India v Australia, 2nd Test, Chennai, 2nd day

The day 'Hollywood' was crowned

Peter English

October 15, 2004

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Shane Warne: The wattle-blond bombshell who turned into Australia's greatest bowler © Getty Images
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The crown may sit slightly uncomfortably for Shane Warne, but before he collected the world record he was already Australian bowling's king. Warne deferred to Dennis Lillee before the second Test, saying "DK" would always be the country's greatest, but a coronation that started when he passed his hero in sleepy Auckland in 2000 is now complete.

Lillee's 355 wickets sat in the throne for three years, until they were passed by Richard Hadlee, and Warne's reign could be over in a couple of months. But Warne changed the game in a way Lillee never could. Where Lillee incited, Warne excited. Lillee's legion charged in, wore headbands, flicked off sweat with their fingers and got wickets. Warne's disciples tried to spin the ball metres and struggled to land it on the pitch. After Lillee came McDermott, Hughes, McGrath and Gillespie. After Warne there is Cameron White, whose spin is more like Anil Kumble's than his Victoria team-mate's.

Warne has inspired playgrounds full of flippers, but researchers can find nothing nearing a clone. A soccer striker can pot goals at will from inside the area, but very few can curl the ball in regularly from 30 yards. Over 22 yards, Warne has changed the way Australians watch the game and revived interest in an art that had been dying since the days of Clarrie Grimmett and Bill O'Reilly.

Early in his career he was gazed at because he was stunningly different to the pace monotony. Later he was monitored to see if the magic remained after long absences with serious shoulder, finger and diuretic issues. Yet, he still kept swallowing milestones: Paul Wiseman to pass Lillee, Alec Stewart for 400, Hashan Tillakaratne for 500 and Upul Chandana, in Cairns, to equal Muttiah Muralitharan on 527.

But 533 was the one he - and everyone else - was waiting for. Losing the plot in the first Test as he pushed too hard for history, Warne stepped out on his own when Irfan Pathan edged to Matthew Hayden in the first session. With a regal air he collected the ball from David Shepherd and waved it to the crowd. However, the new status did not prevent a pounding from Virender Sehwag, who he eventually had caught in the deep. India have always troubled him.



Warne has inspired playgrounds full of flippers, but researchers can find nothing nearing a clone © Getty Images
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Beginning against them in 1991-92, Warne must have wondered if he'd ever get a Test wicket. A podgy 22-year-old who had been booted from the Academy, he was pasted all over the SCG by Ravi Shastri, who became his only wicket alongside 150 runs. But he kept ripping the ball with his strong wrists and foiled a late charge by Sri Lanka when they threatened to sneak away in 1992. Back in Australia he introduced his flipper against West Indies and the Ball of the Century to Mike Gatting turned his career. The wattle-blond bombshell had arrived.

"Hollywood" was an early nickname and everyone tuned in to see what the blockbuster would do next. He once complained his life was a soap opera. Raking through the closets of Ramsay Street's Dr Karl and Summer Bay's Alf Stewart could never create so much interest. Drug scandals followed hat-tricks, lewd text messages were sent with the same fingers delivering mystery balls. Potty-mouthed sledging was heard on microphones and he was often overweight. Photographers camped outside his house and followed his children to school whenever he was required for the front pages instead of the back.

Through it all he continued to plot wickets and retired from the one-day game, prolonging his career in whites and his attack on the world record. While losing the mark to Muralitharan seems inevitable, it will take somebody extra-special - more talented, more engaging, more prolific than Lillee, Miller or McGrath - to knock off Warne as Australia's greatest bowler.

Peter English is Australasian editor of Wisden Cricinfo.

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