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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Warne shuns cricket for poker

The unexpected was always the essential stock-in-trade of the Australian cricketer Shane Warne. His ability to deceive opposing batsmen through the arts of spin and flight had brought him 708 victims in five-day test matches - a record, at the time - when he retired from international cricket at the beginning of 2007, and he has shown the same ability to produce surprises off the pitch.

A few months ago, it was reported that he was considering invoking his mother’s ancestry and seeking a German passport, an ingenious device for making him a European Union citizen and sidestepping quotas governing the number of non-EU players in English county cricket, where he plays for and is captain of Hampshire.

Now comes the announcement that he has joined the professional poker circuit, signing with the online company to play in the World Series of Poker, starting in this week’s Aussie Millions tournament in his hometown, Melbourne.

Warne, 38, said that he expected to play in events in the United States, New Zealand, South Africa and Britain during 2008 and that he still had a great deal to learn about poker.

Not the least surprised appears to be Hampshire, which will lose him for part of its season. The club’s chairman, Rod Bransgrove, told the BBC: “We are confident he will be back, but it looks as if we will have to start the season with somebody else.” He will meet with Warne to discuss his schedule on Feb. 15.

Warne retains an unparalleled capacity for attracting off-field headlines. Lasting fame would be guaranteed by his cricketing feats alone. A supreme master of perhaps cricket’s most difficult discipline, slow bowling spun from the wrist, he revived this complex and subtle art from a point where, in the late 1980s, it had seemed close to extinction.

In 2000, a panel of experts convened by Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, the game’s annual reference work of record, voted him among the five most important players of the 20th century. He was the only current player, and the only specialist bowler, in the quintet.

Along with this, though, were the off-field escapades that cost him the one cricketing honor he coveted, the captaincy of Australia. In the midst of cricket’s match-fixing scandals, it was disclosed that he and another Australian player, Mark Waugh, had been disciplined after receiving money from a bookmaker.

In 2003, Warne was banned for a year after failing a drug test, saying he had taken a substance banned for its potential as a masking agent because he wanted to look slimmer on television. In a colorful personal life, a tendency to send raunchy text messages to his inamoratas has been a delight to the salacious British tabloid papers.

Warne has been quoted as saying that poker has a lot of similarities to cricket. On the face of it, he would seem too expressive of feature to conjure a successful poker face. One reason for Warne’s charisma as a performer has been that it is rarely hard to assess his feelings while he is playing.


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