Why I’m not the new Warnie
As a youngster, I wanted to be more like Brett Lee than Shane Warne. I much preferred to be the big menacing fast bowler that I think nearly every kid who plays cricket wants to be.
But a funny moment mucking around with my dad a few years ago set me on a path to becoming a leg spinner. And I’m so glad things worked out that way.
We were living in Cairns at the time. I was about nine or 10 years old and loved cricket. Dad and I would watch Tests together on TV and often played in the backyard or down at the local nets. I remember sitting with Dad and watching Warne bowling in the latter stages of his career. Although I was too young to properly understand what a great bowler he was, I heard his name mentioned a lot and people often talked about how good he was.
One day at the nets I was joking around with Dad, impersonating some of my favourite bowlers. It must have been when Australia was playing Sri Lanka because I remember trying to mimic Malinga, Murali and others.
When it came to impersonating Warnie, I tossed it up, it landed on the spot and it spun away nicely. Dad said, ‘That’s pretty good! Do that again’. I bowled a couple more ‘Warnies’ and they landed pretty well, too. I said to Dad, ‘I don’t really like bowling like that’ but he persisted and I tried a few more.
A couple of weeks later, I gave my Warne impersonations a go in a game for my under-10s side and, from my allocated two overs, took 6-4. Having cleaned up like that, I thought, ‘Maybe I should stick with this …’.
It was definitely the right decision! Within four years, I was selected for the first of my three years in the Australian under-17s. Then, in late 2017, I was selected for the under-19s World Cup in New Zealand. Against England, in the quarter-final, I took 8-35, which were the best bowling figures in the tournament’s history.
In October last year, in my second Sheffield Shield game for South Australia, I took 7-87 against Queensland and became the youngest player to take seven-for in a Shield match.
My manager’s phone started ringing after that game and I was really fortunate to be picked up by the Sydney Sixers for the BBL, which was an amazing – and eye-opening – experience.
The comparisons became hard to handle
I’m only 19 but I know that every sporting career has its ups and downs. I’ve been lucky to have had a mostly smooth ride so far. In fact, my life in general has been quite sheltered and privileged and I’m thankful for that.
That said, from the moment I took those wickets at the under-19s World Cup, I’ve had to learn to deal with a challenging label, ‘The New Shane Warne’.
You can’t blame people for using that term. When they see a young leg spinner who can take a few wickets, Warne is going to spring to mind. He was such a dominant figure. He resurrected leg spin bowling and became the greatest wicket-taker of all time. I’m not the first bowler to be labelled the new Warnie and I doubt I’ll be the last.
It’s ironic I have that label, given that impersonating Warne’s bowling is how it all started for me. But the consistent comparison became quite hard to handle. I have definitely felt added pressure from it.
If I described what that pressure looked like, I’d say it’s mostly an off-field thing. I don’t get nervous before or during matches. I’m usually able to shut everything out and concentrate. But when I’m back at the hotel or home, you look at your phone or see the newspapers and read what people are saying. The comments, particularly on social media, can be hard to ignore.
When I played for a Cricket Australia combined side after a national carnival once, they did a Facebook post of the top five bowlers from the carnival with a photo of me. It was quite a shock to read some of the comments. Some were calling me the next Warnie and saying I should be rushed into the Test team. Others were saying the total opposite.
The photo was a close-up of my grip on the ball and one bloke wrote ‘Geez, this guy’s rubbish. Look where his thumb is. It’s in the wrong spot to be a good leg spinner’. I thought, ‘Wow, this is some random bloke criticising my bowling’.
Underneath I wrote, ‘Lol’. I was quite rattled, to be honest, but I got hundreds of likes on my comment. Some looked up the bloke’s stats and gave it to him. It was an interesting experience! It was the first lesson I had in taking people’s opinions, good and bad, with a grain of salt. After all, I thought, some of the people calling me the next Shane Warne hadn’t even seen me bowl.
My dad, Myles, noticed that these comments and comparisons could be getting to me. That’s when he told me something I really needed to hear. He said I should put all my energy into finding my own style, my own way of going about things, and not try to be like anyone else – even the greatest leg spinner of all. He said it was worthwhile listening to advice but not to copy anyone.
It was important to hear, not just because of the Warne comparisons, but because leg spinners, particularly, seem to draw a lot of opinions. Our styles can be quite individualised and everyone wants to contribute their two cents’ worth. It’s nice that people want to help, but the challenge for me has been to discover the brand of cricket I want to play. It’s a process that I think will continue for some time.
Warnie’s kind words
Of course, being mentioned alongside Shane Warne has its positives. A couple of years ago, Shane was commentating a Test match at the Adelaide Oval and I met him before play one day. I was pretty nervous! He had his suit and make-up on and it was quite funny seeing him like that.
It was an informal meeting. We went onto the ground, I bowled a few balls to him and we had a little chat. He said, ‘Keep going with it, mate. You look good’. We discussed my action a bit and it was a positive affirmation of how I was going.
More recently, Shane’s been commenting a bit in the media about my bowling. To know he’s keeping track of my progress means a lot.
I was a bit starstruck meeting Warnie that day and thought, ‘I want to be just like this bloke’. Despite his kind words, in a way it added to the pressure I felt about being compared to him. But, not long afterwards, Craig Howard, a Cricket Australia spin coach who’s been a big influence on me, said I bowled nothing like Warne. He said there was no point getting caught up in all the hype and told me to try to ignore the comparisons.
Craig’s technical advice was really helpful. I bowl with a lot higher arm action than Shane and probably have a few more variations. Warne was more a traditional leg spinner, with a round arm and trying to spin it a lot. Craig told me I could reach Test level playing my own style and sticking with what I’m doing. His words stayed with me. They gave me the freedom to not try to follow in Warnie’s footsteps.
Over time, with the help of good people around me, I’ve come to see the Warne comparisons as a compliment rather than a burden. And, let’s face it, if Warne hadn’t been around, I wouldn’t have copied him in the nets and may never have discovered I could bowl leg spin.