Australia’s legendary cricketer Shane Warne, arguably the greatest leg spinner to have graced the game, passed away on Friday, sending shockwaves across the sporting world.
He was 52.
Warne’s management, in a statement, said the cricketing icon died of a suspected heart attack in Thailand, where he was holidaying.
Warne broke into the Australian national side in 1992, and in the course of a 15-year-long international career, mesmerised cricket fans across the world with his dazzling craft, as well as outwitted the best of batsmen through his spin wizardry.
Warne’s Debut – Like A Forgettable First Day In Office
His test debut was far from perfect, though. Taking the field against India in January 1992, he managed to pick up just one wicket – that of man-of-the-match Ravi Shastri – conceding 150 runs in bargain. His debut year was marked by a string of indifferent performances.
But come 1993, his fortunes changed. Dramatically.
He was picked up for the Australian side touring England that year for the Ashes – the test series between the two traditional rivals famous for its intensity. From the Ashes, a term taken from a satirical obituary published in a British newspaper to mourn the ‘death’ of English cricket after Australia’s victory at the Oval in 1882, rose Warne like the proverbial phoenix.
His first ball of the series entered the annals of cricket as the “Ball of the Century”, pitching way outside the leg stump, but twirling sharply to knock the off stump, leaving England’s experienced batsman Mike Gatting flummoxed. Warne bagged 34 wickets in the six-match test series.
The cricketing world had found a new icon, Cricket Australia a match-winner, and batsmen their most lethal nemesis.
In the decade and a half that he played international cricket, Warne had become the all-conquering bowler, artfully deploying destructive weapons such as ‘leg break’, ‘flipper’, and ‘googly’ from his spin arsenal.
When he bid adieu to international cricket in 2007, he had 708 test scalps to his name, the most before being surpassed by Sri Lankan off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan towards the end of that year. Add 293 wickets in the one-day internationals (ODIs), and his tally crosses a massive 1,000 victims, a feat eclipsed only by Muralitharan, who claimed more than 1,300 wickets in the two formats of the game.
More Of An Individual Contributor Than A Leader
Warne stood out, and inspired, as an individual contributor, often overshadowing others’ performances and winning matches for his team almost single-handedly. He was also a useful lower-order batsman, accumulating more than 3,000 runs off his 145 test matches, with the highest score being 99. But his irreverent attitude, and his penchant for controversies, both on and off the field, earned him bouquets and brickbats in equal measure.
His colourful personal life, in which he juggled multiple women, including the Bedazzled actress Elizabeth Hurley, was a subject of much gossip and speculation. Allegations of drug abuse continued to shadow his otherwise illustrious sporting career. The enfant terrible, or the ‘Bad Boy’ of cricket, never got along with his skipper Steve Waugh, whom he dubbed as “the most selfish cricketer” he ever played with, or coach John Buchanan, whom he famously described as “just a goose” who has no idea and “lacks common sense”.
The result was that Warne, the icon, was seen as too much of an iconoclast in an orthodox Australian cricketing set-up, and, therefore, was never in a serious contention for captaincy. Yet, he gave his best, notwithstanding his differences with the coach or the captain.
Competitive, Yet Vulnerable
Warne, born in 1969 in Victoria, was extremely competitive, who couldn’t hold himself from rubbing it in after getting a batsman out. He enjoyed his duels with Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar, whom he considered as the greatest batsmen during his playing career. He was an absolute entertainer, who’s credited with reviving the dying art of leg spin. Many say, and rightly so, that Shane and Sachin brought more bums to the cricket stadiums, pulling in large crowds through their sheer star power and scintillating performances and buoying the game’s popularity.
Yet, for all his cricketing exploits, Warne had an element of vulnerability that made him appear more real and human. He was also generous in his praise for his rivals. Warne had confessed that Tendulkar gave him nightmares, after the Indian batting maestro took the Aussie legend to the cleaners in the 1998 Sharjah one-day series, a remark that he later claimed was just a joke. He was at ease with his flaws and imperfections.
IPL As An Outlier
For someone who had little to no experience as a captain in international cricket, Warne’s inspired leadership of Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League’s inaugural season of Twenty20 cricket in 2008 created history. Playing the roles of both captain and coach, Warne led Rajasthan Royals to a famous victory over Chennai Super Kings in the final. In his international cricket career, Warne had captained Australia in 11 ODIs, winning 10 of them.
Cricket Legends In Mourning
Batting greats who fell prey to Warne’s guile but also enthralled the fans with their intense on-field battles with him, reacted to the news of his sudden death with shock and disbelief.
India’s former swashbuckling opener Virender Sehwag tweeted: “Cannot believe it. One of the greatest spinners, the man who made spin cool, superstar Shane Warne is no more…”
Tendulkar, who has played 200 tests and scored a century of centuries in both tests and ODIs combined, wrote on Twitter that he was shocked, stunned, and miserable: "[I] will always treasure our on field duels [and] off field banter. You always had a special place for India [and] Indians had a special place for you. Gone too young!"
Brian Lara, the West Indian great who still holds the record for the highest individual score in a test innings of 400 runs, posted a broken-heart emoji on his twitter page, saying he was speechless upon hearing that Warne was no more. “I literally don’t know how to sum up this situation. My friend is gone!!”
Even as the world of cricket weeps to see Warne haste away so soon, like Robert Herrick’s “Fair Daffodils”, the gods up there must be bracing themselves to get bamboozled, like Gatting did on June 4, 1993.
RIP, Shane Warne!