A reflection on the life of the Australian leg-spin bowler who was widely regarded as one of the best cricketers of all time.
Friday 4 March 2022. The day the game stood still. The collective cricket world stopped, anxiously holding its breath, desperate in the hope that there had been some kind of mistake. It had to have been a mistake. Someone posted a message in a cricket-orientated WhatsApp group I’m in: “Shane Warne passed away?”. Having seen a tribute Warne had written that morning to the late Rod Marsh, another Australian great, I assumed that this person must have somehow confused Marsh’s passing with Warne’s. Clearly, Shane Warne could not be dead. Then someone else in the group replied: “heart attack.” Now my mind raced, and I took to BBC Sport for answers. Like so many millions of others, I could not quite believe what I found.
For those like myself, whose earliest cricketing memories are the glorious Ashes series of 2005, the figure of Shane Warne looms large, an almost mythological being, someone who had been there at the start, and someone who always would be there. Yet Warne was of course once an unknown entity. Having originally fancied himself as an Aussie Rules footballer, it wasn’t until the age of 19 that he let go of that particular dream and resigned himself trying to make a career out of cricket. Seven first-class matches later, he found himself in the Australian test side for their 1992 series against India, although following a rather inauspicious start he was dropped after two games.
It was not until he bowled his first ball in the 1993 Ashes series that Warne truly announced himself on the global stage. Having never played a test in England, Warne came on for his first spell, with Mike Gatting to face – widely regarded as England’s best player of spin at the time. What happened next has gone down not only in cricketing but in sporting folklore. With his very first attempt, Warne bowled the perfect leg-break. It drifted in, pitched outside the leg stump, then, with a rare elegance, mocked Gatting and his bat by sailing right past both, unperturbed on its serene journey to the very top of off-stump. Gatting stood motionless, befuddled and utterly disbelieving.
With that delivery, which quickly became known as the “Ball of the Century,” the legend of Shane Warne was born. A mainstay of the dominant Australian side of the 1990s and early 2000s, it seemed at times as if he could beat England on his own. No other bowler made such fools of such competent batsmen as he. Many are familiar with his stats, but they do bear repeating: 145 wickets in 708 tests, second on the all-time list, and 293 from his 194 one-day matches. He was a more than handy lower-order batsmen, averaging 25 in tests with 12 half-centuries to his name. And as player-coach, he led the Rajasthan Royals to their only IPL title in 2008.
But despite being perhaps the greatest bowler of all time, his remarkable numbers do not define him. It is his vivacious exuberance that will be remembered, his unmatched ability to entertain, and his love for not only the game but for life itself. The occasional off-field controversy, if anything, only endeared him to us more. Although he is gone far too soon, he packed more into his 52 years on Earth than most could ever dream. And though he is with us no more, his memory will long remain. Well bowled, Shane. Rest in peace.