The ten most iconic moments of Shane Warne’s legendary career

It’s rare for an athlete, let alone a cricketer, to transcend the sport they play and become greater than the game itself. But if anyone were to deserve that loftiest of titles, it would be Shane Keith Warne.

The reaction to his sudden passing, at the far-too-young age of 52, says it all. The sense of loss that has swept the nation, particularly in his home state of Victoria where he might as well have been God, has been profound. We will never see his like again.

Everyone has their own top Warnie moment, the ‘where were you when’ memory to hold to in these sad times. Remember when he bowled Pakistan’s Basit Ali between his legs on the last ball of the day? Or the MCG erupting in delight as he took his 700th Test wicket in front of his home crowd? Or how about when he brought the Big Bash League into the mainstream with three simple words?

Bringing this list down to just ten moments was a challenge – there are too many wonder balls, too many game-changing moments, and yes, too many off-field controversies to be defined by so infinitesimal a number.

Nevertheless, here they are: the ten most iconic moments from the legendary career of the greatest leg-spinner we have ever, or will ever, see.

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10. A star is born (vs West Indies, MCG, 1992)

Lack of confidence isn’t something you’d ever associate with Warne, but the nerves were abundant for the young leg-spinner heading into his first Boxing Day Test.

There had already been signs of what was to come – in Sri Lanka a few months prior, he’d made good on Allan Border’s bold move to throw him the ball late in a thrilling match by claiming the final three wickets, securing Australia a surprise 16-run win. But they were just the second, third and fourth scalps of a five-Test career that, so far, wasn’t looking all that flash.

With the West Indies 1/32 at stumps on day four chasing 359, Warne’s career stats read five wickets at an average beyond 90. As Phil Simmons and Windies captain Richie Richardson put on a further 111 runs to start the day, those figures ballooned even further.

Then came what would become the signature weapon of Warne’s early career – the flipper. An innocuous ball, looking for all the money like a drag-down, that the in-form Richardson rocked back ready to pull or cut. But the ball skidded viciously, finding the gap between bat and pad as if drawn by a magnet to the stumps. Richardson, one of the best batters in the world, gone for 52.

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Confidence duly reignited, the Windies would become the first team to be ‘Warned’. The leg-spinner would cut a swathe through the rest of the order in front of a jubilant crowd. From 1/143, the champion West Indies would be bundled out for 219: Australia comfortable victors.

Warne finished with 7/52 from 23 mesmerising overs. A star was born.

9. The unluckiest 99 of all time (vs New Zealand, WACA, 2001)

Of all the records Warne has to his name, one of the few he’d have loved to give up was the one he held with the bat: his 3154 career runs are the most in Tests by a man without a century.

Not that he didn’t get close: his 12 half-centuries tell the story of a technically sound batsman whose attacking strokeplay made for many Australian lower-order counterattacks. On more than one occasion, he’d save the top order’s bacon with a freewheeling innings.

The WACA in 2001 was no different. Against a New Zealand outfit meticulously managed by captain Stephen Fleming to take down the mighty Aussies, Warne arrived with the score 6/192 replying to the Black Caps’ 9/534 declared. With the team in great need, Warne slapped, pulled and glided their way to safety. But on 99, within one of a memorable maiden ton, disaster.

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Most mere mortals would have been content to nudge a single around the corner to bring up the milestone, but that was never Warnie’s way. A whole-hearted heave off Daniel Vettori found the top edge, and into the waiting arms of Mark Richardson, who turned and saluted the crowd. Their reaction, summed up by the famous ‘Warney’s grouse at cricket’ bloke, said it all.

But closer inspection would add to the devastation: a clear no-ball from Vettori had been missed by the umpire. Tragedy and comedy all rolled into one.

It’s Warne’s own personal Bradman duck – the rare moment of human failing that denied him a record to cherish, and only enriched everything else he accomplished.

8. The Ball of the (21st) Century (vs England, Edgbaston, 2005)

Paradoxically for a man at the centre of so many Australian victories, Warne’s finest effort as a player arguably came in defeat. His 40 wickets in the infamous 2005 Ashes, England’s first lifting of the urn in nearly 20 years, single-handedly kept an outplayed Australia in the contest right to the final day of the series.

