SHANE WARNE was perhaps the greatest and most charismatic cricketer of all time.
A genius and a one-man headline industry.
Warne tragically passed away aged 52 after a ‘suspected heart attack’Credit: AFP
His 708 Test wickets is the second-most of all timeCredit: Getty
Warne couldn’t just make a cricket ball talk, he could make it recite poetry.
He revitalised the once-dying art of leg-spin bowling.
A whole global generation of children wanted to bowl like Warne.
None of them managed it, of course, but millions tried. They are still trying.
There were women, bookmakers and drugs yet his off-field scrapes only added to the legend.
Most of all there was the bowling. There will always be the bowling.
Warne was found unresponsive in a villa in ThailandCredit: EPA
People will be talking about Warne’s bowling in 100 years.
For many of us, it started one afternoon in Manchester in early June 1993.
Warne had played eleven Test matches and was building a reputation as a spin bowler of unusual skill and personality.
But what could he do on cricket’s biggest stage – the Ashes? What could he do? Only bowl the Ball of the Century with his first-ever ball against England.
Warne spun the delivery so hard that it swerved in the air, pitched outside Mike Gatting’s leg stump and fizzed and turned past Gatting’s bat and hit the off stump.
Nobody could believe it, least of all Gatting.
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I have watched that ball dozens of times and it continues to defy gravity and logic.
A superstar was born and, for the next 13 years, Warne tortured and tormented batsmen.
He tied them in knots with his bowling and frequently overwhelmed them with the force of his personality.
It was his dynamic personality that helped captain Warne inspire the unfancied Rajasthan Royals to victory in the first Indian Premier League in 2008.
I faced Warne in the nets for fun during that summer of 1993 and, for almost 30 years, was lucky to speak to and interview the great bowler many times.
Warne and I in the netsCredit: News Group Newspapers Ltd
His cricket brain was razor-sharp, his sense of fun and energy ever-present.
There were countless more brilliant balls.
Remember the one to Andrew Strauss at Edgbaston in 2005 that turned so far it bowled England’s opener behind his legs as he tried to kick it away?
England regained the Ashes in 2005 after almost 30 years. But Warne took 40 wickets and even the Barmy Army was cheering his name.
With that blond hair and piercing eyes, Warne had an aura. He was a magnetic personality. Girls were rarely far from his thoughts.
Once, in mid-interview with a journalist friend, he went away to meet a woman. He returned, though, with a smile and finished the chat.
He could be harsh if he took against someone – just ask former West Indies batsman Marlon Samuels – but he was a loyal and down-to-earth friend.
He wanted pizza rather than Michelin stars and this winter hosted an Ashes Christmas Day barbeque at his house in Melbourne.
At every Test, Warne could be spotted sneaking to a quiet corner for an illicit cigarette, or dart as he called them.
Warne was a man who oozed charismaCredit: Getty
The Australian cricket legend played 145 Test matches wearing the baggy greenCredit: Getty
Warne’s childhood dream was actually to play Aussie Rules and the No.23 on his shirt was in tribute to a player called Dermott Brereton, not Michael Jordan. He fell into cricket almost by accident.
But his progress was rapid. He had very strong wrists – Warne put it down to spending time in a wheelchair because of a childhood injury – and developed a repertoire of leggies, googles, flippers and a few other supposed deliveries that he made up. Kidology was part of the fun.
Others could spin the ball but what really set Warne apart was his accuracy. He could land the damn thing on a sixpence.
Warne’s final tweet less than 24 hours before he died was a tribute to former Aussie wicketkeeper Rod Marsh, who himself passed away this week.
As the dumbstruck world of cricket tried to come to terms with Warne’s death, the tributes poured in.
Kevin Pietersen and Michael Vaughan both called him “King” while former Indian opener Virender Sehwag said “he made bowling spin cool.”
But most could scarcely comprehend the news.
Warne retired from the game he loved in 2007 before moving into punditry and coachingCredit: Getty