Touching lives the Warne way: RR’s class of 2008 recalls mentor, friend, motivator who weaved magic spell

PTI, Mar 5, 2022, 7:29 PM IST

Kolkata : For Yusuf Pathan, Shane Warne was the man who turned his cricketing career around and for the lesser known Dinesh Salunkhe, he was a hero to be worshipped from afar before the two ended up sharing the dressing room much to the Indian’s amazement. The 52-year-old old spin bowling icon, who breathed his last on Friday, leaving the cricket world heartbroken, meant more than just a great player for the Rajasthan Royals team of 2008 that won the IPL under his leadership against all expectations.

”I only dreamt of having a photo with him but I ended up playing and sharing the dressing room with him. He also mentions my name in his autobiography. What more could I have I asked for?” said leg-spinner Salunkhe, for whom that triumph 14 years back remains the biggest career highlight of his life. The 39-year-old, who coaches underprivileged kids these days, is stunned like much of the cricket fraternity that Warne will no longer be around to charm with his wit and sharp takes as an analyst, a role he perfected after giving up the game as a player.

”He was really extraordinary, always one step ahead of the others. He had two plans always ready, and played the match in his mind,” recalled Salunkhe, who never played first-class cricket.

Warne was well aware that he was leading a team of underdogs but with his out-of-the-box approach, he transformed their weaknesses into strengths.

Be it Pathan, who went on to win two more IPL titles with a different team later, or the then relatively lesser known Ravindra Jadeja, Warne got the best out of everyone.

It was a career-turning season for Baroda’s Pathan and he emerged as one of the most sought after utility players after that triumph.

”He was a captain, who turned around my cricketing career with the way he used my abilities, be it my bowling or power-hitting skills,” Yusuf remembered Warne in an interaction with PTI.

Be it giving the new ball to Pathan, a tactic rarely used then, or using him at different positions in the batting order Warne got the best out of Yusuf who ended the season with 435 runs and eight wickets.

”His contribution in my cricketing career has been more than 100 per cent, I’ve not looked back since then. A true leader is someone who gets the best out of his player and he was one such.

”He always backed me and said ‘Yusuf would win us the match today’. He was full of life enjoyed every moment with us. Whatever the situation he always backed his players,” Pathan said.

”It’s really hard to digest that he’s no more with us, The three years we played together will always remain special for me,” the 39-year-old added.

In Swapnil Asnodkar, their uncapped opener from Goa, Rajasthan found someone who could give the team flying starts in the powerplay. He ended up scoring 311 runs from nine matches with two half centuries.

Asnodkar remembers how Warne turned it around with his pep talk after they were outplayed by Delhi DareDevils by nine wickets, chasing down a modest target of 130 in 15.1 overs.

”He told us we lose as a family, and we win as a family. He was approachable to us all the time. Despite being such a legend, he was open to our ideas and treated us equally, made everyone special. He never had that star-like attitude,” Asnodkar said.

He recalled suffering from an injury and how it affected his morale but Warne pulled him out of it by simply telling him, ”you’re the backbone of the team”.

”He told me you are the backbone of the team, and I was full of confidence. He backed all the domestic (uncapped) players, and must have seen something good in us.” Asnodkar was left more astonished when Warne accepted his invitation to come to his home in Goa and spent a good amount of time with his family.

”There was a short break and management allowed us to go for vacation in Goa. There were a few like Warne, (Shane) Watson, Jadeja, Taruwar Kohli who came to Goa. And one day, I extended an invitation to Warne to visit my home,” he said.

”Never in my wildest dream I thought he would accept the invitation and drop in to my house and interact with my parents, sisters and cousins. They still remember the day very fondly,” Asnodkar, who is now the age group coach in Goa, said.

Pacer Pankaj Singh, who played five matches for the franchise, remembered how Warne used their tournament build-up camp to know about the players and create a healthy environment.

”In the 10-15 days’ camp in the build-up to the tournament he, identified each and everyone’s strengths and accordingly decided on their roles,” said Singh, now an Income Tax officer.

”He was full of innovations and out of the box ideas. He made spinners open the ball, used Siddharth Trivedi in the middle overs where he varied his pace to maximum effect.” ”He used the surprise elements very well to fox our opponents. It was not a fluke but there was a lot of hard work and meticulous planning behind it.” He made stars out of his players, be it Shane Watson or ”Rockstar” Ravindra Jadeja.

”Watson was not a big name then and was in and out of the Australian team but he had his full support and he had a memorable season,” Singh said about the imposing all-rounder who was adjudged the Player of the tournament in IPL 2008.

For Salunkhe, Warne was his childhood hero. Having lost his father at the tender age of five, the Chembur boy was raised by his mother who worked as constable in Mumbai Police.

”I never had the money to buy cricketing gears or could afford to go for coaching. I borrowed a pair of clothes which I would wear and then clean in the evening to make it ready the next day. It was by the help of my coach Uday Singh Bhonsle, I could play club cricket.” He was picked by the franchise after impressing with his power-hitting skills in a club-level Prabhodhan tournament in Mumbai.

He fondly remembers how Warne startegised the dismissal of Mahela Jayawardene in their match against Kings XI Punjab.

”He had the wicket of Kumar Sangakkara who was firing on all cylinders and I started celebrating after the dismissal. He came up to me and told me to get ready to bowl to Jayawardene.

”And I ended up taking his (Jayawardene’s) wicket. He also mentions this in his autobiography,” Salunkhe said, stressing how the flamboyant legend effortlessly touched lives in his own eventful life.

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