Greg and Zanna discuss the nature and history of leg spin bowling.
Knowledge of cricket (Greg): 5
Interest in Greg's knowledge of cricket (Zanna): 0
Several times during some of the long and repetitious explanations of spin bowling, and Shane Warne's unique talent at it specifically, Greg paused the documentary to break down the technique for me in further, completely unnecessary, detail. I think this gives an indication of where we were both placed, interest-wise, with Shane, the new Amazon Prime documentary.
I didn't dislike the film but there were periods where my eyes and - peculiarly - my ears glazed over as cricket player after cricket commentator after cricket player talked about what an exceptional bowler Warne was. He's not credited as an executive producer but I would be surprised if Warne wasn't given veto rights to this film, because there is very little investigation or scrutiny of some of his more public missteps. While I know that he was involved in a bookie scandal, I still have no idea what that was about or whether or not he was guilty. It was made very clear, however, that when he was suspended from cricket for a year for testing positive for a banned substance, it was from a diuretic that his mum gave him so he wouldn't look so bloated on television.
I'm not much of a sports fan but I can get behind a good sports documentary, especially if it tells us something about the human condition or places an individual's story in a greater cultural context and says something about the times. Shane doesn't do that - it really is just Warne's story, and for that reason I doubt it will have broad appeal.
There's an element of hero-worship and glorification of the pursuit of striving for individual greatness at the detriment of others. Warne repeatedly talks about how cricket always came first and his family came second. He never says he took pride in that but you could see he did, and he was rewarded for it professionally and personally by his peers, who respect his tunnel vision in a way that promotes a toxic culture of striving at all costs.
A friend shared a poem the other day by William Martin, which starts:
Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
If this documentary taught me anything, it's to lean into the sentiment of that poem and not, as Warne did, the tireless pursuit of being the best. And, more importantly, that Greg really, really likes cricket.
There is an asymmetry in our relationship when it comes to sporting knowledge, which is perhaps most pronounced when it comes to cricket, and particularly the cricket of the 1990s, when I was coming of age and had a lot of spare time to watch test matches. I knew a documentary on Shane Warne, the biggest star of that period, would be a good opportunity for me to share my knowledge with Zanna, which would make me feel good about myself, so what a joy it was when, only minutes into the documentary, she paused it and asked me why he was so famous.
I began with a precis of the history of bowling, noting the pre-eminence of fast bowling in the era immediately preceding the one in which he played, of the place in cricket of spin bowling in general and leg spin in particular. From there, I moved into the biomechanics of leg spin and how he reinvented it, largely through the prodigious amount of spin he was able to generate, as evidenced by his famous dismissal of Mike Gatting in his first Ashes test, which was a huge moment given the importance of the Ashes in a cricket-historical sense …
"Okay," she said, interrupting. "Can we just get back to it?" I was disappointed and hurt, because I had been impressed by the extent of my knowledge and had allowed myself to believe she might be interested in it also. There were many things I still wanted to tell her: the importance not just of spin, but of drift and dip, and of Warne's development of his variations, particularly the flipper. I had been constructing, on the fly, my own documentary of Warne's career, and she had chosen to give it a scathing review after barely half of it.
After we'd finished watching the documentary, she asked what I thought of it. I said I would always enjoy something like this because of my understanding of cricket, particularly the cricket of this era, and before I knew it, I'd lurched once more into an account of the history of the game, and of Warne's place in it. As I began to share a personal story about one of New Zealand's attempts at a Warne - Brooke Walker - who had been a year behind me at school, Zanna again interrupted.
"What I'm getting from this is that you like cricket," she said.
I guess any attempt at communication can be reduced to a cruelly pithy summary, but as a professional reviewer, and more particularly a spouse, the least you should do is first give it a chance.
Shane is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.