Healthy bodies for a sick world…

“Physical culture is in the air just now,” reflected P. G. Wodehouse in an article forVanity Fair published a year before the “gentleman’s gentleman” entered the literary canon.

The essay described how the “average man” of post-Edwardian England “now postpones his onslaught on the boiled egg for a matter of fifteen minutes,” time devoted to a “series of bendings and stretchings which in the course of time are guaranteed to turn him into a demi-god.”

A century later and physical culture once again pervades. Earlier this week, a colleague in London penned an article highlighting the growth in female sports as symbolic of a wider trend towards health and fitness in the U.K.

The U.S. is similarly bending and stretching under the spell, with traditional gyms augmented by boutique fitness centers and juice shops in the country’s great metropolises.

My colleague cited figures on the mushrooming market for women’s sporting clothes to emphasize the refocus towards personal wellbeing, while noting the community aspect of modern fitness fueled by the carbs of “celebrity and media.”

She is certainly right on the community aspect, with a strong argument that gatherings around fitness have superseded the church and synagogue — brick victims of secularism’s powerful strides. As such, health could simply be the latest expression of the human need to experience transcendental emotion beyond the individual.

The fitness center is, after all, the modern incarnation of a religious cult, one that leans back beyond Wodehouse, even beyond the “muscular Christianity” of the Victorians and into antiquity with the Romans and ancient Greeks using exercise as a preparation for war.

Yet the current flowering may have more immediate psychological drivers too. Wodehouse wrote about the push towards “physical culture” in 1914, a year bandaged by the tumult of war wrought on both citizenry and soldiery.

Likewise, the 2008 financial crash (and its economic and political aftermath) blanketed the hitherto comfortable West in doubt, insecurity and a profound sense of unease.

Whereas Europe and America’s portly middle classes once relied on a career delivering sufficient recompense to raise a family, buy a house, enjoy vacations, and save for a comfortable retirement, the 2008 meltdown broke the illusion.

Banks crumbled, interest rates plummeted, employment fell and wages stagnated. Meanwhile, restrictions on lending created a generation for whom homeownership — the most basic emblem of long-term security — was denied.

Meanwhile, the rise of the Islamic State abroad was paralleled by anti-immigrant sentiment at home, the rats of the far-right resurfacing from the pipes and sewers to once again spread the bacilli of intolerance and hate.

For a generation, the system’s upheaval highlighted a lack of control in the world, a psychological blow that led many to turn inwards, attempting to regain control via dominance over their own bodies.

In a society unrestrained and a future unknown, perhaps exercise regimes, healthy eating and mindfulness offered a return to the illusion or at least a way to cope with the stress therein.

Writing the year the Great War was unleashed, Wodehouse scoffed at how “the advertisement pages of the magazines are congested with portraits of stern-looking, semi-nude individuals with bulging muscles and fifty-inch chests.”

The author lived to be 93, having practiced his own daily exercise regime for more than 50 years. Were he alive today, he may well have noted the plates of healthy food, yoga poses and shirtless pull-ups similarly congesting Instagram.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

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The ties between the east coast and the European game are growing ever stronger

Football is big in New York, with packed bars for Premier League and La Liga games, plus one – soon to be two MLS teams – making their home in the city. And with Frank Lampard the latest pilgrim to follow the Mayflower, the ties between the east coast and the European game are growing ever stronger.

That has been highlighted further this week with the arrival of Arsenal, the North London Club in town to play a pre-season fixture against the New York Red Bulls, captained by former Gunners’ striker Thierry Henry – another to have made the crossing from Europe to the game’s ‘New World’.

“Football is growing in America,” Mathieu Flamini tells HuffPost. “You have a good example from today with Frank Lampard coming to sign for a team in New York. More and more Americans seem to be appreciating soccer so it’s exciting, especially for players like us who get to play in Europe. Maybe one day we’ll have the opportunity to come and play in the US.”

Playing in the MLS is something the French midfielder would certainly consider, Flamini adds.

Likewise Mikel Arteta, who has watched with interest the transfer of his friend David Villa, who preceded Lampard in signing for the Manchester City-backed New York City FC, which is due to join the MLS next season.

“I think they are growing the sport and the fan base in a very intelligent way with the MSL,” the Spanish midfielder tells HuffPost. “They are making it very attractive and seem to have the structure in place to really progress with the domestic league. It helps that they are attracting big players, which means there’s a lot of media around the game, a lot of people are talking about it. The game in the US is definitely going in the right direction, so there’s a real opportunity for players to come over from Europe.”

