How Shane Warne helped place the IPL at the heart of the cricket universe

Shane Warne with Rajasthan Royals (Photo: Rajasthan Royals)

The high priests of English cricket writing were all in attendance at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on April 18, 2008. Along with curiosity, they bought with them healthy doses of scepticism and cynicism. Yes, the world’s leading players had all been signed up at the first Indian Premier League (IPL) auction. But this was India, remember? Though the heat-dust-and-snake-charmer narratives had started to fade, few expected the country to pull off an event on this scale.

Several of the players, and their agents, arrived for the competition as though on a paid holiday. Agents were talking of waterfront apartments and yachts, and some of their players actually performed as though on a slippery deck rather than in an international competition. Even from that first evening, when Brendon McCullum’s hitting eclipsed the laser show, it was clear that the IPL needed a marquee name to grab it by the scruff of the neck.

It found that man in Shane Warne. For a decade and a half, Warne had been cricket’s biggest box-office draw, alongside Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara. But a year on from retirement, he found himself with the unfancied Rajasthan Royals, and on a contract worth less than half that given to Ishant Sharma. What Warne did have, denied him by the Australian cricket establishment, was leadership.

At the Royals, he was free to shape a team in his image – bold, innovative, and ready to push the envelope. That became clear on a crazy night in Hyderabad when they chased down 215 to beat the Deccan Chargers. Warne saw the team home with a 9-ball 22. What was a six-week lark for some was a mission for him. Along the way, he made household names out of the likes of Swapnil Asnodkar, Yusuf Pathan, Ravindra Jadeja and Siddharth Trivedi.


Journalists in England, Australia and elsewhere were forced to change tack primarily because Warne was almost evangelical about the league and its future. In the past, he had been derided for bringing cans of Heinz baked beans to India and struggling to come to terms with the culture. This time, he seemed determined to embrace it and let the whole world know that they should too.

If the IPL is what it is today, that’s largely because of what Warne and his band of merry men did in season one. Yes, you had Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid, Dhoni and others playing for various teams. But for the IPL to get the global stamp of acceptance, it needed validation from an overseas legend. And they simply didn’t come any bigger than Warne. Larger than life, charismatic and, two years on from his untimely passing, so sorely missed.

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