Shane Warne's Next Great Challenge: Take Cricket to America

Sam Rooke@@SamRooke89Featured ColumnistNovember 2, 2015

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 19:  Shane Warne attends the Aussie Millions Celebrity Poker Challenge for charity at the Crown Casino on January 19, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Malcolm Fairclough/Getty Images)
Malcolm Fairclough/Getty Images

Alexander the Great was apocryphally brought to tears upon the realisation that there were "no more worlds to conquer."

Legendary Australian cricketer Shane Warne does not have that problem.  

Warne retired from international cricket in 2007 as the greatest wicket-taker in Test history, having won all there is to win.

Thirty-four wickets (including the immortal Gatting ball) in the triumphant 1993 Ashes tour, named Wisden's Leading Cricketer in the World three times, a starring role as Australia ended its Cricket World Cup drought in 1999 and a swansong series in 2006-07 as England were whitewashed for only the second time in history.

An international career that would satisfy most star athletes. 

Rajanish Kakade/Associated Press

Warne is not most athletes.

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Twenty20 cricket, with the promise of new crowds and rich rewards beckoned. A five-year stretch in the Indian Premier League and Australia's Big Bash League failed to slake his ambition.

Warne now spearheads a bold endeavour to take cricket to America.

The Cricket All-Stars, a 28-man group worthy of the name, are scheduled to play a three-match series in New York, Houston and Los Angeles, with Warne and fellow cricketing luminary Sachin Tendulkar leading opposing teams.

VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly, Ricky Ponting, Matthew Hayden, Glenn McGrath, Graeme Swann, Jacques Kallis and Michael Vaughan are just a few of cricket's leading lights that will participate in the series. 

Warne is enthusiastic about all of them but reserves special praise for Brian Lara and Tendulkar, calling them "the two standout batsman of my era."

Tendulkar is perhaps the only name in cricket that outshines even Warne. The attraction for fans in the three American cities on the schedule is obvious.  

Warne explains why he believes the All-Stars concept will succeed in America. "We really just want to give the fans the experience. Lots of them have seen it on TV but never seen them live. We've had a lot of interest"

Cricket is, of course, closely related to baseball. It's appropriate, then, that the All-Stars series will take place at three baseball stadiums. Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium, Minute Maid Park in Houston and the home of the New York Mets, Citi Field. 

The MLB World Series is over and Citi Field is likely to host at least three matches in the week before the All-Stars match, but fixture congestion won't be an issue. 

Warne says there are "no worries at all," with drop-in pitches to ensure an acceptable playing surface. 

With a New York team involved in the Fall Classic for the first time since 2009, there is a buzz around the city.

"It's exciting to be where the playoffs have been," he says. 

Optimistic about converting the locals, Warne explains, "there's a lot of similar tactics and things" shared by baseball and cricket. 

"Sometimes you need to hit it out of the park and sometimes you need to bunt it, like hitting singles. There's the athleticism out in the field...of course, we haven't got a mitt," he jokes.   

Even the pitchers are after Warne's own heart, "[they're] trying to deceive the batsman."

Cynics might view this plan as one last cash-grab for retiring stars, but Warne, 46, explains that he is set on building an edifice that will stand beyond these three matches.

"We've got a three-year, 15-game minimum contract. We've had discussions with Canada and Abu Dhabi. We'd also look at taking it to cricket-playing nations."

Ian Chappell has criticised the project, telling ESPN, "I don't understand why people want to watch older cricketers."

Warne, never one to shrink from confrontation, responded that his aim is to help spread the game globally. He explains, "That's why we're doing a lot of coaching sessions."

Warne and Tendulkar hatched the plan while playing for the MCC
Warne and Tendulkar hatched the plan while playing for the MCCIAN KINGTON/Getty Images

Warne will bring his stars to schools, conduct clinics and do something to help the game take root in unfamiliar soil. 

"A lot of people might not fit into the American sports," Warne explains. "They'll say, 'Hey mum, hey dad, I want to try cricket'."

Warne has expounded on the potential legacy of All-Star Cricket to Cricket.com.au, saying "If a young kid could pick up a cricket bat instead of a baseball bat that would be pretty fun. And who knows, we might even get our first American cricketer."

The potential impact of seeing a sport's biggest names playing live is clear. 

Humbly denying being on the same level as the former Manchester United, Real Madrid and England icon, Warne makes an effective point when he says "look at when David Beckham was playing soccer for the LA Galaxy."

Beckham injected global attention into Major League Soccer and stimulated the game domestically. 

Warne and his All-Stars could play the same role, proving there is a place in the American landscape for yet another sport. 

Can Warne be the Beckham of cricket in America?
Can Warne be the Beckham of cricket in America?Getty

The chubby, blond, working-class hero embodying Australian cricket of the 1980s and 1990s, Warne has transformed. He jokes, "during my career I was match fit, but now I'm physically fit."

Fast-talking, charismatic and now looking the part, Warne could be the man to lead cricket's drive onto American shores.

Beyond his latest adventure, Warne has yet further aspirations—a nascent poker career, for one.

"I love my poker. I've been pretty deep in a few high-roller tournaments."

Away from cricket, his burning ambition remains "to win the World Series of Poker."

Warne jokingly adds "being PM of Australia" to the list but, even if he were to eclipse Alexander by conquering America for cricket, politics would bring the King of Spin to tears.

All quotes were gathered firsthand unless otherwise stated.

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