Shane Keith Warne, born 13 September 1969, is a former Australian international cricketer widely regarded as one of the greatest bowlers in the history of the game. At first there were nerves and chubbiness. Later came the wild soaring leg-breaks, followed by fame and flippers. For a long while there were women, then a bookmaker, then diet pills, then more women – and headlines, always headlines. Now he has come out the other end, his bluff and bluster and mischief and innocence somehow intact. The man who in 2000 was rated among the five greatest cricketers of the 20th century was, the only specialist bowler selected in the quintet, in 2006, bowling better than ever.
Warne played his first Test match in 1992, and his 708 wickets was the record for the most wickets taken by any bowler in Test cricket, until it was broken by Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan on 3 December 2007. He took over 1000 international wickets (in Tests and One-Day Internationals)—he was the second bowler to reach this milestone after Muttiah Muralitharan. A useful lower-order batsman, Warne also scored over 3000 Test runs, and he holds the record for most Test runs without a century. For all that, Warne’s greatest feats are perhaps those of the last couple of years of his career. Returning in 2004 from a 12-month hiatus for swallowing forbidden diuretics, he swept aside 26 Sri Lankan batsmen in three Tests, and the following year scalped a world record 96 victims – a stunning 24 more than in his show-stopping 1993 – and still missed out on the Allan Border Medal.
At the end he was helped by his stockpile of straight balls: a zooter, slider, toppie and back-spinner, one that drifted in, one that sloped out, and another that didn’t budge. Yet he seldom got his wrong’un right and rarely landed his flipper. More than ever he relied on his two oldest friends: excruciating accuracy and an exquisite leg-break, except that he controlled the degree of spin – and mixed it – at will. Like the great classical painters, he stumbled upon the art of simplicity. His bowling was never simpler, nor more effective, nor lovelier to look at. Warne is more famous than he is loved. Maybe we didn’t fully appreciate his genius until he quit at the end of the 2006-07 Ashes series when he achieved his final goal, the reclaiming of the urn; maybe, like Bradman’s, it will become ever more apparent with the passing of decades. One thing’s for sure, though. Cricket was poorer for his going.
His story was part fairytale, part pantomime, part hospital drama, part adults-only romp, part glittering awards ceremony. He took a Test hat-trick, won the Man-of-the-Match prize in a World Cup final and was the subject of seven books. He also played Australian domestic cricket for his home state of Victoria, and English domestic cricket for Hampshire. He was captain of Hampshire for three seasons, from 2005 to 2007 and was probably the wiliest captain Australia never had. His ball that gazoodled Mike Gatting in 1993, bouncing outside leg stump and cuffing off, is unanimously esteemed the most famous in history. He revived leg spin, thought to be extinct, and is now pre-eminent in a game so transformed that we sometimes wonder where the next champion fast bowlers will come from.
He retired from international cricket in January 2007, at the end of Australia’s 5-0 Ashes series victory over England. Following his retirement from international cricket, Warne played a full season at Hampshire in 2007. In March 2008, Warne signed to play in the Indian Premier League for the Jaipur team, Rajasthan Royals in the first edition of the tournament, where he played the roles of both captain and coach. He led his team to victory against the Chennai Super Kings in a cliffhanger of a final match on 1 June 2008. He is also a cricket commentator and a professional poker player.
-Nikhil Sharad Jadhav