Shane Warne is arguably the greatest cricketer ever because our sport should not focus solely on the statistics of runs and wickets but how you play it.
It is a form of entertainment and when you ask yourself, ‘was the game a better place when he was bowling?’ Absolutely. He was just box office.
There are certain players at such a completely different level that even professional cricketers will look and think, ‘how on earth did he just do that?’ He was one.
Shane Warne, who died aged 52 of a suspected heart attack, was pure box office as a player
Some people tick the genius box, some people tick the cricket thinker’s box, some people tick the fighter’s box. Here was a bloke who ticked all three.
It says something about his stature within the pantheon of the sport that for all his achievements, we saw the very best of him not in a winning cause but a losing one in that brilliant 2005 Ashes series.
When the wheels were coming off for Australia, he was the one player who stood up and fought all the way through with bat and ball.
His larger than life personality made him immediately a fan favourite in Australia and England
His statistics in that series were extraordinary and that summed him up. His brilliance didn’t only shine through when his team were on top but when things were difficult too.
Such were his competitive instincts, in fact, that when England scored in excess of 550 in the Adelaide Test of 2006-07, it was Warne who retained belief that Australia could still win and pushed them towards that conclusion on the final day.
He never thought about anything else but winning and the true giants of the game like him don’t embrace negative thoughts. They don’t play for draws or defend. They attack time after time.
He also possessed a fantastic tactical brain. He fully got cricket.
Warne’s brilliance shone through when his team were on top, but also when things were tough
He was an absolute genius. From the moment he announced himself with the memorable first ball in England, that bamboozled Mike Gatting at Old Trafford in 1993, he made leg-spin cool. It is such a difficult discipline to master and yet he made every aspect of his repertoire look so easy.
Facing up against him: the blond locks, the zinc, the flared trousers, the sledging. It was like having your own part in the theatre.
When you were at one end and he was at the other, and he spun the ball from one hand to the other at the top of his mark, it felt like the reason you played the game.
He would set you up as a batter. Take the flipper, for example. English cricketers didn’t really know what a flipper was until he arrived on the scene. It was a tough lesson.
Warne had a superb winning mentality as well as a fantastic tactical cricket brain
He would sucker you by purposely bowling a short ball, allowing you to hit it for four, then follow up with what looked like an identical delivery. Only he would flip it between his fingers, push it out five miles-per-hour quicker and trap you in front, or go through the gate and bowl you.
Warne was the master of the set-up. He would see me try to hit him through the covers, then slowly get me to play straighter until I tried the same shot and be caught and bowled.
He also wound you up, getting into your head like a fast bowler might. In a one-day international in Sydney in 1999 when he was captain of Australia, he kept having a go at me, I had a go back and half an hour later, I walked off the field stumped Adam Gilchrist, bowled Warne (he got me out 13 times for England).
Warne is widely considered one of the greatest bowlers in the history of Test cricket
The leg-spin maestro was part of the all-conquering Aussie team of the 1990s and 2000s
Warne took 708 wickets in 145 Test matches during an extraordinary career
That kind of battle was something he loved. Yes, he was the king of spin, but he was also king of that domain. He had an aura.
On some occasions, he would not say anything for an hour, then be really tough on you for a while.
However he had been out on the field, though, when you walked off he would be gracious.
He later became a popular pundit and was regular presence on Sky Sports
The occasional times I got runs against Australia, he would be the first person to say: ‘You were good today, mate.’
He had his faults but I was lucky enough to work with him later at Sky and he proved to be so generous. Not just to me but others. Once you were his friend, you were a friend for life.
Shane wasn’t someone who was just good at cricket. He lived cricket. For him, life was not a rehearsal. It was the full show. Permanent entertainment. There was never a dull moment when he was around.