In the midst of it all was, in this author’s opinion, the finest single ball Warne would ever bowl.

Looking at the replay, as we’ve all surely done countless times, it’s hard to see much Andrew Strauss did wrong. A tossed-up delivery well outside off stump, even a left-hander such as Strauss could safely opt to pad it away without being given out LBW by the umpire in the days before the DRS. Unless of course, the ball did something insane like spin past the outstretched pad to cannon into LEG stump.

“He’s made a few batsmen look a bit foolish over the years, and there’s no disgrace in Andrew Strauss looking a bit foolish – but he did here!” quipped Michael Atherton from the commentary box.

Strauss’ one mistake? Underestimating Warne.

7. ‘F–k You Marlon!’ (vs Melbourne Renegades, MCG, 2013)

The Big Bash League has gone from humble beginnings, to a summer monolith, and now to facing serious concerns over its future, in the space of ten years. But one thing that could always be guaranteed in the early days of the tournament was that Warne, the BBL’s first major drawcard, would be the face of the show.

His Melbourne Stars were the only side to turn a profit in the inaugural competition in 2011-12 – the Warne effect in full show. And he’d show, in his final ever competitive match at the MCG, that he could generate headlines around the world with just three simple words.

After a match in which tensions had repeatedly flared between Warne’s teammate David Hussey and the Melbourne Renegades’ Marlon Samuels, in which the latter had appeared to make a grab at the former with Hussey batting earlier in the night, the spin king took it up about a million gears later on.

After an innocuous ball pushed into the off side from his bowling, a mic’d up Warne would deliver what might be still the BBL’s most famous quote:

“Come on, Marlon! You want to grab some people? You want to grab some more people? F–k you, Marlon!”

Then, just minutes later, Warne would appear again. Fielding the ball, he would underarm it, supposedly at keeper Rob Quiney (yes, really), but right at Samuels, who responded by throwing his bat in the air.

While Warne wouldn’t be suspended, he would receive sufficient demerit points that he would relinquish the captaincy to teammate James Faulkner in the Stars’ semi-final that year to avoid any over-rate penalties that could have caused a ban. As it happened, though, Cricket Australia seemed more than happy for Warne to run his mouth, and the publicity it would generate.

“Whilst we can stand here and say we don’t condone anything that happened last night, this sort of thing is probably something that only inspires a greater rivalry between the Renegades and the Stars and creates greater interest for the Big Bash League,” then-CA CEO James Sutherland said the next day.

Only Warnie, eh?

6. Amazing Adelaide (vs England, Adelaide Oval, 2006)

There were many things that made Australia’s remarkable day five victory at the Adelaide Oval in the 2006 Ashes as incredible as it was. Ian Bell running himself, out, Michael Hussey’s cover drive to hit the winning runs, Bill Lawry’s commentary: “There it is! Wonderful victory, wonderful innings. There goes Michael Hussey. Listen to the crowd!”

But no man was more crucial to the turnaround than S.K. Warne. For the last true time in Test cricket, he’d mesmerise an opposition to the point where there was no escape from his suffocating web. We take for granted that England’s spectacular capitulation was caused by them going back into their shells, trying to bat time rather than score runs; but Warne’s impact on that mindset was profound.

Bowling Kevin Pietersen around his legs – a dismissal which Pietersen had famously remarked would never happen to him – was the moment Australia, and fans around the country, began to believe. It didn’t turn as much as many of Warne’s more famous balls, and it wasn’t a vicious flipper or zooter or a wrong’un. It was simply a perfectly placed leg break that proved too good for the opposition’s best bat.

“What a cricketer! What a matchwinner!” crowed Mark Nicholas in the Channel Nine commentators’ box as Warne winkled out opposite spinner Ashley Giles to leave Australia on the brink. Truer words have seldom been spoken.

His 4/49 off 32 overs aren’t even close to the best figures of his career, but undoubtedly they’re some of the most important. Warne the match-winner had turned a game again, for the last time in the baggy green.

Shane Warne (Photo by Getty Images).

Shane Warne (Photo by Getty Images).