On Villa, Arteta was not surprised at the move, saying he was “the right age”. “I know him well and he was looking for a move like that,” he adds. “I’m delighted for him. He’s really happy and I think it’ll be a great opportunity for him here, though it’ll be a different type of pressure. I think Xavi is close to coming as well, so there’s a lot of interest in joining the league.”

Iker Casillas too, according to the NYC FC Twitter page – a Spanish invasion complimented by a lad from East London.

“You could see how the US had progressed in the World Cup,” says Abou Diaby, now an Arsenal veteran. “They did really well and had the whole country behind the team. They got to the last 16, which is really good, so the potential is there for them to succeed.”

“In terms of the size of the US market for British domestic soccer, I don’t think they’ve even scratched the surface yet,” says Tom Fox, the club’s Chief Commercial Officer. “Plus all our commercial partners, the partners who ask us to help them promote their brand, are asking Arsenal to take a look at this market, so there’s something going on here in the US and we know it can help our partners be successful.”

It’s a market that many big European clubs are attempting to exploit, with Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Roma, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Olympiakos all currently muddying their boots on US soil.

“We have a huge following on social media – I think we have more Twitter followers than any other premier league club – and many of those Twitter/Facebook followers are in the United States,” says Fox.

Arsenal certainly has name recognition in the US, and not only from the NBC premier league coverage. Piers Morgan, a zealous Arsenal fan and erstwhile host of Piers Morgan Live on CNN, spent much of last season tweeting delight and disgust (mainly disgust) about his beloved team to his myriad of trans-Atlantic followers.

“Some of Piers Morgan’s comments are… very interesting,” says Flamini, with some slight unease.

So interesting he lost his show,” chimes in Fox.

Flamini continues: “Look, he’s very passionate and it’s good that as a supporter he loves the club that much… but sometimes it’s not that easy to perform and win titles, but hopefully he was happy that we won a cup last season. Maybe there will be more titles coming.”

The French holding player says that taking criticism is part of the team’s job as professional players.

“Everyone has something to say about the club so we focus on performing and not on what the fans are saying out side of the pitch,” Flamini says.

Moving on to more comfortable ground, Arsenal have a new ‘marquee’ player, the Chilean strike Alexis Sanchez, who Flamini says will add “quality to the team”.

“I met him when he was doing his medical,” says Arteta. “He was very happy to join the club; it’s a big time for him. We have to try and help him settle in as quickly as possible, but he will certainly bring a lot of quality to the squad, so we’re looking forward to having him.”

“I think he will fit in with the existing Arsenal system,” says Diaby. “He’s a very talented player, so he should match perfectly with our style of play.”

It’s a style that Arsene Wenger has developed over his 17-year tenure as manager of the club, and a way of playing that brands want to be associated with.

Swiss watchmaker Jean Richard is just the latest hoping to benefit from the association with the North London outfit.

“The fit was very easy,” Bruno Grande, the company’s MD, tells HuffPost. “Arsenal is all about style, respect, the way they play, the way the team behaves – it’s the reason why we decided to work with them. Luckily enough, they decided to work with us.”

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

Ann Coulter is wrong, ‘soccer’ is the most American sport imaginable

Our American brethren are delighting in the World Cup. And so they should be. Not only are the Red White and Blue through to the knockout stages, but they’ve advanced thanks to a coherent team ethic and some strong individual performances. The on-field success for the US has translated into packed fan parks, record viewing figures, and a huge boost to the already burgeoning popularity of the game across Atlantic.

However everything in the US is political, so of course one right-wing media pundit has decided to piss all over everyone’s fun by decrying the “growing interest in soccer” as “a sign of the nation’s moral decay“. Fortunately, this castigation came from Ann Coulter, a pundit whose career as a contrarian borders on, as Alyssa Rosenberg argues in The Washington Post, “performance art”.

Yet taking the syndicated columnist at face value, her objections run thus:

“Individual achievement is not a big factor in soccer. In a real sport, players fumble passes, throw bricks and drop fly balls — all in front of a crowd. When baseball players strike out, they’re standing alone at the plate. But there’s also individual glory in home runs, touchdowns and slam-dunks. In soccer, the blame is dispersed and almost no one scores anyway. There are no heroes, no losers, no accountability, and no child’s fragile self-esteem is bruised… the prospect of either personal humiliation or major injury is required to count as a sport.”

