Sporting genius is often portrayed as coming hand in hand with a complex and flawed character. The reality is that all of us have differing aspects to who we are, both good and bad. But those with the greatest genetic predisposition to athletic prowess are sometimes elevated to a position where it seems the normal conventions of society have a lesser hold, and temptation leads to lapses of judgement which are later held up to the spotlight for all to see. Shane Warne, like Botham, Best and Maradonna before him, is a sportsman who seemingly makes as many headlines off field as on. It was only a matter of time before a warts and all biography was written about him, especially as his own books have never seemed to be a wholeheartedly honest reflection of certain parts of his life.
Paul Barrys task of writing Spun Out was made extremely difficult by Warne, as he discovered that family and friends had been asked to give no help. Despite this, the author claims to have interviewed over a hundred people who ignored the instruction and where happy to talk about a man with an uncanny knack of getting himself into shit. The result is an odd collection of sources, as books by Warne and his team-mates are quoted liberally, along with newspaper articles, television interviews and at one point a cricinfo match commentary. The space in between these dots are joined by unnamed sources and on a couple of occasions by the authors own admission guesswork.
The book starts out with the revelation that Warne was removed from the Australian cricket academy for exposing himself to a group of students as they sat by their university swimming pool. The rest of the text follows his life from childhood to the end of 2005 in a similar vein. There is little description of Warnes exploits on the field, save for a couple of chapters covering the 2005 ashes. This passage seems out of place with the tone of the rest of the book and comes across as a last minute edition to cash in on the post series publishing bonanza. Neither is it particularly well written, with the prose lacking in subtlety or depth of understanding and veering at times towards hyperbolic nonsense, as the usual ups and downs of test match cricket are constantly elevated into crucial turning points.
So whilst career highlights are mentioned, its Warnes off field life, the scandals and the personality flaws, that interest Barry most. To be fair, he does a good job of collecting together a full and eventful life and digging that little bit deeper to get at what really happened. The problem is that whilst the stories of Warnes over the top sledging, the Indian bookmaker affair and the drugs suspension are covered well enough, its the sex scandals that take up most room. This results in the book becoming as repetitive as Warnes behaviour as he makes the same mistakes over and over again. By the time youre a third of the way through youve already got the picture. Warne is an idiot for being constantly caught with his pants down, and his wife is an idiot for constantly thinking this will be the last time. The names of the women involved change but the same basic behaviour is repeated. Youre left with the question -how can someone so intelligent on field, be so foolish after play has stopped?
Equally perplexing is Barrys almost schizophrenic attitude to it all. He condemns the press, particularly the British tabloids, for their interest and prides himself on refusing to reprint the more salacious details. Whilst at the same time the entire book is build around washing Warnes stained sheets in public in an almost relentless manner. Barry should understand that if you write about someone having hot sex youre really not in a position to take the moral high ground.
Verdict: The scandals around Warne are covered in detail, sometimes repetitive detail, but do prove to be revealing. As does some of the insights into his childhood and personality. But the book is let down by some poor prose. Cliches are used liberally and the percentage of words that make it past two syllables probably wouldnt challenge Glen McGraths batting average. But if you have an interest in Shane Warne then this is a must read, at least until someone is given fuller excess and co-operation from Warne to do the job properly
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