In the past half-century of cricket, two balls are remembered above all others. One, starting an Ashes series, veered embarrassingly wide from England’s Steve Harmison in 2006, and the other was a thing of magic from Shane Warne.
Twenty-three-years-old, he landed the ball outside the leg stump of former England captain Mike Gatting; spinning and dipping, it turned off the pitch and zipped passed the stunned batter, hitting his off stump.
It was Warne’s first ball in a Test match in England, in 1993 at Old Trafford, Manchester. Dubbed the ‘Ball of the Century’.
To build a career to match that opening, and the hype it generated, required exceptional levels of talent and personality. Warne had both.
Shane Warne career stats
- 708 – wickets in his 145 Tests, behind only Sri Lanka star Muttiah Muralitharan’s 800.
- 1,001 – Warne took another 293 wickets in one-day internationals to crack four figures for Australia in all formats.
- 99 – Warne’s best Test score as a batter – he had the most Test runs of any batsman not to score a century.
- 8-71 – his career-best figures across all first-class and limited-overs cricket, taken in a 1994 Test match against England in Brisbane.
- 195 – Ashes wickets, the most in the competition’s history and 38 more than second-placed Glenn McGrath.
- 96 – Warne’s Test wicket tally in 2005, including 40 in a memorable Ashes series, remains a record for a player in a calendar year.
He possessed the air of someone who had strolled out of the Bondi waves and on to the cricket field to wreck another England innings, quite possibly stopping off for a couple of tinnies along the way.
Of the deluge of tributes that poured in on this day a year ago from cricketing greats, perhaps India’s Sachin Tendulkar put it best: “There was never a dull moment with you around, on or off the field.”
He was not proud of all of it. Womanising, alcohol, a drugs ban, a fine for taking money from a bookmaker.
One of those rare sportspeople – especially outside football – to be recognised everywhere he went, he was nonetheless generous with his time.
He dragged himself back when he went off the rails, and forged a career as a respected media performer.
But all of it was founded on his rare talent and his fierce competitiveness in over 15 years of Test cricket.
He made spin bowling glamorous again – leg spin in particular.
More than a thousand international wickets came at a cost. His bowling fingers were wrecked and his right shoulder needed surgery.
But he could bat as well, as many an England bowler found to his frustration, and he had big, safe hands at slip, and was a shrewd captain.
To see Warne bowl in the mind’s eye is to observe a short run-up, a ripped bowling action, a ball fizzing through the air with an improbable number of revolutions, an expectation that something would happen, perhaps an extravagant appeal to the umpire.
One year on from his untimely death, the cricketing world is a little duller, a lot quieter, but we’re left with so many vivid memories of a career – and a life – lived to the full.
*This article was originally published on March 5, 2022