It has been more than a week since an untimely death of the legendary Australian spinner, Shane Warne, at the age of just 52. The cricketing world became poorer and his demise left a vacuum that can never be filled.
Cricket fans and cricketers from around the world have been pouring in tribute for the spin wizard. However, no matter how many words one types, how many pictures and videos they post, there cannot be a fitting enough homage that can match the personality and services of the legendary leg-spinner.
Warne’s colleagues and contemporaries are still mourning his loss and are not tired of praising what full of life character he was.
‘Larger than life’
Former England Test cricketer and Kent captain Robert Key remembers the Australian great as the most famous cricketer outside India.
“Shane Warne is probably cricket’s most famous person, certainly outside of India where you have Sachin [Tendulkar] and Virat Kohli and people like that,” said Key, who has represented England in 15 Tests and five One Day Internationals, while talking exclusively to Bol News. “There are very few cricketers who could bridge the gap between the entertainment and modern popular culture and Shane Warne did that.”
Describing the popularity of the second-highest wicket-taker in Test cricket, Key gave the example of England where cricket is not as popular a sport as some different parts of the world, but still, people adored that spin genius.
“He was a cricketer but he was also an icon in so many ways. In England, where cricket is not as much in the public consciousness as some other sports and entertainment. Shane Warne was equally known to the people of England as an actor or musician,” he shared. “That is just a testament to what he was as a player.”
The 42-year-old went on to say that Warne was the one who made spin bowling cool and brought it back to the forefront.
According to Key, before Warne, spinners were not in the limelight and he made them an integral part of the game and the teams.
“He made spin bowling cool,” reiterated Key. “If you look at spinners before Warne when I was growing up, it was off-spinners, left-arm spinners and they were the afterthought, they were the persons who will be at the back of the band. They weren’t the lead singers, the front man. He made spinners the front man of the team, the front man of the band. He was the Paul McCartney and John Lennon of cricket, which completely transform that art. In fact, it transform all cricketers, he made us all a bit cooler than what we were before.”
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s cricketer-turned-commentator Bazid Khan echoed Key’s words, calling him a character larger than life. As per the 40-year-old, his persona was not just limited to this one sport, he was more than a cricketer, a megastar.
“You can call Shane Warne’s character larger than life,” said Bazid. “He made the art of leg-spin cool again and he was a superstar. Not only confined to cricket or bowling, even when he talked something outside the game, people used to listen to him.”
Despite having that charisma, that flamboyance, he was a kind-hearted man, who always looked to give knowledge, love and respect to others.
Simon Katich, the Australian batting legend, who has been a close friend of Warne, recalls him as someone who was eager to give off the field.
“We saw firsthand how Shane was with his family, he was very courteous, very polite and very respectful,” he maintained. “He always took time to sign autographs to the kids and I think it was that balance between that on-field success but then also as a person off the field that made him a player we all saw.”
Moreover, Mike Haysman, the well-known broadcaster, recalled that Warne was a fierce competitor in the field, never ready to let the opponents dominate him. However, at the same time, he was the first one to appreciate the rival team’s efforts.
“He was a great competitor, played it really hard in the middle but he was the first to congratulate the opposition and say well-done to guys who performed against Australia or him,” he revealed.
A genius with self-belief
He was a genius when it comes to bowling and his career figures surely reflect that. Taking 708 wickets in 145 Tests at an average of 25.41 was no child’s play.
When he used to take the stride to bowl, Australian fans knew they were just moments away from celebrating the magic, while the opposing teams’ fans used to hold their breath and just pray only.
When the leggie first emerged on the scene, he worked extremely hard on his craft. He wanted to compete against the best, be the best and he enjoyed being the best.
“The thing about Shane Warne to me was, every time he had the ball in his hand, you just knew something’s going to happen,” Haysman reminisced. “As a viewer no matter from where you were watching, you’d be sitting more upright on your seat and be just focusing on the screen just to see him break the game open.”
Haysman was captivated by the show that the Australian great put year after year. He was unpredictable as a bowler, no one knew what was coming next, a leggie, a googly, a flipper or what, neither the batters nor the fans knew it.
Katich has played along with Warne and also under his captaincy in Hampshire. The former left-handed batter rates him one of the most tactically sound captains. Plus, his urge to be always competitive and be in control of the game was something to admire.