5. The Diuretic (World Cup eve, 2003)

An undisputed genius on the cricket pitch, a flawed one off it. Warne’s list of off-field indiscretions was as long as his list of accomplishments; whether it was dealing with bookies, lewdly messaging nurses or the many, many other tabloid headlines he generated, it was clear why he earned the moniker as ‘Australia’s greatest text cricketer’.

Most infamous of all, though, was his suspension from the 2003 World Cup. But in an odd way, the reason for his ban only added to the Warne legacy: a diuretic, supposedly given to him by his mother, so he could look trim and fit for his return to the world stage following a summer shoulder injury.

If there was a quintessentially Warnie way to fall foul of the World Anti-Doping Authority, it’d be this.

I thought it was important to clarify where the tablet came from,” Warne said at the time.

“It [taking the drug] had nothing to do with cricket or trying to mask anything. It had to do with appearance.”

Given his triumphant return to international cricket, including some of his finest ever performances, when his 12-month ban expire, it’s easy to forget that there were real fears the then-33 year old Warne’s career was over, or at least would never be the same. What fools we were.

4. Mexican or Italian? (vs Pakistan, SCG, 1995)

Warne’s array of deliveries – the devilish flipper, the rarely used but deadly wrong’un, and most of all the biggest leg-break ever seen in the game – was only one part of what made him arguably the greatest bowler of all time. An even greater weapon was his mastery of the mental side of the game, and his knack for pushing any batsman’s buttons with ease.

“Come on Ramps, you know you want to!” he’d cry at England’s Mark Ramprakash, daring him to dance down the track. He’d finally bite… and was stumped by a mile.

Most famous of all was Warne’s dismissal of Pakistan’s Basit Ali on the last ball of Day 3 at the SCG. A lengthy discussion with keeper Ian Healy would follow – ostensibly about what ball to bowl, really whether they should order Mexican or Italian food – just to see whether the wait would fluster the batsman.

It would.

Warne returned to his mark, strode in, and tossed up a leg-break well outside leg stump. Having had more than a minute to think about it, Basit’s nervous attempt to pad the ball away would see him suffer the ultimate indignity: the ball spinning through his legs and into the stumps.

The scorecard read ‘bowled Warne’, but it really should have said ’embarrassed, Warne’. The master had frazzled another victim.

3. ‘Wicket number 700… and they can’t catch him!’ (vs England, MCG, 2006)

Warne the bowler was a genius. Warne the scriptwriter was practically omnipotent.

Perhaps no athlete, and certainly no cricketer, this side of Muhammad Ali has had Warne’s knack for timing his finest accomplishments. His one and only hat-trick? Against England, at the MCG. His breakthrough performance? Yep, at the MCG. His record 700th wicket? Yep, at the colosseum again.

This time, there was another reason to pack the MCG: it was to be Warne’s last ever Test there, having retired with the urn safely secured during the week. With his 699th Test wicket running through Monty Panesar to strike the series-winning blow at the WACA, 89,155 went along to see if he could break yet another barrier.

But on a green pitch conducive to seam bowling, it took until the 41st over for Ricky Ponting to elicit the biggest cheer of the morning and hand the ball to his great leg-spinner. Then, with his 20th ball, the moment.

There are so many things fitting about the dismissal: that it came at the MCG, that it was Andrew Strauss AGAIN, that he’d once again struck gold for Australia by removing the most dangerous opposition batsman. And, of course, that it had been in trademark Warne fashion: clean bowled.

“There it is! Wicket number seven hundred… and they can’t catch him!” Mark Taylor cried as Warne wheeled about the MCG, followed by jubilant teammates, the cheers of the crowd ringing in his ears. Taylor revealed this week the moment had been earmarked for another Victorian in Bill Lawry, whose 90-minute commentary stint to try and catch the moment had been stymied by Ponting. In any even, ‘Tubs’, a former captain of Warne, was an excellent option too.

On a personal note, this is my ‘Warne moment’. I vividly recall waking up on Boxing Day morning, all of eight years old, buzzing with anticipation, counting down the hours first until the day’s play began, then until Warne was thrown the ball. Running around my house like a madman the moment the bails went flying and Adam Gilchrist jumped for joy – not dissimilar to the great man himself.

