No cricketer was bigger than Shane Warne. Nobody was more box office than the one-time rebel from Melbourne who went on to not only revolutionise leg-spin but become the greatest and most charismatic bowler the game has ever seen. He was a cricketing genius.
With genius came flaws, not least in controversies involving drugs, bookmakers and a complicated personal life that stopped him becoming the great Australian captain his ability and tactical acumen warranted. But this is no time to dwell on that.
This is a time to celebrate a bowler and personality like no other, a cricketer with genuine star quality who transcended his sport and was probably the most recognisable figure worldwide cricket has ever produced, with the possible exception of Ian Botham.
Shane Warne was England’s chief tormentor throughout several Ashes series
There really was only one Shane Warne. And that was the case from the moment he announced himself with that ball, the delivery to Mike Gatting at Old Trafford in 1993 that made the international cricketing world stand up and take notice.
It was the very first ball this peroxide blonde larrikin who did not exactly look like a modern Test cricketer, not even in the less professional era of the 1990s, had delivered in a Test in England. And it was the first of many, many times he tormented an England batter.
We had not seen anything like it. Not at that stage when leg-spin had become a lost art in an age of pace. In truth we have seen deliveries like it since, pitching outside leg and hitting the top of off stump, not least from Lancashire’s Matt Parkinson. But anything since has been a direct result of Warne reviving the most complex of bowling skills.
His larger than life personality made him immediately a fan favourite in Australia and England
He later became a popular pundit and was regular presence on Sky Sports
How he tormented batters mentally as well as with a ball in his hand. He would talk about his many new weapons, his ‘zooter’ and whatever other names he could dream up for his supposed new inventions. When in truth he would take the bulk of his wickets with relentlessly accurate leg-spin with few variations.
What a career Warne went on to have after that overcast day in Manchester when he made such a bright, indelible first mark on the game. And what a thorn in the side of the establishment he became with his very individualistic approach to cricket and life.
The cricketing public, in the main, loved him for that. They loved his style. They loved his bravado and his aura. And, interestingly, he was loved just as much outside Australia as in a homeland that could be a little prudish about his many indiscretions.
Above all, they loved the bowler, even English audiences who could treat him as a bit of a pantomime villain but always respected the opponent he was, one that, with the other members of that great Australian side, dominated England time and again.
Warne was crucial to Australia’s domination at Test level in the 1990s and 2000s
The legendary leg-spinner took 708 wickets in his 145 Tests in a legendary career
Warne was instrumental in Australia’s whitewash of England in the 2006 Ashes series
None more so among English audiences than at Hampshire where he had a spell as captain towards the end of his career and was worshipped by his players for the dynamism and imagination he brought to an often formulaic county scene. Such is the lasting impression he made that a stand at the Ageas Bowl is named after him.
Warne, who has died on holiday in Thailand from a heart attack, packed a lot into his 52 years and was about far more than statistics. But it would be wrong not to take a moment to ponder the sheer scale of his cricketing achievements.
He took 708 wickets in his 145 Tests, most of them at a time when Australia ruled the cricketing world, and a further 293 in 194 one-day internationals. And he would tell you that tally would have run into thousands if DRS had been around when he played. And he was right, too. In modern cricket he would have run amok even more than he did.
Warne also forged a successful career in the IPL with Rajasthan Royals
Warne led the Royals to victory in the first season of the competition in India
And he was the greatest even though Muttiah Muralitharan stands above him in the Test pantheon by reaching the magical figure of 800 Test wickets.
Warne was greater because his wickets defined not only the best of all Australian and perhaps all cricket teams but also an entire generation. He had a far wider appeal and his wickets were taken conventionally in an aesthetically delightful manner. Warne saved all spin bowling, not just leg-spin. It could be argued he saved cricket.
He has played a huge part in the game since he retired from the Test game in 2007, too, and is usually at the forefront of anything new or different, like the early years of the Indian Premier League or last year as coach of London Spirit in the Hundred.
The Australian played seven season with Hampshire in County Cricket
Warne’s profile among English fans only grew during his stint with the county
And he was at the forefront of cricket commentary, too, as much for the size of his name as his ability in front of the microphone where he would invariably talk too much and be too agenda-driven to be considered as great a pundit as he was a player.
But that doesn’t matter now either. Not as cricket tries to take in the enormity of this shock. It is still barely believable that Shane Warne has gone so young on holiday in Thailand where only on Monday he tweeted about ‘Operation Shred’, the attempt of a man who was always conscious of his looks to get back to his fittest and most lean shape.
His last tweet on a social media platform of which he was fond but which also led him into a few scrapes came just a few hours before he was found in his holiday villa talking of his sadness at the loss of another Australian great in Rod Marsh.
Australian and all of cricket has lost the biggest of them all now. There will never be another Shane Warne. And world cricket is a much less interesting and greyer place for his loss.