Few players enjoyed a closer view of a master bowler at work than Ian Healy, Australia's first-choice wicketkeeper until 1998-99 when Adam Gilchrist burst onto the scene. In this article, originally published in January 2000, Healy outlined the qualities that set Shane Warne apart from his peers. But, even he had no idea of the heights that Warne would go on to scale.
Down I'd go into my crouch early enough to watch Warnie's visible cues, but not long enough to get leg-lock. I'd position myself outside the off stump so that the batsman couldn't obscure my view easily, and I'd go through my cues. Every ball, my mind says: Watch the ball, move, stay down.
There's Warne's slow walk in, the build-up of energy through the crease, and the release. The flipper would have been detected two strides earlier, and this is not it. Legspinner coming, last seen leaving the hand, but how much will it turn? Looks like he's just rolled it out rather than ripping it, but it's heading straight for the big hole outside leg stump.
Stay down and move late, I keep telling my legs. This could do anything off the pitch, and by then it will be behind the batsman. Must ignore the batsman as he will only further distract me as I strive to isolate the ball. It should slide down leg, but will it? That's the dilemma, and I must wait and watch before deciding to move low and strong. Gloves low and relaxed enough to give with the ball, and in it goes cleanly. Pat yourself on the back, take a deep breath or two and settle in for your second delivery of a captivating 30-over spell.
How great it was to witness the hustling, bustling blond ball of body language, systematically glueing batsmen's feet to the crease, as they realised that what they had in mind for that innings simply wasn't going to work. Last-day survival plans became impossible, by even the world's best players, when Warnie spun his magic. On-field genius aside, he has the team's fortunes at heart, which further inspires peers of all experience levels.
I was lucky enough to have the best seat in the house as the man who recently became Australia's greatest wicket-taker dismantled opposition batting line-ups and changed the face of world cricket.
Shane Warne is not just Australia's most successful bowler, but the most successful spin bowler in Test history. These are my reflections on his amazing career.
What separated him from others
My five most memorable Warne wickets
How they've tried to beat him
I can't remember a batsman who collared Shane Warne's bowling for a whole innings when Warnie was fully fit. He will never be as good again as he was from 1993 up until his first injury. He says he is smarter bowler now, and I'd agree with that, because he didn't have to be too clever to release the best leggies that the game has seen for 40 overs on end. Pacing himself and rationing the poison is now part of the game-plan.
How he does it
Early footage shows him doing it easily, in contrast to today, when the whole body is employed to muscle the ball down there with the accompanying grunt. Back-leg drive has been a key to achieving energy on the ball for Warnie, and correct timing of shoulder rotation ensured good follow-through patterns and ball flight. Energy through the crease from these factors allows the fingers to flick and the ball to drift and drop.
When looking at his extravagant ability, with his workload, it is no coincidence that his finger and shoulder packed it in. Long recoveries followed. Warnie was never great at daily maintenance of vital body parts - finger, forearm and shoulder. Major rehabilitation was well done, but his dedication to massaging, stretching and strengthening affected areas as often as required was quite shoddy. This is not to say that this year he isn't the perfect physiological specimen - after I retired, anyway.
Warne's comments to me have been that he doesn't want to play much past 30. I for one hope that time is not up and this record merely fuels a fire that drives him to the world record (currently 434 wickets) and maybe on to 500. I want to see every bit of huff and puff expire from that bustling ball of body language before he declares.
Ian Healy took 366 catches and 29 stumpings in a 119-Test career for Australia, and formed a potent partnership with Shane Warne. This article first appeared in Wisden Cricket Monthly in January 2000.