Leg-spinners are wizards. Shane Warne’s wizardry made him one of the all-time greats. His exploits outstripped legendary Australian leggies Clarie Grimmett, Bill O’Reilly and Richie Benaud. I never saw them bowl, but I’ve seen Warne outfox batsmen with his magical deliveries. It wasn’t difficult to see why Warne’s considered one of the best in history.
A legend, he was. That’s why Warne’s passing on Friday plunged the cricketing world into grief. It was the second blow to cricket in 24 hours since it came soon after the demise of Rodney Marsh. A double whammy for cricket.
I had the opportunity to interview Warne two years ago. COVID had forced the Indian cricket board to host the Indian Premier League 2020 edition in the UAE. Warne was Rajasthan Royals’ mentor, and as their brand ambassador, he agreed to the interview.
A beaming Warne walked into the Gulf News office at Al Safa, Dubai, fist-bumped with everyone around and stopped to have a word with each person who spoke to him. Even before the interview had started, he had everyone in the newsroom eating out of his palm.
One of the questions tossed from the audience was, what’s your favourite memory as a cricketer? The Mike Gatting wicket, I thought. “My Test debut,” Warne said. “The scoreboard at the Sydney Cricket Ground said, ‘Congratulations, Shane Warne. Australia’s 350th Test player’”, he elaborated.
It was an absolute pleasure interviewing Shane Warne, alongside Gulf News Senior Associate Editor Gautam Bhattacharyya. The Australian never ducked a question and was direct in his answers. He wore the tag of the “all-time great” lightly and was always effusive in his praise of other leggies. The interview over, he posed for incessant requests for photos.
I had followed his career since his forgettable debut against India in January 1992. Even his subsequent displays never gave any inkling of what was to follow. The following year changed all that. The 1993 Ashes tour of England was the turning phase of Warne’s career. The viciously-spun delivery that bowled Gatting round his legs was hailed as the “Ball of the Century”, assuring Warne a place in the pantheon of leg-spin greats.
Before Warne made his international debut, Abdul Qadir had been spinning the Imran Khan-led Pakistan to victories. Later a young L. Sivaramakrishnan’s leg-spin gave the Indian attack plenty of teeth. But they both faded away as Warne’s stock rose after that brilliant Ashes tour. Warne continued to display his mastery of leg-spin and played a key role in the resurgence of what was a dying craft.
With more than 1,000 international wickets, Warne was the poster boy for leg-spin. He later led the Rajasthan Royals to their only IPL title in the inaugural season. As a commentator, he was incisive, and his bold assessments sometimes didn’t go down well with the players. But that didn’t stop him.
Warne had the mentality of a fast bowler. He expected to pick up a wicket with every delivery. Such was his aggression. A true genius.
Rest well, Shane Warne.