Two days ago, The Telegraph expressed the hope that this World Cup would be free of scandal and controversy. These hopes have been belied by the departure of Shane Warne from the tournament. The world’s greatest leg spinner — many would argue that he is the greatest the game has seen — tested positive for drugs. This is, of course, a personal tragedy for the cricketer but also for the tournament since it takes away one of the game’s real performers. Warne has prodigious turn, he has the flipper and the wrong ’un. He has excellent control over flight, spin and line. He was good in both varieties of the game. He held good batsmen in thrall and the great ones played him with caution. It was never easy to take chances with Warney, as he was popularly known in the Aussie side. Some of the really exciting moments of contemporary cricket have featured Warne against a master batsman: Warne versus Sachin Tendulkar or Warne versus Brian Lara. Neither Lara nor Tendulkar can claim that they were always in control when Warne was bowling. Given Warne’s age — he is 33 — it is highly unlikely that he will play in another World Cup. In this sense, his exit is the passing of an era. There are hardly any classical leg spinners left in the game. Anil Kumble does not rank as one since he hardly ever turns a ball, his wickets come from his unpredictable bounce and change of pace. The game of cricket is being vacated of the art of bowling, especially spin bowling. Warne will be missed by connoisseurs of the game.
Warne’s departure poses certain questions about the ethical aspects of modern sports. Modern sports has become more competitive and more athletic. The idea of sports as a pastime is now risible. Sports involves big money. This has transformed the attitudes of players towards their own fitness and performance. Under the circumstance, drugs that enhance performance and stamina have made a rather easy entry. Not all drugs are performance enhancing in the sense one associates with the drugs that Ben Johnson took. There are other drugs that are frowned upon by authorities. Warne ostensibly has been victim of one such. The incident calls for greater caution among players and among doctors and physiotherapists who look after them. Cricket, in athletic terms, does not compare to soccer, rugby or tennis. It is easy for cricketers to avoid being entrapped by drugs. Pride in one’s own performance should provide enough adrenalin to keep a player at his peak. Drugs are an opium for natural abilities, the real strength of a player of class who believes in his own dignity.