Australia desperately needs to coax the old master out of retirement for a tuneful World Cup redemption song, writes Nirmal Shekar
From invincible world-beaters to bumbling incompetents is seldom a long, harrowing journey in the world of sport; it is quite often an unscheduled next stop on a train seemingly driven by a sadistic alcoholic on a capriciously unpredictable route.
Exactly a month ago, Australia was as big a favourite to become the first team in history to win the World Cup of cricket three times in a row as was a Swiss gentleman called Roger Federer to win a third straight Grand Slam title for the second time in his career.
Having justified the favouritism, the genial Swiss departed on a skiing holiday; the Australian cricket team, for its part, has careened downhill faster than Alberto Tomba in his heyday.
Ah, what a foony business cricket is, as Mr. Geoffrey Boycott might say.
While a laugh or two at the expense of a national team that has ruled the sport with a thunderingly aggressive brand of cricket for the best part of the last decade might not be sinful, the important question is this: what can Australia do to plug the holes and reassert its supremacy at the World Cup in the Caribbean? Sporting blogosphere, no doubt, is filled with all sorts of advice to Buchanan, Ponting and Co. A few thousand tall trees have been sacrificed too, to address the issue in print.
From the tattooed bartender with a beer-belly handing out frothy refreshments to his customers at the street-corner pub in Elizabeth street, Melbourne, to the most erudite of the game's critics, everybody has offered his own prescription for the world champion's ills.
Always a fan of Oscar Wilde, and never one to resist temptations with any kind of success, I cannot but offer my own. And it is a very, very simple solution.
Bring back Shane Warne. Coax the old master out of retirement for a tuneful World Cup redemption song.
Does this sound ludicrous? After all, Australia did win the 2003 World Cup in South Africa a few weeks after a shamed-again Warne was sent back home after testing positive for a diuretic. This apart, Warne quit one-day cricket long before he took his final bow at Sydney early in January this year.
So, what can the just-retired, 37-year-old overweight, under-prepared spinner do against hard hitting batsmen from in-form teams on the relatively small grounds of the West Indies and on pitches that might turn out to be so batsman-friendly that Sreesanth might fancy his chances of making his first ODI century? That seems an obvious question, doesn't it? Well, it certainly is, on the surface.
But, then, given what the Mozart of the game's most sublime art leg spin has accomplished in his unmatchable career, can we ever commit the folly of over-estimating his skills? Quite apart from the baroque extravagance of his art, Warne was Warne because his mere presence invested successive Australian teams with a richness, vitality and swaggering self-confidence that Ponting's men seemed to have lacked after his departure.
Champion athletes are more than the sum of their physical skills. Even a clearly over-the-hill Warne will prove to be a greater boon to Ponting's team in the Caribbean than many others because of the sheer weight of his personality and experience.
Steve Waugh and Ponting may not have been half as successful as they have been as captains if they had not had the good sense to throw the ball to the burly leggie every single time a match needed to be turned on its head. Great leaders have an innate ability to back winners.
And Shane Warne is, essentially, a winner as big a winner as cricket has seen in its long history. He is a cricketer who could make things happen on the field at the right moments from the team's point of view. A wicket, a catch, a run out, a quick 25-ball 40...Warney could do it all.
From outside, this might give the impression that Warne was lucky. Perhaps on the odd occasion he was. But nobody can decide matches as often as Warne has done in his career relying on Dame Fortune alone.
Several decades ago, watching a teenaged Muhammad Ali then known as Cassius Clay in a smelly boxing gym, an old coach of the fight game told a reporter: "You know, this kid has it.''
"Has what?'' shot back the reporter.
"Forget it. You won't understand,'' said the impatient, cocky coach, the arthritic fingers of his right arm dismissing the reporter from his presence.
In hindsight, we do understand what the kid had it is the X factor, something that goes way beyond jabs and upper cuts and left hooks.
Shane Warne had it too and it might be more than useful for a stuttering Australia in the West Indies a few weeks from now.
Warney, where are you?