The phrase larger than life could have been coined for Shane Warne, a man whose amazing cricket skills, megawatt star power and ability to attract a crowd allowed him to excel in his career and craft.
When he spun the ball it was big, almost impossible. When he hung up his boots, his numbers were staggering – the second highest wicket-taker of all time and one of only two with over 1,000 international scalps.
Even when he pushed boundaries or sparked controversy, as he did more than once in a colorful professional and personal life, he did so with mighty rather than gentle steps.
No wonder, then, that the grief was so great after his shocking death at the age of 52. With Shane Warne, there were never small measures.
From the moment he delivered what would later be unanimously dubbed ‘The Ball of the Century’, fame was destined for him.
The date was June 4, 1993 and the opponents were Ashe’s rivals England. Warne, a freshman at the age of 23, was preparing to throw his first delivery against the old foe.
Throwing the ball up well outside the leg stump it briefly looked like he’d lost his nerve, but former England captain Mike Gatting was speechless as he sped off the pitch at Old Trafford and spun outrageously until he hit the stump bounced off
Gatting briefly wondered if he had been the victim of an attempted trip, so unlikely was the degree of rotation. Even if you look at it now, almost 30 years later, it makes little sense.
Commenting for the BBC, Richie Benaud, another great Australian leg spinner and connoisseur of the arts.
“He started with the most beautiful delivery,” he purred.
“Gatting has absolutely no idea what happened to it. He still doesn’t know.”
Cricket immediately had a new leading man. With a shock of blond hair, a gold chain around his neck, and zinc sunscreen on his nose and lips, he could have walked straight off the beach, the stage, or the bar.
He’s enjoyed all three over the years, but his true home was on the field with a ball between his fingers and a batsman to beat.
Most of the time he did just that. When he became the first bowler in history to reach 700 test wickets – another Englishman, Sir Andrew Strauss, his most famous victim – he simply remarked, “Whoever is writing my screenplays is doing an incredible job.”
In the main he was his own author. He frequently touted his latest mystery shipment, adding such innovations as the Zooter and the Slider to his army of Broken Legs, Fins, and Googlies. Most were real, but some were mischievous inventions that left their opponents in the shadow of battle. That boyish impertinence never quite abated.
It was back just a week ago when he threw his hat in the ring for England’s vacant managerial post. The man whose calling it was to torment Poms offered to lift her off the screen following her latest caning Down Under.
“I’d love to do it,” he told Sky Sports’ cricket podcast. “I think I would do a pretty good job.”
Warne was born on September 13, 1969 in the Victorian suburb of Upper Ferntree Gully and suffered a serious injury while still in kindergarten, breaking both of his legs.
He was forced to roll around in a trolley for up to a year, the kind of setback that could have put him off the sport but instead proved to be a blessing in disguise as he was able to rely on his arms to get around .
He would later wonder if the workload was to blame for his unparalleled ability to rip the ball with his wrist.
A keen and talented Australian Rules football and cricketer, he was offered a sports scholarship to Mentone Grammar School. By 1991 he had settled on his path, making a first-class debut for Victoria and eventually earning his baggy green against India the following year.
It was a sobering debut with grueling numbers of one for 150 as Ravi Shastri taught him some hard lessons. By the time he faced Gatting in Manchester he had learned them all and more.
The wickets and wins continued, with a star-studded Australian team establishing themselves as the dominant force in the sport.
There was World Cup glory in 1999, with Warnes four for 33 a key pillar, but a sharp fall from grace that prevented him from defending the trophy four years later. He tested positive for a prohibited diuretic on the eve of the tournament and was handed a one-year ban. He later claimed he took his mother’s diet pills to win a long battle with his waistline.
He was back in the saddle to play a leading role in the unforgettable Ashes campaign of 2005, remembered by many as the best of all time. For the only time he was on the losing side against a rejuvenated England, he still managed to excel and rake in an incredible 40 wickets in five Tests.
That he did so against the backdrop of a crumbling marriage caused by revelations of infidelity that led to his wife Simone leaving the country with their three children, Brooke, Summer and Jackson, was all the more remarkable.
He made sure to reclaim the ballot box before saying goodbye and retired from international cricket at a climax after the 5-0 whitewash in 2006/07, while his flamboyant love life included a high-profile engagement to actress Liz Hurley.
When county cricket called, he captained Hampshire with panache and panache when Twenty20 won the inaugural Indian Premier League with the Rajasthan Royals, and when he moved into the commentary box he was never short of opinion.
Warne, an avid poker player, has also been involved in betting scandals. He once claimed he turned down a big money offer from Pakistan captain Saleem Malik to underperform in a 1994 Test match, but was later fined by the Australian board along with Mark Waugh for giving an Indian bookmaker information on the had provided.
Many of his ups and downs were covered in “Shane,” a recent documentary about his life released earlier this year, in which he concluded, “I wasn’t perfect. i love loud music I’ve smoked. I drank. I threw a little leg spin. That was me.”
https://www.independent.ie/sport/other-sports/cricket/shane-warne-the-cricketing-genius-and-born-showman-who-transcended-his-sport-41413451.html Shane Warne: The cricket genius and born showman who went beyond his sport