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Shane Warne’s infectious personality transcended cricket

With a send off fit for a rockstar, Shane Warne was a phenomenal spinner who elevated others to be their better selves off the field as well. His banter and sophistication inspired generations to embrace slow bowling
Fri, Apr 08, 2022

Shane Warne at the launch of the Cricket World Cup in 2015. PHOTO: Wikimedia

Genius, king, nightmare – these were some of the words used by rivals and his former teammates to describe Shane Warne. A state memorial service took place last week at a packed Melbourne Cricket Ground for the Aussie legend and it was an emotional affair.

Shane Warne was someone who could turn a game of cricket on its head with his leg spin – and he often did. He was part of a great Australian team in the ‘90s and early ‘00s. Warne sadly passed away last month due to a suspected heart attack at the age of 52. But his impact on the game of cricket and legacy will live on.

The term ‘larger than life’ is often overused. But with Warne it’s the most accurate way to describe him. His infectious personality was as legendary as the people he had on speed dial. He transcended cricket. Many of his famous friends included Chris Martin of Coldplay, Ed Sheeran, Elton John, Hugh Jackman and Kylie Minogue. It was perhaps, therefore fitting, that his memorial service was more for a rockstar than a sportsman.

Shane Warne bowling for the Rajasthan Royals against Middlesex. PHOTO: Wikimedia

After making his debut in 1992 he reached a staggering 708 test wickets for Australia. He did more than that though – he made slow bowling cool again after the game had been dominated by fast bowling. Many who grew up to become spinners often cited Shane Warne as the reason. His leg breaks left batters flummoxed and bewildered. His mind games and banter were also daunting to face.

Reflecting on his career, Warne once said: “I think I’m very proud of the way I played the game. I think anyone that looked at me realised I never ever gave up, no matter what. I like to think when I was playing the game… people were entertained. I was very lucky to play with a great group of guys for a long period of time. Just the banter and all that, I absolutely loved it.”

He was also humble. He took what is commonly referred to as “the ball of the century” delivered during Australia’s tour of England in 1993. Warne pitched a ball to Mike Gatting that hit the bail of his off stump after landing outside his leg stump. It almost single-handedly changed the sport.

“Everyone said it’s the ball of the century which is pretty cool. I never did it again. If he nicked it, it wouldn’t have happened. It just shows you it was a fluke and I think it was meant to be. I always thought of us as players as entertainers. I thought we had to entertain, and I loved it. I absolutely loved playing the game. I thought when I had the ball in my hand, nothing was going to happen until I let the ball go. I’ve been so lucky and grateful for all those opportunities and the interesting people we’ve met,” Warne would later reflect.

As a South African cricket fan in the ‘90s-‘00s you loved to hate Warne. He was brilliant and would tear many Proteas batting line-ups apart. One particular test match in 2002 in Johannesburg sticks out. Warne and co. tore apart a strong line-up that included the likes of Kallis, Smith and Gibbs. South Africa went from 89 for one to 133 all out. It was an absolutely devastating spell of bowling.

I remember being an avid cricket fan as a teenager. Not having DStv, I would often go to a friend’s house to watch the cricket. When South Africa toured Australia I would get up at 3am, keen to see how SA would do. I was often disappointed and Warne was usually the reason why. He ripped through batting line-ups with his deceptive leg spin. I used to love to hate Warne because of how brilliant he was. It was only later that I truly began to appreciate his greatness. On the school fields, kids were always trying to replicate Warne’s bowling action.

Even after all his achievements in the game, Warne describes one of his favourite moments as when he walked out at the Sydney Cricket Ground for his first ever test match for Australia. He looked up at the scoreboard and it read ‘Congratulations Shane Warne, you’re the 350th test cricketer for Australia’. “I remember walking out to bat and thinking, that’s not very many people,” he said.

Shane Warne's statue outside the MCG in March 2022. PHOTO: Wikimedia

In his later years he would spend time coaching in the Indian Premier League and commentating for Fox Sports and Sky. He always had time for every young player, no matter what team they played for and would freely offer advice. He was generous with his time and knowledge of the game. He also did a lot of charity work with his foundation.

The great Pakistan batsman Younis Khan said: “he was the kind of guy, whenever you thought you had something worked out about him, you realised there was another page, and then another. He was a book with many pages, and whenever you turned a page, you were surprised by what you saw on that page.”

Former England cricket captain Nasser Ussain, who later became friends with Warne, said that he had no delight in playing against him. Speaking at the memorial service, he said: “the word I should have used (to describe him) is nightmare. He was the great bowler and also the great sledger.”

In a broadcast shortly after Warne’s death was announced (available to watch on Showmax) Mark Taylor, who captained Warne, said that he was also a great slip fielder. He took some outstanding catches during his time. “He’ll be glad we are talking about his fielding because he often felt it was underrated,” joked Taylor.

The legendary Sri Lankan spinner Muttiah Muralitharan reflected on his great rivalry with Warne. “I enjoyed that battle because it made our performances go up.” Muralitharan, who would eventually go on to surpass Warne and get 800 test wickets, also reflected on what a great person he was. After a devastating tsunami struck Sri Lanka in 2004, Warne went there to do charity work. Warne’s contribution led to about 1,000 houses being built. He is loved in Sri Lanka for more than just his phenomenal cricket skills.

Warne transcended cricket. He was a legendary leg spinner, rock star and humanitarian all at the same time. He was a family man and loyal friend. Whether you grew up loving or loving to hate him, his impact on the game as the king of spin will live on.

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