Warne’s Midas touch won underdogs Rajasthan inaugural IPL title

‘Warne made you believe in miracles. He wrote the Rajasthan Royals fairytale. RIP legend’

When the Indian Premier League (IPL) was launched in 2008, nobody expected a semi-retired 37-year-old Shane Warne to lead a Rajasthan Royals side built on a shoestring budget to win one of the most lucrative tournaments in the world.

The glamorous cash-rich Twenty20 franchise league immediately captured the hearts and imagination of a cricket-crazy country as their beloved stars rubbed shoulders with arch rivals and the best players in the world.

Warne, who had already retired from Tests and one-day international cricket after claiming over a 1,000 international wickets, was considered a spent force in the short, fast-paced format that heavily favoured the youngsters.

But when the players were ‘auctioned’ to the eight franchises, Rajasthan — who spent the least among all teams — raised their paddle when Warne’s name came out of the bag to snap him up for $450,000.

In the wily leg spinner, however, the team from the Pink City of Jaipur struck gold.

Long seen as India’s enemy after his many run-ins with the country’s batting heroes, Warne relished the prospect of being cheered on in hostile territory and grabbed the spotlight one last time.

Together with Pakistan fast bowler Sohail Tanvir and Australian all-rounder Shane Watson, he formed a devastating three-pronged bowling attack that transformed the underdog side into a relentless winning machine.

After a humbling season-opening loss to Delhi, Rajasthan won 11 of the next 13 games under Warne to top the table and qualify for the semi-finals, where they thrashed Delhi and set up a final with Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s Chennai.

At the time, Dhoni was India’s darling after leading them to the T20 World Cup a year earlier and also the most expensive player in the IPL auction at $1.5 million.

And true to his reputation, he made a late cameo to set Rajasthan a stiff target of 164 which resulted in a tense and thrilling run chase.

But it was Tanvir and Warne, the league’s top two wicket takers, who batted bravely as the chase came down to the final ball of the innings, with Warne halfway down the pitch as Tanvir hit the winning run.

“I don’t think there’s been too many better teams that I’ve played in during my career,” said Warne, who won a World Cup with Australia in 1999 and was a key member of the squad that won a record 16 Tests in a row.

“As soon as Tanvir hit the ball I was ready to tear my hamstrings running for the single.”

Warne’s sudden death on Friday brought an outpouring of grief from many of the players involved in Rajasthan’s historic and only IPL title win.

“(Warne was) my first IPL captain, Warne made you believe in miracles. He wrote the Rajasthan Royals fairytale. RIP legend,” Mohammad Kaif wrote on Twitter.

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