TRUE OPINION: Shane Warne’s death leaves a big hole for millions across Australia, South Asia and elsewhere who worshipped the King of Spin and the Sheikh of Tweak, while the famed former cricketer’s passing may inspire others to reach out for help, writes Irfan Yusuf.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past fortnight, you’d know by now that former Australian leg spin bowler Shane Warne recently passed away. Preparations for his State Funeral in Victoria to be held at the end of this month are now well and truly underway.
Warney (or Warnie) was the prince of leg spin, a form of bowling that involved googlies, flippers and other forms of throwing a ball at some other player holding a piece of willow to defend three stumps behind him. They call this game cricket. My chronically Indian mother calls it “kirkit”.
Warney wasn’t just a sensation in his hometown of Mexico City (known to people in New South Wales as “Melbourne”).
In India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and other places where kirkit is a shared religion, Warney was high priest, prophet, swami, guru and captain at the same time.
But who gives a shite about kirkit? I certainly don’t. Not anymore. It’s all so confusing now. The religion of kirkit has been divided into so many sects – Test, ODI and now Twenty20. And Shane Warne championed this kirkit sectarianism, a fact recognised by Australian folk singer Paul Kelly in his song about the great man:
But Warney never ever touched narcotics. Seriously. Yes, alcohol may have been a problem at times. But never cocaine or meth or other illegal powders commonly used in the legal profession. However, this didn’t stop Warney from seeking help.
In 2018, Warne said these words to ABC journalist Leigh Sales:
“I encourage anyone if they’ve got any issues whatsoever, please go and see someone. It’s important to go and speak to someone”. Talking to someone? What could that possibly achieve?
Quite a lot, actually. Warney needed to talk to someone to understand his own past and how it affected his present state. He desperately wanted to become better than he already was. It takes a lot of humility and guts for a man at the top of an international sport to admit he needed psychological help.
In his memoir No Spin, Warney opens up about seeing Jeremy Snape, a sports psychologist and friend who “didn’t do the psychobabble thing, he just talked good sense and understood what made me tick”. Warne describes the sessions as “a period that reshaped my life”.
Warney was aged 42 at the time he sought help. He had just started dating Elizabeth Hurley and was on top of the cricketing world. But he was also the subject of scandal from the Murdoch tabloids, especially News of the World, a paper that became embroiled in its own scandals about dodgy journalistic practices. Today those same Murdoch tabloids are championing Warney as if they always loved him.
The point is that Warney sought help. He went to a health professional, someone qualified to help him sort things out and give him thinking and coping strategies to process his past and present. It’s an important lesson you don’t need to be a test cricketer or head of a Twenty-20 franchise to figure out.
Now that we’ve all been through the stresses of Covid and lockdowns and relationship breakups and separation from families and all that jazz, we can be a bit honest about mental health. We don’t need to treat it as a source of stigma anymore. There’s nothing wrong with needing to get help, with finding life just a little hard to cope with.
Warney attributes to his psychologist and friend ‘Snapey’ that ability to “find some peace of mind and improvement as a person”. Or to put it another way, to take control of your life and live by your values, to think in a way that helps you develop a routine and create an environment of greater happiness. To quote Snape as cited in Warne’s memoir:
“Generally in these situations, the new choices we make lead us to better perspectives and from these we can grow again. For example, when we decide to drink less, we find we eat better, sleep better and then our relationships are less tense etc, because we are well rested and thinking more fairly and more clearly.”
Whether you enjoy spin bowling or Twenty20 or whether you think the game of kirkit is a load of North Indian nonsense invented by my mum, there’s no doubt we all need to seek help when we need it. If that means going to a health professional or taking some pills or even going into a clinic or hospital for some time, there is no shame in it.