Peter Roebuck

Shane Warne's struggles at Rajasthan Royals were predictable. The IPL is not a seniors' tournament reserved for the old guard and played at a slower pace. It is a full-blooded confrontation between bat and ball undertaken by ambitious young cricketers eager to make their names and earn fortunes. The stakes are high. IPL cannot survive as a showpiece. It is a tournament or it is nothing.

Warne has not played any hard cricket for three years. No amount of nets or training runs, let alone hands of poker, can prepare mind and body half as well as genuine combat. Great cricketers can keep going for a year or two before time catches up with them. Eventually brazen opponents realise that the Emperor is not wearing any clothes.

Warne is a supreme spinner and superb thinker of the game. Over the years, he has lived on his wits, plotting the downfalls of numerous batsmen, and executing his plan to perfection.

Like all bowlers, though, he relies on pace off the pitch, a quality as hard to pin down as a butterfly but crucial to the enterprise. Once it has gone it never comes back. Jason Gillespie counts amongst many bowlers to decline rapidly once their nip had departed. Murali is another case in point.

Although Warne can still keep a tidy length, his days of pulling rabbits out of hats are behind him. Before long his comrades will start to lose confidence in him. Hitherto he has been able to inspire with the strength of his mind and the swagger of his bluff. Hitherto bad spells have passed. Now, though, it's not a bad patch, it's the beginning of the end.

Dubious decisions

Even Warne's thinking has gone downhill. After a clever first year, Rajasthan Royals has fallen foul of dubious recruiting. Warne and his pal Darren Berry have signed a few surprising Australians. None of them has so far lived up to expectations. Nor is Damien Martyn's arrival likely to change anything. He was a fine batsman in his time but that has long passed.

Although it's worse for bowlers, the same principle applies to other former champions. Before long Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist will lose their edge. Nothing lasts forever, and certainly not sporting prowess. It is not so much a question of age as speed and exposure. Half retirements do not work.

Amongst the elders, Anil Kumble is faring best but it's not long since this great bowler and competitor withdrew. A rupee to a feather says that he will find the going hard next year.

Too optimistic

The idea of calling up Brian Lara is daft. That Lara was a genius is beyond dispute but his powers faded long ago and he has not played any serious cricket since. The notion that he can pick up a bat and start smacking the ball around is optimistic. He is more likely to embarrass himself and his employer. Champions keep responding like champions but cannot any longer translate thoughts into deeds.

In any case, IPL no longer needs the credibility brought by the great men of yesteryear. The point has been made, the competition works. Nor is there any shortage of glamour. It's far better to spend the money on rising players and current stars. Owais Shah and Ravi Bopara have been scoring runs. Dwayne Bravo is worth every penny.

Bangalore's team works because the masters are still involved. Martyn and company cannot compete with them. Naturally they are happy to be playing again, delighted with the attention and the cheques. But the past cannot be captured let alone bottled. Victory will go to the team that looks ahead.

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