“In a real sport, players fumble passes, throw bricks and drop fly balls – all in front of a crowd.”

A fumbled pass, such as when US defender Geoff Cameron mishit a clearance in the early minutes of the game against Portugal? The ball went straight to Nani, who shot past Tim Howard – all in front an audience far bigger than has ever watched one of Coulter’s “real sports”.

“When baseball players strike out, they’re standing alone at the plate.”

Like Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev’s shocking error against South Korea in the team’s opening match? But if you’re looking for real individual responsibility, how about a player stepping up to take the fifth kick in a penalty shootout knowing that a miss will send his national team out of the World Cup?

If a baseball player strikes out to lose a game, there’s often another one the next day. The World Cup is staged every four years, with one player nearly always responsible for an entire nation’s progress or elimination – all in front of a global audience of millions.

“But there’s also individual glory in home runs, touchdowns and slam-dunks.”

A player gaining individual glory, such as Lionel Messi scoring a wonder goal in extra time against Iran or Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa single-handedly denying Brazil’s potent frontline a goal?

“In soccer, the blame is dispersed.”

Of course, it was the entire Italian team’s fault that Claudio Marchisio got sent off. Likewise, everyone with a Uruguayan passport is to blame for Luis Suarez biting Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder.

“There are no heroes, no losers.”

Quite right – there are no heroes such as John Brooks, the young substitute whose 86th minute header gave the USA an unlikely victory against Ghana, paving the way for the Klinsmann’s team to gain passage out of the group of death? I presume a nine match international ban and a four month stadium ban would make Luis Suarez the most obvious loser of the 2014 World Cup… so far.

“The prospect of either personal humiliation or major injury is required to count as a sport.”

The prospect of personal humiliation such as that suffered by England player Steven Gerard, who made two catastrophic errors during the match against Uruguay that led to England’s early exit? As for major injuries, the sport is littered with broken legs, concussions, career-ending tackles and, in some fortunately rare cases, even deaths.

“Most sports are sublimated warfare.”

Here Coulter is quite correct. There is no clearer sublimation of warfare than football. Witness the Argentinean team unfurling a flag that read “Las Malvinas son Argentina’s” before their World Cup warm-up game against Slovenia.

So here’s the rub: Coulter knows nothing about football, but has attacked “soccer” because of its European heritage, arguing that it represents the collective over the individual. This plays into the conspiratorial mindset of many conservative Americans who fatuously believe that the European nations, with their mixed economies and socialised medicine, are Bolshevik enclaves, while bemoaning “communist fifth columnist” Barack Obama for attempting to bring down the American way of life by reforming the beleaguered US healthcare system in the form of the Affordable Care Act.

What football represents is not only a freedom to gain individual glory and make individual mistakes, but also the possibility of the triumph of the group, where a nation can achieve more by working together than simply relying on the personal self-interest of the players.

If you’re looking for individualism and self-interest, members of the England squad are currently sat playing Xbox 6,000 miles from Rio. The American team, with arguably lesser individuals but a far stronger collective mindset, is still very much in the tournament. The notion of the American dream has two components – individual as well as collective (national) achievement. As such, “soccer” is probably just about the most American sport there is.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

Soccer’s cultural invasion of the US hasn’t started – it’s already over

“Who’s your team, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester?” It’s the stock opener posed by every waiter, concierge or taxi driver in New York City. “Manchester City is beautiful,” “Wenger has to go,” “Why did Ferguson say ‘no’ to Mourinho?”

In the US, soccer talk is everywhere, with City’s triumph in the Premiere League and Barcelona’s loss of La Liga giving way to speculation on the World Cup, the US national team and “Klinsmann, man, what the fu*k?”

On ESPN, retired nobles of the European game – van Nistelrooy, Ballack, Ekoku, McManaman – glean greenbacks for discussing the forthcoming tournament in Brazil, each discussion bookended by adverts showcasing their footballing heirs in the latest batch of Hollywood-inspired mini-movies for Nike.

Papers of record, such as the New York Times, feel comfortable to run front page editorials on Fifa corruption, while Morning Joe, the popular breakfast show on MSNBC, offers regular updates on the English game, each segment welcomed with puppy-like enthusiasm by the Georgia-born host Joe Scarborough – as much for his love of the game as for the bafflement it elicits from his co-host Mika Brzezinski.

