opposed to a collection of players seeking to justify or improve fat contracts.
Glitz and glamour
Warne also relishes the theatre that is also part and parcel of IPL. Apparently all eight teams will parade through Cape Town on the eve of the first match.
There will be a concert responding to all tastes with a wide range of African and Indian musicians and dancers, and several big Western name acts, including the Three Tenors, Snow Patrol and George Michael. Warne adds that Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman will walk across the field at the height of the opening ceremony. Some of it may be hype but the scale is impressive. IPL may be an Indian domestic competition but it is also a television extravaganza.
On Friday, as the cleaners swept away the debris of the night match, the Royals were back at Newlands. With Warne at the helm, they stretched muscles, sprinted between flags, worked on their fielding and went into the nets. A practice match against the Cape Cobras has been arranged for the weekend.
Everyone thought the last word had been written on Warne but the old rogue, the great competitor, is still around, catching the eye, embracing the spotlight, playing poker off the field and on it.