Tribute to Aussie cricket legend Shane Warne

By Kersi Meher-Homji

To lose wicket-keeper batsman Rod Marsh aged 74 was sad, to lose spin wizard Shane Warne, 52, was tragic.

I still can’t believe that spin king Shane Warne has left us. On Friday we were mourning the passing away of Rod Marsh. And yesterday Warne. He died of a suspected heart attack in Koh Samui in Thailand. And all Australia, nay the entire cricket world, is in shock.

Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack 2000 ranked Warne as the number four Cricketer of the Century behind Don Bradman, Garry Sobers and Jack Hobbs. And above WG Grace, Ranji, Len Hutton, Keith Miller, Richie Benaud, Dennis Lillee, Imran Khan, Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar and Viv Richards.

Warne was Wisden’s one of Five Cricketers of the Year in 1994.

However, Warne’s record against India was disappointing. Master of handling spinners, Indian batsmen attacked him with gusto. But against other countries he was a constant threat. Recently, Warne had told me that his favourite batsman was Tendulkar. He also recalled how the two had visited Sir Donald Bradman, feeling nervous as schoolboys!

An all-round genius he made headlines in many fields. As an outstanding leg spinner he was poetry in motion. There was an air of expectancy as he removed the cap. What will he bowl; will it be a leg-break, a wrong one, an arm ball or a flipper?

He wore many colours, great as a cricketer and controversial off-field. Also he was questioned over allegations of bribery and a ‘drug’ scandal for which he received a 12 month ban starting in February 2003. He was also involved in a few sexual scandals.

Born in Melbourne on 13 September 1969, his passion was to play Aussie Rules football but was not selected. This was cricket’s biggest gain. As a 22 year-old he enjoyed eating food and swallowing beer and was overweight when he made his Test debut against India in the January 1992 Sydney Test.

It was a disappointing debut as he was belted all over the SCG as India totalled 483 runs; Ravi Shastri hitting 206 and the teenager Sachin Tendulkar 148. The young leg-spinner went wicket-less in the next Test at Adelaide and was dropped in the final Test in Perth. Who would have imagined then that this Test flop would become a superstar with his on-field brilliance and off-field dramas?

When I interviewed the Sydney Test double centurion Shastri a few years as to what he had thought of the debutant Warne in 1992, he told me that even then he had thought highly of his leg breaks.

After the forgettable start, Warne was asked by Rod Marsh to return to the Australian Cricket Academy and was coached by former Test leg-spinner Terry Jenner. Jenner also told him to restrict on his food and beer consumption.

As I wrote in The Sun Herald, “Soon Warne was on his way to greatness starting in the Colombo Test against Sri Lanka in August 1992. Set only 181 runs to win, Sri Lanka was marching towards victory at 2 for 127. To Warne’s surprise, skipper Allan Border asked him to bowl. Warne responded to the trust shown in him by taking vital wickets. In one magical spell he took three wickets without conceding a run. And incredibly, Australia won by 16 runs.

With his confidence restored, he showed his wizardry in the Melbourne Test against the West Indies in December 1992. He captured 7 for 52 in the second innings and Australia triumphed by 139 runs. To defeat the Windies in early 1990s was a big achievement and heralded the arrival of Warne as a world class spinner.

Then came the tour to England in 1993 and that incredible spinner in the Old Trafford Test in Manchester. It was Warne’s first ball in Test cricket on English soil. It was bowled to Mike Gatting, a master of playing spin. Warne flicked the ball out of the back of his hand. It set off on the line of Gatting’s pads and dipped in the air further towards leg side until it was about 45 cm (18 inches) adrift the stumps. Then the ball bounced and fizzed across Gatting’s body to clip the off bail.

Gatting remained stunned at the crease for several seconds in disbelief and returned to the pavilion in a trance. Warne took nine wickets in this Test and 34 wickets in the Test series.

His most satisfying moment at Test level was dismissing Pakistan’s batsman Salim Malik for a duck in the Brisbane Test of November 1995.

As he explained in Shane Warne: My Autobiography, “Only a year had passed since Salim Malik attempted to bribe Tim May and myself to bowl wide of off stump [to draw the match] in a Test match. Worse still, the judge in Pakistan leading the first investigation had decided that Malik was not guilty, effectively branding us liars. So I desperately wanted to beat Pakistan to set the record straight…”

Sure enough, Australia beat Pakistan and Warne finished with 11 for 77 including the scalp of Salim Malik for zero! Revenge is sweet!

Warne became the seventh Australian and the first spinner to play 100 Tests. This was against South Africa in Cape Town in March 2002. And what a memorable Test it turned out to be. Sixteen of his family members and friends including his wife Simone (divorced in 2005), parents Keith and Brigitte (of German origin) and his mates from Australia and Hampshire accompanied him. He took 2 for 70 and 6 for 161 and hit a hurricane 63 runs off only 65 balls, smacking 10 fours and a six. For the first time a cricketer had taken eight wickets in his 100th Test.

He said after the Test, “There are few fairy tales; this is as close as it gets… To win the Test, the series and the Championship. It has been a fantastic Test match and one I’ll always remember… Nothing lasts forever so that emphasizes the point that you have to enjoy yourself because you never know when it is all over.”

How prophetic! Who would have thought that a fit and well 52 year-old would pass away a day after he wrote a tribute for his friend Rod Marsh: “Sad to hear the news that Rod Marsh has passed. He was a legend of our great game and an inspiration to so many young boys and girls. Rod cared deeply about cricket and gave so much – especially to Australia and England players. Sending lots and lots of love to [wife] Ros and the family. RIP mate.”

Next day he joined Marsh in heaven.

Warne represented Australia in 145 Tests from 1991 to 2006, scoring 3154 runs, (highest score 99) and took 708 wickets (best 8 for 71) and 125 catches. Only Sri Lanka’s spinner Muttiah Muralitharan took more wickets in Test history, 800 wickets in 133 Tests. In 194 One Day Internationals, Warne captured 293 wickets

As a cricketing legend I would place Shane Warne along with WG Grace, Jack Hobbs, Ranji, Don Bradman, Wally Hammond, Keith Miller, Richie Benaud, Frank Worrell, Garry Sobers, Dennis Lillee, Imran Khan, Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar.

Warne was married to Simone from 1995 to 2005 before they divorced. He dated English actress Elizabeth Hurley and got engaged to her in 2011 but the engagement was called off two years later.

Shane Warne loved his children, daughter Brooke aged 24, son Jackson 22 and daughter Summer 20. In return not only they but the cricket world loved the spin king Warney.

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