New York is bathed in emblems and icons of the European game. Soccer shirts are widespread, with the names of Suarez, Rooney or Messi as likely to adorn clothing as those of Carmelo Anthony (Knicks), Eli Manning (Giants) or Derek Jeter (Yankees).

In the early months of last season, a marketing campaign by broadcaster NBC had New York’s iconic subway trains emblazoned with individual team colours from the Barclays Premier League or “BPL” as is the common abbreviation, while Times Square was decorated with the hue of Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool et al.

All the games from the BPL season just gone (for which the broadcaster paid $250million) were available to watch across the NBC channels – small subscription required – with the time difference meaning that a midday kick off in the UK was watched upon waking up on the east coast or through a haze of booze in the early hours on the west coast.

Premier League games continued throughout the day, usually at 10am EST and then midday EST… then you could switch channel and watch a game from La Liga at 5pm EST.

Speaking to The Guardian in October, Jon Miller, NBC Sport‘s president of programming, said: “There have always been a lot of people in this country who have loved soccer, but I don’t think as many people really embraced the Premier League as they have now. It has become part of the daily conversation in this country, much more relevant and important.”

That’s certainly evident, with the viewing figures for Premiere League games on NBCreaching a total of 31.5million for the season, with 5million watching the denouement on the final Sunday.

The crunch game between Liverpool and Chelsea at the end of the campaign was watched by more than 940,000 viewers, an impressive figure considering kick off was 8am EST. In total, NBC devoted thousands of hours of coverage to the English game, replete with commentary and analysis every bit as sophisticated as that delivered by the UK’s Sky Sports.

Adding to the mix were Fox Sports and beIN Sports, between them broadcasting Champions League, FA Cup, and even Capital One Cup matches.

Soccer is culturally ingrained into the US way of life. The traditional view of US sports is a landscape dominated by the big four – football, ice hockey, basketball and baseball – with Major League Soccer (MLS) a poorly followed sideshow popular with immigrants or, up till recently, fans of David Beckham.

Although the MLS is growing, the relative weakness of the league (there are currently only 19 teams, soon to be 21, with no relegation) hasn’t hindered the sport’s burgeoning popularity. The contradiction of the US is that it boasts a thriving soccer culture without having a strong domestic league.

As Simon Kuper points out in his book Soccernomics, “Major League Soccer is not American soccer. It’s just a tiny piece of the mosaic. Kids’ soccer, college soccer, women’s soccer, indoor soccer, Mexican, English, and Spanish soccer, the Champions league, and the World Cup between them dwarf the MLS”.

According to Miller, soccer is rapidly overtaking other sports “in terms of attention and social conversation, coverage in print and broadcast news,” a product not only of NBC’sconverge but, according the TV executive, a levelling in the interest in other sports, particularly baseball and college football.

Yet the upsurge in US soccer is not a product of NBC or David Beckham’s recent sabbatical to LA to “put soccer on the map”.

For many years the game has been the sport of choice for the offspring of white, middle class Americans, a more genteel pursuit that many parents (the clichéd “Soccer moms”) view as far less dangerous than the contact-rife American football – itself a sport under increasing scrutiny following a series of life-changing injuries in both the professional and amateur game. With basketball the game of the inner cities, soccer has become the game of the suburbs, a recreation divorced from the associations of violence, money, drugs and corruption that have scarred the country’s more indigenous sports.

A 2006 Fifa survey found more than 24million Americans played soccer, a figure likely to have increased substantially over the past eight years, while a 2011 ESPN poll rated soccer as the second most popular sport in the country for 12-24-year-olds. Young players, of course, turn into older fans.

This popularity has been bolstered by strong female participation with the US women’s national team regarded one of the best in the world despite the lack of a professional domestic league, while the big European clubs, sniffing dollars, have been quick to market themselves stateside, routinely participating in pre-season tournaments across the Republic’s major cities.

Of course, all this will count for little in Brazil, with Klinsmann’s Red, White and Blueunlikely to progress out of the group stages (although the US’s continued participation in the big tournaments has certainly added to its domestic popularity).

Regardless, television viewers are assured. Even though the US had long left the tournament, more than 24million Americans watched the 2010 World Cup final between Holland and Spain, more than the average viewers for that year’s World Series games between the Yankees and the Phillies.

Popularity aside, the chances of the men’s US national team winning a major soccer tournament anytime soon are absolutely zero… so only slightly less than England. Yet the game as a sporting and cultural phenomenon has already won.

