Australia’s legendary leg-spinner Shane Warne passed away in the early hours of March 4 in Koh Samui, Thailand. He was 52.
Warne’s international career spanned 15 years and saw him take 708 Test wickets with his leg-spin — No. 2 in the list of Test wicket-takers. Since making his debut in 1992, he played 145 Tests for Australia. In his 194 ODI appearances, Warne snared 293 scalps.
Warne brought a special fast bowler’s aggression into spin bowling, and was long credited with reviving the art of leg-spin bowling in the 1990s after a decade dominated by pace.
Controversies, both on and off the field threatened to derail his career on many occasions, but Warne still finished his career as among the game’s greats.
Shane Keith Warne had a forgettable international debut, taking 1 for 150 in a Test against India in Sydney in 1991-92. He was dropped and later in 1992 showed glimpses of what he was capable of when he won a Test in Colombo Australia had little hopes of winning
The 1993 Ashes series was the making of Shane Warne. His first ball in an Ashes Test is regarded as the “Ball of the Century”, when he foxed Mike Gatting with a ball that pitched outside legstump, beat everything and clipped the offstump. He achieved his best Test figures of 8 for 71, against England in Brisbane in 1994.
In the same Ashes series of 1994-95, Warne achieved a hat-trick in the Melbourne Test. He had David Boon to thank for a spectacular catch at forward short leg.
Shane Warne finished his one-day cricket career with 293 wickets and was part of the winning 1999 World Cup team. Taunted by fans for his weight early in the tournament, Warne had the last laugh. His magical deliveries jolted South Africa in a low-scoring thriller of a semifinal, and the way he galvanised his teammates showed that Australia were out there to go all the way. He holds the trophy with the Waugh brothers.
Sachin Tendulkar was right when he said there was never a dull moment with Warne around. Warne was an entertainer both on and off the field. He didn’t care what the world thought of him letting his hair down, like his celebratory jig when Australia claimed the 1997 Ashes at Trent Bridge.
Warne also had the knack of attracting controversies of various kinds and he admitted to being “naïve and stupid” and he paid the price for his carelessness. One of those was popping a pill given by his mum to reduce weight, which turned out to be a banned diuretic. It cost him a year’s ban from the international game which forced him home just before the start of the 2003 World Cup in South Africa.
Was his career finished? Not at all. After a forced exile from the game, he was back at his best during the tour of Sri Lanka in 2004, playing a big part in an intriguing series which saw Australia claim all three Tests.
Warne’s mentor in his early days was the former Australian off-spinner Terry Jenner. Jenner took one look at the blonde, raw, chubby leg-spinner and told him to get fit. Within months after his terrible debut, Warne was back in the reckoning and there was no looking back.
One man who literally gave Warne nightmares was Tendulkar. The Indian legend predicted Warne’s tactics ahead of the 1998 series and practiced hard. Tendulkar took him to the cleaners in the Tests and the famous “Desert Storm” series in Sharjah. Warne tamed some of the world’s best batsmen, but never fully got the measure of Tendulkar.
British tabloids pounced on him just before the 2005 Ashes series with stories of his infidelity. Warne’s personal life was a shambles as it cost him his marriage. Yet, he still managed to torment England on the field, finishing with an incredible 40 wickets.
Warne’s glittering career ended with 708 wickets in 145 Test matches, second behind Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan. He was also named one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Century. His 700th wicket was another gem of a delivery, to yet another England batsman.
Warne was true box office, and it’s not surprising he was nicknamed “Hollywood”. His friends circle extended to top celebrities in the arts. Here he poses with fellow Australian superstar and former INXS frontman Michael Hutchence in the early 1990s.
He was never afraid to let it rip if a batsman got under his skin. He had a fiery exchange with West Indian Marlon Samuels in a BBL game long after his international retirement. Shirt tugged, bat thrown, it was as heated as it could get.
Warne never got to be a full-time Australian captain. But he was always known as a shrewd tactician, always one step ahead of the batsmen he bowled to. In the 2008 IPL, Warne was put in charge of the Rajasthan Royals and he led a team of underdogs to the title.
Like many retired players, Warne took to commentary and was a prominent face in Australia’s games. Passionate, at times over-aggressive, Warne had strong views.
Think of the number of kids all over the world who imitated Warne’s uncomplicated bowling action, and will still continue to do so. While many talented spinners lost their way in international cricket by getting too predictable with their tricks, Warne knew best how to manage his variations.