The dropping of Shane Warne before Australia’s final Test against the West Indies in 1999 is one of the most famous selection decisions of all time, and extra insight into the reaction has been given by a video of the post-toss coverage posted on Twitter by user Robelinda2.
Australia went into the game 2-1 down, needing a victory to retain the Frank Worrell Trophy, with Warne having struggled in the series. The man who would go onto become Australia’s leading Test wicket-taker had claimed just 2-268 across the first three games, with leg-spin counterpart Stuart MacGill having taken seven wickets at an average of just over 30 apiece.
The video shows Steve Waugh breaking the news at the toss – “It’s obviously hard when a great player misses out” – but mostly consisted of an interview with then-selector Allan Border, notable since in Warne’s telling of the story in his 2018 autobiography No Spin he described Border as having only been brought into the conversation after the selection meeting had taken place, as a second opinion.
“It’s the hardest decision I’ve been involved with,” said the former Australia captain. “I almost felt sick walking out of that selection meeting knowing you’re dropping an absolute legend of the game and a spinner that’s got over 300 Test wickets. It’s just a rare occurrence. The heart said leave him in there, give him another go, but the head said the other leg-spinner is bowling better at this moment in time and we just had to make the tough decision.”
Some more interesting footage on the infamous Warne Waugh drama….
Live comments at the time from 1999, Waugh and Border…. pic.twitter.com/BPFEfBuAJQ
— Rob Moody (@robelinda2) May 18, 2020
Warne had struggled with a shoulder problem in the months leading up to the series, having missed much of the 1998/99 home summer. However, Border dismissed concerns that Warne had been rushed back, instead citing his difficulties when bowling to left-handers. One southpaw in particular, Brian Lara, had troubled Australia greatly, with his double hundred in the second Test and 153* in the fourth innings of the third each ranking among the greatest knocks in cricket history.
“I just don’t think he’s quite hit his straps here in the West Indies,” said Border. “He’s struggled at the left-handers in particular. I thought he bowled well in last year’s one-day series, and I’m confident he’ll bowl well in the one-dayers coming up. Just for this particular game we had to make the tough decision. The two leggies wasn’t working with the West Indies batting line-up the way it is, we had to go with the one leg-spinner and Colin Miller comes in to do some off-spin duties.”
Asked about Warne’s disposition, Border said the decision “will take him just a little while to come to grips with”, though given Warne’s comments in No Spin, it appears the process might have taken longer than expected, with the leggie writing, “Disappointed is not a strong enough word. When the crunch came Tugga [Steve Waugh] didn’t support me, and I felt so totally let down by someone who I had supported big time and was also a good friend.” Last week, Warne reopened one of his favoured attack lines on Waugh, calling him “the most selfish cricketer” he ever played with.
“Obviously he’s very disappointed,” said Border at the time. “It will take him just a little while to come to grips with the fact that he’s not playing, but he’s a very good character, a strong character, he’s the vice-captain of the side, and he’ll be in there trying to pump the boys up because they need a little bit of a lift after the last two Test matches and he’s one bloke that can give that lift. Even though he’s not playing the game, he’ll have a role in whether Australia win this game or not.”
Footage of Australia warming up showed Warne playing a lacklustre part in the team drills. Despite a quickfire Lara century, Australia won the final Test by 176 runs. MacGill claimed five wickets and Warne’s replacement Miller took 3-66 across both innings.