Shane Warne retires December 21, 2006

Warne for the ages

Long live the king © Getty Images

Shane Warne seemed destined to play forever. He was as unlikely to give up Test cricket as he was to rub out his other vices. He loved the game, the dressing room, the camaraderie and was in command whenever his right hand gripped the ball.

Even at 37, a time when many true greats are incapable of sustaining their standards, he was heaving and weaving his side towards the Ashes. Surely the talk of him stepping down was like his promotion of the flipper - more bluff than fact. Glenn McGrath, who is also tipped to retire, spoke about playing till he was 40, but it was always Warne who was most likely to get there. It won't happen.

This is the news Australia has been dreading since his finger operation in 1996 when we first realised his mortality. Ten years later - through wonderful, successful, jaw-dropping, career-threatening and often infuriating times - he has finally realised his career is ticking towards midnight and the Sydney Test will be his 145th and last.

It's impossible to measure how much Australian cricket will miss him. Warne has ensured the stunning reputations of four captains during his 15-year career and helped change the game's reputation as a sombre examination of endurance. Warne made everything exciting with his beach-boy looks and snapping wrist that killed batsmen in a way we had forgotten about in a world dominated by pace.

Over after over he walked in and lobbed the ball invitingly before it would drift, dip and turn. It was cruel for batsmen and delicious for the rest. Later in his career he proved he could work miracles when the same thing happened with the ball going straight.

Warne was a matador who refused the traditional weapon of speed. Thousands tried to match him, from impressionable children to envious parents, and the most dramatic measure of his success - more than the wickets, the strike-rates or the scandals - is that nobody has been able to copy him.

In a side where the new boys step comfortably into the role of their predecessors, no matter how big the names, Warne's spot may never been filled. We have been fortunate to live in the age of a Wisden Cricketer of the Century, just like those who boasted about seeing Hobbs, Bradman, Sobers and Richards.

Warne is more than a great name. He has kept people young, lifted the sport's interest and become a global superstar. With his passing, probably into the commentary box next season, cricket will wait for somebody to step up. Perhaps it will be Kevin Pietersen. Perhaps we'll be sitting in hope for a long time. What a ride, what a player.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo