Shane Warne is a multi-skilled athlete. To the ability to deliver the leg-spinner, flipper and top-spinner with equal élan, you can now add the wherewithal to be engaged in multiple scandals at the same time. At last count, Warne was plagued by five separate controversies or sets of allegations, but it is growing by the day.
In the past, Warne has been photographed smoking when under contract to quit, accepted money from a bookmaker for information, and been involved in a phone sex saga with a British nurse, to mention just three of his more notable displays. He has continued to improve with experience, to the point where, today, Warne has impressively made himself the protagonist in the following concurrent stories: The text harassment of South African woman Helen Cohen Alon; accusations of tongue-kissing a teenager (of which he has been cleared) in a blackmail case; claims from a former ACB employee that the Board received frequent complaints about his behaviour; and a yet-to-be-detailed harassment story from a stripper that her agent claims, if true, would "blow all others out of the water". And all this, remember, while serving a 12-month drugs suspension for taking an illegal diuretic. Bowled, Warney.
If there is a particularly dismaying theme to the increasingly farcical story of Shane Warne, it is that Warne always sees himself as the victim, or an innocent party, in every one of his numerous indiscretions. Sometimes, as in the blackmail case, that is justified. Mostly, however, it is not.
Whereas other occasionally troubled sportspeople can recognise their flaws and learn from mistakes (Ricky Ponting comes immediately to mind), Warne appears to have such a sensitive ego, or lives in a cocoon so detached from reality, that he cannot accept the idea of blame or responsibility for his actions. By now Warne must think himself to be the most victimised sportsman on the planet, if indeed he contemplates himself at all.
Warne has always blamed circumstances or others for the trouble into which he periodically descends. Smoking when under contract to quit? Fault: the kid who took the photograph. Abusing an opponent? Fault: the stump microphone for picking it up. Phone sex scandal that cost him the vice-captaincy? Fault: media and ACB. 'Can't bowl, can't throw' controversy? Fault: the camera man. Taking money from bookie for information? Fault: naivety. Swallowing illegal masking agent? Fault: his mum, and "anti-doping hysteria".
Warne was such a victim of hysteria (he thought his suspension a "very harsh penalty") that the World Anti-Doping Agency recently condemned the lenient ruling which allows him to play charity games and train with his state and national team during the ban. The anti-doping committee which let him off with a 12-month suspension intimated in its findings that Warne lied to them. Only in the bookmaker scandal did Warne admit to being "naïve and stupid", but that in a prepared statement he most likely did not write. To think that this is a player who at one point was a contender for the Australian captaincy.
To the neutral observer, it seems that what Warne requires above all else is an honest advisor, someone close to him prepared to deliver the brutal truth about his actions. No one in the Australian team seems to fulfil this role. Steve Waugh censured Warne's "enemies in the media", a predictable attempt to shift the focus. Instead of counselling his spinner, Victorian coach David Hookes labelled Cohen Alon a "hairy-backed sheila", an insult which then became a minor story in its own right. And Warne's spin mentor Terry Jenner may be able to break down and critique his pupil's bowling action, but if any personal advice has been offered it has not been heeded. He is managed by his brother.
Warne has now completed the trifecta of scandals (sex, drugs and money) and more. As with match-fixing, the remarkable thing is that what has been publicly revealed probably just scratches the surface. Someone should tell him there will eventually come a time when reputation and image cannot be salvaged, that whatever ameliorative deeds you perform on the field, your character can still tarnish your legacy.
Warne is in some danger of becoming the Mike Tyson of Australian sport. That is, a walking horror story, a figure of ghoulish fascination once admired for his talent but who has since lost all respect through repeated acts of stupidity. There may be some way to go before that is true, but it is surely best to act early.
It would be wrong if Warne's personal failings were to affect his chances of selection when his suspension ends, but individual indiscretions also taint the image of the group. It is difficult to believe that many of Warne's team-mates would not privately be fed up with his antics. If Stuart MacGill can be put on notice for his behaviour, why not Warne?
Some claim the private lives of celebrities should be just that, that the scrutiny and criticism is unfair. The counter-argument of course is that if you cultivate and profit from a media-created celebrity status, then you must also be prepared to suffer for it. Particularly when that suffering is so often entirely of your own making.