Until recently, “the global game” was called so despite the seemingly impenetrable enclave of North America, with many within the US viewing the spread of soccer akin to the spread of communism – a nefarious ideology followed by foreigners and fifth columnists.

Unfortunately for those wishing to preserve the cultural purity of “American” sports, not only is soccer past the TSA and across the Rio Grand, but it has already set up some nets and is having a kick-a-bout on the White House lawn. The invasion hasn’t begun. It’s already over.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

“Bowling, Warney…”

On the eve of the fourth test, the 2009 Ashes series is poised, with all three results still possible. That marks it out as one of the better series in recent memory, without ever hitting the heights (or galvanising the nation) like that barmy summer four years ago.

Then again, lapping the high watermark of 2005, which plenty of sober commentators regard as one of the best test series in the history of the sport, was always likely to prove problematic. Still, should Andrew Strauss guide the current incumbents to victory, the English cheek will be mantled with a blush of pride just as rosy as when the national team last captured the tiny urn.

Not that the present series has lacked drama, incident or even bursts of exceptional cricket. Perhaps the stage is the same but the cast has changed. There certainly seems to be fewer characters than in 2005, perhaps less clearly defined personalities. Maybe the narrative is missing due to a lack of obvious heroes and villains?

Some players have returned; Ricky Ponting and Andrew Flintoff cast long shadows over their respective squads. But the retirement of such luminaries as Glenn McGrath, Michael Vaughan and, most of all, Shane Warne, was always likely to leave a gap.

With Warne, a man who was voted fourth in Wisden’s Cricketers of the Century list, the loss is immense. He is the only Australian cricketer to have his portrait on display in the Long Room at Lords whilst still playing. Why? In a career spanning two decades, he brought both swagger and mastery to one of the game’s most difficult arts – leg spin bowling.

However, Ponting’s loss is Sky’s gain, with Warne now offering verbal flippers from the commentary box. It is to Sky’s credit that they have moulded a team (and it would be some team) of former players into a highly watchable and on the whole a slick squad of pundits, led by David Gower, with Ian Botham, David Lloyd, Nasser Hussein, Michael Holding, Michael Atherton and the newly arrived Warne down the order.

It’s a booth defined by banter and repartee as much as for its insight. The Aussie spinner fits right in.

“It’s a good commentary box,” he says when we meet just before the third test. “I try and bring a bit of humour and banter, as well as hopefully giving the public an idea into what the bowler and batsman are thinking.”

Standing at six foot, Warne’s well built, stocky even, with a face that looks as though it’s been permanently scorched by the sun. His hair is due another bleaching and his fingers, denied the feel of ball, twitch nervously. As we speak, his phone is passed from palm to palm. His wrist turns with unconscious ease.

“It really helps that the guys I’m commentating with are friends. We played against each other for years, but we’re still mates off the field. It’s a good working environment and the team have made me feel very welcome.

“My style is to bring plenty of humour to the game. I only do a couple of test matches a year back in Oz– usually the Melbourne and Sydney test matches over Christmas and New Year. Having said that, it didn’t take much to tempt me over here for this one – it’s the Ashes. Hopefully I’ll be back here to commentate every four years.”

Warne occupies a unique status in Australian cricket; he commands almost universal appreciation not only amongst his home fans, but amongst devotees of the sport around the world, no more so than in England.

“I’ve been very lucky with the England fans,” he says. “I’ve been coming over here since 1988 to play cricket, which means I know the place very well and I understand the people.”

Warne memorably announced his arrival in international cricket on the second day of the first Test of the 1993 Ashes series, bowling Mike Gatting with a ball that did everything short of make the tea. Pitching a few inches outside leg before veering back to clip the top of the off stump, the delivery has been immortalised by cricket fans who refer to it simply as “that ball”.

“England fans like the way I played the game,” he says before being jerked upright at the sound of an incoming text.

“Aw, give me a minute, mate,” he says in his familiar Victorian Aussie, nodding to his now dizzy handset.

We resume: “I think the England fans enjoyed my banter. I didn’t take it to heart when they gave me some stick and I always had some fun with the crowd.”

It’s a modest appraisal. Even the most ardent England supporter would bear witness to Warne’s craft with the ball.

“The England fans definitely enjoyed the way I bowled,” he amends, “but also the way I played the game. I never gave up even when I was batting. I was an entertainer yet still a down to earth guy. They appreciated that. It’s strange as I love playing here, but there’s nowhere where I get as much stick. Not New Zealand, Pakistan, India or South Africa.  Here you get more stick than anywhere, but that’s great.”

