November 2012

Arts & Letters

‘On Warne’ by Gideon Haigh

By Waleed Aly

On Warne. It sounds like a tome of grave significance. Mill On Liberty. Greer On Rage. No more elaborate title is necessary to justify the inquiry. The subject matter is so central to the human condition, so timeless, that we are duty-bound to engage.

And that’s pretty much how Haigh approaches this book. It’s nothing so mundane as a biography. There’s no clear chronology here. It’s a study, constructed much in the manner of a university subject, examining Australia’s greatest modern cricketer from different angles. There’s Warne as artist, Warne as teammate, protégé and deputy, Warne as hapless scandal-magnet. Shane Warne is presented as a many-faceted phenomenon, and each facet treated with a special focus.

It works because Warne is such a mercurial, contradictory character. He can predict precisely how and when he’ll take his next wicket, or the result of a tied one-day match, but is unable to foresee that taking money from a stranger (who turns out to be an Indian bookie) in exchange for match information is a bad idea. He’s uncouth, but also the greatest ever exponent of the most refined art in cricket – leg-spin bowling. His controversies skirt the game’s most cardinal sins – match-fixing, performance-enhancing drugs and womanising – but he somehow emerges mostly adored. A conventional biography would somehow obscure Warne’s story. A cricket writer as peerless as Haigh knows this.

Haigh’s is an exquisite treatment of a much-discussed subject. Cricket fans will be completely engrossed: Haigh’s analysis of Warne’s statistics is the most incisive I’ve seen, and his eye for relevant detail is astonishing. But those determined to see Warne narrowly as a casual purveyor of infidelity above all else will be sorely disappointed. For this, Haigh provides thoughtfully considered context. The result, though, is a somewhat sympathetic account that has Warne as “a philanderer ... although almost certainly a sentimental one, dedicated to the pursuit of poontang while at the same time exalting his wife, even after they were divorced”. Haigh’s Warne is more hapless than contemptible: this will enrage some.

For mine, Haigh is at his inimitable best in his chapter on ‘The Art of Warne’. You get the feeling that Haigh understands Warne’s mastery better than Warne himself, and he never fails to capture it crisply. Haigh’s descriptions of Warne dismissing batsmen “in a state of near or total paralysis”, and of Warne’s appeals being “more like an invitation” to the umpire to join a party are precise to anyone who has witnessed these things. Warne’s wizardry is rich enough to unleash Haigh’s, and Haigh’s wizardry brings Warne’s to life anew.

Waleed Aly

Waleed Aly is a writer, broadcaster and academic.

'On Warne', Gideon Haigh, Hamish Hamilton; $35.00
November 2012
View Edition

From the front page

An anti-lockdown rally in Sydney, July 24, 2021

We need to think about post-lockdown rights

Lacking serious debate on the next stage of the pandemic, Australia is ill-prepared

Scott Morrison is welcomed to the US Capitol, by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, September 22, 2021

Plus ça change

Morrison’s cackhandedness leaves him at the mercy of our allies, as French fury grows

Cover detail of Andrew O'Hagan’s ‘Mayflies’

There is a light

Andrew O’Hagan’s ‘Mayflies’ and what might endure from our irresponsible but spirited youth

Scott Morrison in the sheds after the NRL match between the Cronulla Sharks and the North Queensland Cowboys in Sydney, July 25, 2019

Birth of a larrikin

The disguised rise of Scott Morrison


In This Issue

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Vida Goldstein & Theodore Roosevelt

Jean Sibelius in Vienna, late 1880s. © Bettmann/Corbis

Who Stopped the Music

How Jean Sibelius ran out of notes

'Dead Europe'by Tony Krawitz (director). In limited release.

‘Dead Europe’ by Tony Krawitz (director)

Bill Henson, 'Untitled', 2009/2010. Image courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.

The Vagina Dialogues: Do women really want less sex than men?


More in Arts & Letters

Photo: “Breakfast at Heide” (from left: Sidney Nolan, Max Harris, Sunday Reed and John Reed), circa 1945

Artful lodgers: The Heide Museum of Modern Art

The story of John and Sunday Reed’s influence on Sidney Nolan and other live-in protégés

Still from ‘The French Dispatch’

The life solipsistic: ‘The French Dispatch’

Wes Anderson’s film about a New Yorker–style magazine is simultaneously trivial and exhausting

Still from ‘Nitram’

An eye on the outlier: ‘Nitram’

Justin Kurzel’s biopic of the Port Arthur killer is a warning on suburban neglect and gun control

Still from Steven Soderbergh’s ‘No Sudden Move’

True to form: ‘No Sudden Move’

Steven Soderbergh’s Detroit crime movie is another formal experiment with commercial trappings


More in Noted

Image of ‘Scary Monsters’

‘Scary Monsters’ by Michelle de Kretser

Two satirical stories about fitting in, from the two-time Miles Franklin–winner

Image of ‘Bewilderment’

‘Bewilderment’ by Richard Powers

The Pulitzer-winner’s open-hearted reworking of Flowers for Algernon, updated for modern times

Image of Colson Whitehead's ‘Harlem Shuffle’

‘Harlem Shuffle’ by Colson Whitehead

The author of ‘The Underground Railroad’ offers a disappointingly straightforward neo-noir caper set in the early ’60s

Image of Charif Majdalani’s ‘Beirut 2020’

‘Beirut 2020’ by Charif Majdalani

The Lebanese writer’s elegiac journal captures the city’s devastating port explosion


Read on

Cover detail of Andrew O'Hagan’s ‘Mayflies’

There is a light

Andrew O’Hagan’s ‘Mayflies’ and what might endure from our irresponsible but spirited youth

Scott Morrison in the sheds after the NRL match between the Cronulla Sharks and the North Queensland Cowboys in Sydney, July 25, 2019

Birth of a larrikin

The disguised rise of Scott Morrison

Black Summer at Currowan

Lessons from Australia’s worst bushfires

Image of Paul Kelly

Unfinished business

Every Paul Kelly song so far, from worst to best