Thanks, Shane.

2. An Ashes hat-trick (vs England, MCG, 1994)

We’re back at the MCG again, twelve years earlier. Warne was already a maestro, having tormented the old enemy in England 18 months prior. And here at his home ground, he’d conjure if not his greatest miracle, then arguably his most memorable.

Having claimed six wickets in the first innings, things were already going swimmingly for Warne. With England slumping to 6/88 on Day 5, the match was all but Australia’s, too. And who better to ensure the fans who flocked to the MCG for barely an hour’s action could feel it was worth their while?

First to fall was Phil DeFreitas, trapped LBW by a top-spinner – even the ones that hardly turned were like vipers in Warne’s hands.

Up next, Darren Gough, playing a similar shot to the previous tail-ender. This one, though, spun sharply and caught the outside edge rather than missing the inside, gleefully snaffled by Ian Healy.

Then the third, and one of the most famous wickets in all of Australian cricket. A nervous Devon Malcolm prodded forward, the ball caught the inside edge, David Boon flung himself to the right at short leg, and history was made.

“Oh, he’s got him, has he caught him, yes he has! He’s got him, it’s a hat trick! Yes, he’s gone! He’s gone, it’s a hat-trick!” proclaimed Tony Greig, in one of his own most famous pieces of commentary. Warne had a tendency from bringing out the best in everyone associated with him.

The great leg-spinner would never take another Test hat-trick (he would drop a catch to spoil Damien Fleming’s a few years later, but enough about that). But in a way, that made it all the more fitting. If he were to take one, then at the MCG, against England, was sheer perfection.

1. That Ball (vs England, Old Trafford, 1993)

You know a sporting moment is good when it has its own Wikipedia page.

There are two aspects that make the vicious leg-spinner that saw a befuddled Mike Gatting castled on that fateful day in Manchester, nearly 30 years ago, not just Warne’s most iconic moment, but one of cricket’s defining images.

The first is the ball itself: as far as leg-spin goes, it is unimprovable. Landing the ball on the perfect spot, with just a hint of drift – you can see Gatting’s mind quickly shift from looking to score to realising to do so would be fraught with risk – and spinning back sharply enough from outside leg stump to pass bat and pad, and clatter into off stump.

“He’s done it,” Richie Benaud famously remarked. “He’s started off with the most beautiful delivery. Gatting has absolutely no idea what has happened to it.

“Still doesn’t know!”

The second, and most important, is the context. As good as the ball was, it might not even crack Warne’s own personal top five had it been, say, on day four of an already-won Test to a Zimbabwean tailender. But the circumstances around the ball, and what would happen after it was bowled, are what turn a special moment into a delivery good enough to simply be known as ‘That Ball’.

For starters, it was Warne’s first ever ball in Test cricket in England. Who pulls that out of the hat first ball? Having been instructed to bowl within himself – and been treated with disdain – in a tour match shortly before the start of the series, little wonder Gatting wasn’t expecting it.

Imagine Steph Curry sinking a three-pointer with his very first touch in the NBA, or Tiger Woods sinking a hole in one from his very first shot at The Masters, or Rafael Nadal winning the French Open at the very first atte- wait a second.

Then there’s Gatting’s reputation as a destroyer of spin, and the damage the ball did to England’s collective psyche. If Gatt could be humiliated like that on the very first try, what hope did the rest of them have? Warne would go on to claim seven further wickets for the Test to claim player of the match honours, and wouldn’t slow down for the rest of the series. Nobody was safe.

Then there’s what happened next. From That Ball onwards, the spectre of Warne would hang over a generation of English batsmen. All he needed to do was loosen his shoulder at first slip to get palms sweating and brows furrowed.

He would claim 195 Test wickets all up against the old enemy – by far the most by a single bowler against one opposition. He’d play in eight Ashes series, winning seven – and even then, his one losing cause, 2005, was probably his finest. Even in defeat, Warne was unconquerable.

Shane Warne jumps in celebration

Shane Warne: an Ashes legend. (Photo by Gareth Copley – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)

Warne was already great before he sent down the Ball of the Century. But afterwards, he became immortal.

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