If 1993 proved a spectacular introduction for the man known as Hollywood to his teammates, his English swansong in 2005 proved equally eventful.

“The 2005 Ashes was a wonderful series,” he says. “Everyone realised that. It captured the imagination in the way it was played. There was also camaraderie between the players. Looking back, I think it will be best remembered for great cricket played by both teams.”

“From an Australian point of view, we were disappointed to lose the Ashes as we were the first side to do so in twenty years. But you have to remember there was a lot of cricket played before 2005 and there’s been a fair bit since, including the 5-0 defeat of England in Australia where we embarrassed them.”

“We played exceptional cricket in 2007 with almost the same team, which no one ever talks about over here. That’s a shame because the Australian team played very well. I’m happy to admit that England played well in 2005; they were the better team. But you won’t find many English commentators saying how well Australia played in 2007.”

It’s a spiky response, a reminder that Warne, now a savvy media operator, has in the past fallen foul of the cricketing authorities courtesy of an occasionally bristly temperament. He also fell foul of his wife after several alleged infidelities (they are now separated), was fined for his role in a bookmaking scandal in 1995, and tested positive for a banned substance in 2003. Each controversy a juicy full toss, gleefully dispatched to the boundary by the British tabloids.

Yet despite Warne’s swaddling in a winning mentality, even he accepts that England’s victory may have been a necessary boon for the sport.  “People were questioning the value of the Ashes, especially with England going so long without winning one. But the Ashes are always special, regardless of how well either team is playing going into the series. England’s victory in 2005 was probably good for the cricket brand worldwide. It showed that Australia could be beat. It was such a good series that it made cricket interesting again. Still, you never want to lose.”

Since 2005, the cricket world has changed dramatically with the advent of Twenty20, a new shorter, more accessible (and profitable) form of the sport. Indeed, the popularity of Twenty20 is such that Kevin Pietersen, one of England’s few talismanic figures, recently called into question the long-term viability of the five-day game (while conversely stating that he’s got many years left in test cricket). Either way, Warne is in no doubt that the future of cricket encompasses Twenty20, one-day internationals and test matches.

“You have to remember that test cricket is a very different form of the game from Twenty20. Twenty20 is good for the sport’s branding, but players are only ever judged on how they perform in a test match. You never see a player force his way into a test side based on his performances at Twenty20.”

“Anything can happen in Twenty20, which is one of its beauties, but playing five days for six hours a day is a much better measure of player’s ability. It’s a test of temperament, concentration, technique, form and attitude. It’s the complete game.”

It’s a game in which Warne excelled, playing 145 tests, taking 708 wickets and scoring 3154 runs. He also developed himself into a formidable slip fielder, and was more than capable of an exuberant knock down the order, including a remarkable dismissal on 99 courtesy of a wild swing (he never made a test century). However, it is for his remarkable bowling that he will be best remembered; a man who single-handedly reinvigorated a skill that had fallen from fashion at the sharp end of the sport. Yet despite his myriad achievements, there remains a dearth of world-class leg spinners in the modern game (Muttiah Muralitharan bowls off-spin, despite his wristy style).

“The bottom line with leg spin is it’s very hard,” he says. “You can’t just rock up and bowl leg breaks. If you’re a kid trying to learn leg spin you’ll invariably bowl double bouncers or full tosses that’ll get knocked out of the park. It’s tough going.”

“Captaincy is also another issue. I don’t think captains know how to use spin bowlers in general, let alone leg spinners. So there’s not much encouragement there for young bowlers. People think that because I had twenty years in the game, it might have inspired a few kids to come through bowling in a similar way. There have been a few that have tried, but not many have managed to make the step up. Maybe there was a lot of talent, but they just weren’t encouraged.”

It’s a straight answer from a man who spent his entire career bowling anything but. That’s the duality of Warne, a man whose demeanour and lifestyle, the latter etched on his face, offers a contrast to the almost Michelangelo-like artistry he could summon with the ball in hand.

The temperamental genius is nothing new, especially in sport. It’s a cliché. Yet there’s no feeling of regret with Warne. Despite controversy both on and off the field, Warne’s talent was never engulfed, never overshadowed. The spinner has gone on record stating that even when his life was falling apart, he could go out and record his best ever figures. That mental strength, allied with patience and most of all sublime talent define his career. I am guessing there will be quite a few overs bowled before we see his like again.

This first appeared in The Sunday Express. The original article can be found here.