Shane Warne oozed confidence on the field. Like an actor in a West End play, once he walked through the curtains and was on his stage, it was where he was born to be.
Yet the Warne we saw in the Australian dressing room had a vulnerable side to him and something that stuck with me came early in our 10 years of being international team-mates when he said: ‘Everybody needs a little bit of love, every now and again.’
It reminded me of the need for everyone to receive a pat on the back. To be told: ‘You’ve got this, you’re the man.’ So, every once in a while, when we went out on the field together, I made a point of getting around all the other bowlers including Shane and encouraging them, letting them know how good they were and how well prepared we were as a team.
Shane Warne oozed confidence on the field, but off it he was more vulnerable than people knew
Perhaps this moment stuck with me because he was always the main man and it isn’t something you might expect him to say.
On the field, he was extremely confident. When he gave his floppy hat to the umpire, started rubbing his hand in the bowlers’ foot marks, scratched his studs on the crease like a chook and masterfully created the theatre he was famous for, you wouldn’t have sensed this bloke ever needed that love of which he spoke.
He carried that aura but he was also backed up by the other 10 of us on the field. For me, it was an absolute honour to share a dressing room with the great man.
When you have got arguably the best spinner that’s ever played on your side, it’s hard not to feel you are at least going to be in every game. We all knew if we went deep into a Test, if we were bowling on a wearing pitch, us quicks would while away from one end and the king would be bowling from the other. We always knew we had this wonderful asset in Shane, so no matter what position we were in, how hopeless the gap between us and the opposition, we were never out of things.
Warne spraying champagne after an Ashes win in 1997, while Michael Slater and Jason Gillespie (right) look on
I’d moved out of the team when Australia came back in Adelaide during the 2006–07 Ashes. The game had looked dead and buried but for Warnie a match was never over until he’d given up. Thing is, he never did. I remember him bowling Kevin Pietersen around his legs. I was captivated watching as I knew from experience how this was going to pan out.
Countless times, he single-handedly changed the direction of a match, from the moment when, during my last year of high school, he bowled his ball of the century to Mike Gatting at Old Trafford.
Little did I know as a second or third grade cricketer then that I would be on the next Ashes tour alongside a man who was almost like a cartoon character. I don’t mean that in a negative way. It was just he was so larger than life that the rest of us couldn’t begin to comprehend the lifestyle he led. He wouldn’t sit in the viewing area very often during matches, as he knew cameras would be on him. Instead, he’d be sat with no shoes, feet up on a chair, watching TV coverage in the dressing room. He enjoyed the get-away moments and as team-mates we understood and respected it. That’s what good teams do.
He moved in different circles. Celebrity circles. But it didn’t mean he lacked time for the rest of us. He just marched to the beat of a different drum. The beauty of this was that in the privacy of the dressing room he was just one of the boys, and copped as much stick as anyone, if not more.
One of my favourite wind-ups with him was in the early 2000s when he got wind some Australian rules footballers were going to come in the dressing room for a drink after a day’s play at the Gabba. Warnie always fancied himself at Aussie Rules, and loved that culture, so was keen to be involved. He also loved the old-school persona of Australian cricketers, saying he’d have loved to have been a player in the Seventies. It would’ve suited him —fag hanging out, beer in hand,.
Shane moved in different, celebrity circles. But it didn’t mean he lacked time for the rest of us
Anyway, stumps were called. It was the first time we’d ever seen him race off in his life. When we got in the dressing room, he was looking just like that 1970s cricketer. Unusually for him, though, that meant holding a beer. What people don’t realise is while he had the image of a beer-swilling sportsman, it was a myth. He was a spirits man. As the footballers came in and he motioned them to him, the rest of us didn’t want to say anything to potentially embarrass the king. But Glenn McGrath, who had done media duties and wandered in a quarter of an hour later, looked over at Warnie and asked: ‘What’s going on here?’
‘What do you mean, Pidge? I always have a beer on a bowling day,’ he says, attempting to save face. It was comedy gold. For the next couple of matches, we felt it appropriate when we came off the ground to leave a cold one in his spot. Everyone was in on it. Every time he got to his peg, he was greeted by a beer until one hot day in the field he had a bit of a blow up. Within seconds, he was chuckling with everyone else, saying: ‘Fair cop, you got me.’
That was him. Deep down, an Aussie larrikin. But when he bowled that big turning leg break, he became the reason so many people fell in love with the game. There can be no greater accolade, can there? For world cricket, not just Australia, this is a profound loss and by myself and countless others he will be sorely missed.