“The self-belief was huge,” he mentioned. “As a teammate and having played under him at Hampshire county, I think that spirit and that will to win was something that rubbed off on all of us.”
The 46-year-old revealed that he always had an attacking mindset, whether he was batting or bowling or fielding, which was also reflected in Australia’s style of play in that era.
“As a teammate, you could not ask for anything more. He was always caring. I learned a huge amount of things from him and the impact he and Rod Marsh [wicketkeeper who passed away a day earlier than Warne] had on our generation of cricketers was enormous,” he added.
The former Australia batter, who scored 4,188 runs in 56 Tests, stated that Warne always looked to outsmart batters by adopting different strategies and never wanted the game to be stagnant.
“He had that mind who always wanted to outwit the batsman, setting different fields, trying different lines, using the crease, subtle changes in the pace or deliveries,” he said. “He always wanted to take the game and move it forward, that in itself was something I learned a lot from.”
He mentioned that this mental space was something that set the Australian great apart from all his contemporaries. When you can control the game on your own terms, it gives a lot of confidence to you as a player, he added.
“It was that positive frame of mind more than anything that depicted in his other teammates and he was a very very good captain,” he shared.
The cricket community has been a lot poorer with the death of the finest leg-spinner, believes Bazid. According to him, it was the time when cricket could benefit from the man himself.
“Obviously, he was the greatest leg-spinner of all time. Plus, it was the time when he was giving back to cricket. People were learning what went through his mind in terms of how he bowled,” he said.
On the other hand, Haysman commended Warne as a broadcaster and how he was full of life at the end of the day. Moreover, he came up with different ideas for broadcasters, which were never put forth by any other man.
Moreover, the Australian broadcaster is also gutted that the world lost a great of the game, who could have enlightened generations to come.
“He had a lot more to give as well and that probably is the real sad part about it,” said Haysman. “He was someone who had just started to work behind the scenes. He wanted to be involved in coaching and give that a real go. It was the next thing he was trying to get involved in.”
All these great cricketing minds found it tough to pick one most memorable moment from his long glorious career.
The spin king is usually remembered for his outstanding numbers in Test matches, however, many forget his efficacy in white-ball cricket, especially in the World Cup 1999.
According to Bazid, his performance in that tournament’s semi-final against South Africa, where he picked four crucial wickets to turn the game on its head, was one of his favourite performances. Australia managed to defend a target of 213 runs, courtesy of Warne’s 4 for 29.
“If you watch his performances in limited-over cricket, it was outstanding as well,” he said. “In the World Cup 1999 semi-final against South Africa, it looked like a one-sided affair but he bowled two or three magical deliveries that changed the match. His performance on such a big occasion was phenomenal.”
Haysman also shares the same Wane favourite moment when he single-handedly knocked the Proteas out of the all-important semi-final in the World Cup.
“I saw Shane Warne at his best in the 1999 World Cup. I will also say the World Cup semi-final against South Africa when he bowled a spectacular delivery to get rid of Herschelle Gibbs, there was another one that dismissed Gary Kirsten,” he said.
Meanwhile, according to Key, his most memorable Warne’s performance was against England in 2006 in Adelaide, where he bowled a miraculous spell to clinch the win from the jaws of England.
England scored 551-6 in the first inning. Australia came out to bat and posted 513 runs. However, in the second inning, Warne took four quick wickets to restrict the opponents to just 129 runs. Australia needed 168 runs to win which they achieved at a loss of four wickets.
“There were so many but I would say the miracle in Adelaide when England got something 500 and he won that game,” he shared. “He always believed when no one else could, he could, he always thought he could do something special and he believed it’s going to happen and that day he did.”
It was difficult for Katich to pick a performance from his teammate’s career, so he quoted two.
For him, one was Australia’s triumph in India in 2004, which was not a place where Warne had the best of outings.
The leggie took 14 key wickets in five innings which helped his team in sealing a memorable series triumph.
The other was Ashes 2005. He was phenomenal with 40 wickets in five games, emerging as the highest wicket-taker in the campaign. Moreover, he scored crucial 249 runs in nine innings.
“One was the win in India in 2004, it had not been a happy hunting ground for him, but across the four-Test series, he did a magnificent job,” he maintained. “Then in Ashes 2005. He single-handedly kept us in the series. We had a great start to that series but dropped away through the middle but with the ball and the bat in that series, he was remarkable.”