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How John Buchanan helped save Shane Warne's career

The former Australian coach helped the leg-spinner more than he knew.

Shane Warne and John Buchanan. No love lost here. Image: ABC

Early in Shane Warne’s career, he found an ally in Ian Chappell. Chappell had taken a liking to Warne and Warne likewise to the former Australian captain. Chappell would tell Warne stories about how he would be more suited to 1970’s cricket, where a warm up was having a look at the pitch whilst smoking a ‘durrie’ (cigarette) and warm up would be taking the horse racing guide in and out of the pocket to prepare their bets for later in the day. Warne, not one who cared too much for diet and fitness, bought into this idea easily.

One of Chappell’s favourite lines was ‘The only thing a coach is good for, is to take you to and from the ground’, of course referring to a coach (bus) as a mode of transportation. He wanted the captain to have all the responsibility for the team. Warne bought into this idea too.

Coaches had been around for 13 years in Australian cricket when John Buchanan took over as the Australian coach in October 1999. Soon after he took over, Australia would go on a world record winning streak, winning 16 straight matches. The run would end at the hands of India, losing 2-1 in one of the greatest test series ever played.

Warne started the series well, taking 4-47 in India’s first innings as part of Australia’s 10 wicket win, however by the end of the series he had been dominated by the Indian batsmen, and finished the series with 10 wickets at 50.50. A poor series from the great leg spinner, and part of a losing series for Australia.

Buchanan called Warne out. He said he was overweight and lacking in fitness. He argued that the leg spinner needed to be fitter and on hot, draining days against quality batsman, being overweight wasn’t going to cut it. The truth was Warne was exactly what Buchanan was saying. As the old saying goes, sometimes the truth hurts. It hurt Warne.

That Indian tour would be part of a tough few years for Warne. Going back to the start of 1998 when Shane Warne dismissed future ICC CEO Dave Richardson to take wicket number 300 at the SCG, he had taken his first 300 test wickets at the outstanding average of 23.56.

Warne and Buchanan in better times? Source: ESPNcricinfo

However the next few years would prove to be the hardest in Shane Warne’s career. Shoulder surgery in 1998 would be followed by being dropped on the West Indies tour of 1999. His 2 wickets on that tour at 134.00 would be his toughest series in his career to date. Dismissing Courtney Walsh caught on the boundary was a long way off the flippers that had tormented Daryll Cullinan, or some of the big turning leg breaks that had dismissed the likes of Gatting and Chanderpaul.

From 300 to 400 test wickets would be slow moving for Warne. These 100 wickets came at an average of 34.89, a long way off what he had done for his first 300. Warne had been slow to recover from a shoulder injury, and had put on a lot of weight. Warne only had two chins, but they were far bigger than the leg breaks that just wouldn’t go.

This is where Buchanan stepped in. Instead of playing Mr.Nice guy to keep his star leg spinner on side. Instead of saying the things Warne wanted to hear he told him a few home truths, in particularly the words ‘Shane, you are unfit and it’s hurting yours, and the teams performance’. He was only saying what everyone could see.

Warne, who wasn’t a huge fan of being told what to do or being wrong, would counter this by arguing that it was true he couldn’t run a half marathon, but he could still bowl 30 overs in a day, and had proven this. However Buchanan, who had seen this to be true, also knew that an 84kg Shane Warne could bowl those 30 overs far more effectively than a 96kg Shane Warne. It was hard to argue with that logic.

Warne’s 12 month ban from taking a diuretic just before the 2003 World Cup gave him time to focus on fitness and extend his career by a few years. A much leaner and physically fit Shane Warne would emerge in his final 3 years of his career. The fitness Buchanan had been calling for 3 years earlier. It would be the return to the great leg spinner.

Warne’s final 3 years saw him take 217 wickets at 24.75. In 2005 alone he would take an astonishing 96 wickets. It was the return of a great leg spinner, as opposed to the overweight struggling leggie who Warne was in the early years of Buchanan’s coaching tenure.

Warne would always be reluctant to admit it, but John Buchanan gave him the tough love he needed. Buchanan gave him the home truths that would not only help extend his career but would also help him rise again to cricketing greatness after a tough middle part of his career. Where as many coaches feel the need to toe the line with certain players, to stay onside with them and their egos, Buchanan didn’t. It hurt his relationship with Warne, but the stats don’t lie, his tough love helped Shane Warne become a brilliant bowler once again.

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