Australian cricket January 11, 2013

First glimpse of Shane Warne

I remember my first encounter with Shane Warne, in 1993, when Australia were about to play their first match of the Ashes tour against an England Amateurs XI at Radlett, just north of London

© Philip Brown

I remember my first encounter with Shane Warne. It was 1993 and Australia were about to play their first match of the Ashes tour against an England Amateurs XI at Radlett, just north of London. Warne was signing autographs for children. I took some photographs and spoke to him about his ambitions for taking wickets in the upcoming Ashes series. I think I might have suggested something about him taking 20 wickets in the series and Warne appeared quite excited about getting anywhere near that figure.

I admit it wasn't the most interesting verbal exchange in the history of rivetting verbal exchanges but the point is I remember the first time I photographed and spoke to the bloke. Warne, I think it is fair to say, divides opinion. Some people adore him and some dislike him but you can't help respect Warne for everything he's achieved in the game. Personally, I do like him.

As an aside, I think this Radlett match was the only time I took my dog Molly to a cricket match I was photographing. She didn't enjoy being tethered to a fence and would communicate her displeasure by barking constantly. So apologies to anyone who sat in the posh tent at Radlett that day and were disturbed by a demented, but loveable, barking dog. I went to the other end of the ground which had better photographic backgrounds and was also significantly quieter.

It's amazing to think that 20 years on Warne is a cricket legend and is still playing in the Big Bash League that is going on in the southern hemisphere. It seems he has had a tiny Twitter spat with the Adelaide franchise. Last week he was having an on-field war with Marlon Samuels in which he threw a ball at Samuels who retaliated in kind by tossing his bat towards Warne. Warne was fortunate that Samuels is not particularly accomplished at tossing cricket bats at a human-sized target. This could well become an Olympic sport within the next 50 years. Who knows?

Last month there were stories being written about Warne making a comeback for this year's Ashes series. Unlikely ? Very. Impossible? Put it this way, there's more chance of Susan Boyle* joining Girls Aloud. Sorry, I've digressed again.

The three cricketers I've probably taken the most photographs of over the years must be Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Flintoff and Shane Warne. When matches start drifting you can find your lens almost aiming itself at these players.

Warne coming on to bowl in a game would give me a silent nudge to concentrate more as anything could happen. I've been at the Oval and seen him collect his 400th Test wicket, I've been at Old Trafford to photograph him dismissing his 600th victim and I've been at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for his 700th. I was also in Sydney after his retirement from Test cricket when he wandered around the ground with his children.

Once at Hampshire when Warne was promoting some new fangled online poker game (cricket poker anyone?) he bowled to me in the nets. I was never quite good enough to be selected for my country but came closer than most Australians in 1989. I was one of only a handful of Australians in the ground as the national team played Warwickshire and I think Australia had only nine fit players. I was expecting a tap on the shoulder asking me to take the field but it just didn't happen. I did wear Steve Waugh's whites in a press match once and remember returning them to him covered in mud, after they were laundered. Waugh wasn't exactly famous for his smile and I definitely didn't witness one that day. Anyway, after Warne bowled me a third delivery at Southampton I stupidly shouted, "Is that all you've got?" before facing the fourth ball, which turned out to be a bouncer.

The photo I'm displaying with this shocking ramble is a shot I took of Warne way back on that Ashes tour in 1993. It was a long time before digital photography and this photograph was shot on film. That meant a relatively long wait between taking the photograph and seeing the negative after it was developed, fixed, dried and sleeved in that order. So there would have been many hours of wondering whether I had captured the image successfully or not.

This was, I'm pretty sure, the only time I saw Warne open his mouth like this before bowling. He probably did it a few times in his career… while bowling I mean. He obviously opened his mouth to eat (especially in 1997 when he was quite a lot larger) and to smoke during his playing days.

No doubt Warne pulled a face to just attempt to distract the England batsman. He had lots of tricks in his armoury and used them all during his long and not quite completed career. I was more than happy with the image. The Telegraph used it with a wrap-up of the series in which the sheikh of tweak actually ended up capturing 34 England wickets.

Basically Warne makes pictures. He's photogenic. Point your camera with an appropriate lens attached at him and in a relatively short space of time you will have a useful, interesting and possibly publishable image.

I don't know what he's got exactly but as a photographer I wish more cricketers had 'it'.

* Warne even had his own prime-time television show a couple of years ago in Australia called "Warnie" and he actually interviewed Susan Boyle. Just thought I'd mention it.

An Australian freelance cricket photographer based in England, Philip Brown has photographed over 150 Test matches around the world