Shane Warne reaches 600 Test wickets August 11, 2005

The ride of the decade

Shane Warne was hungover when he stepped out of a Porsche for his first press conference with Australia. Despite a series of stalls and headaches that would have written off many contenders, he is still speeding 13 years later
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Shane Warne: what a ride © Getty Images

Shane Warne was hungover when he stepped out of a Porsche for his first press conference with Australia. Despite a series of stalls and headaches that would have written off many contenders, he is still speeding 13 years later.

Warne received news of his Test selection while standing at the MCG with a pie in one hand and a beer in the other. Today those sticky, stubby fingers gripped the record as the first to reach 600 wickets. It has been an unbelievable yet transparent journey.

Picked on a hunch, Warne was lucky to make his debut against India in 1991-92 after only four Sheffield Shield games for Victoria. He was fortunate to get a second after being pasted by Ravi Shastri and walking off with 1 for 150. But with his ear-ring in place and beach-bum, bottle-blond locks, he revolutionised legspin and the game itself, making it sexy and mesmerising after the attritional 1980s.

Instead of whites and strategically placed zinc, what Warne really craved was to run on to the MCG in a tight pair of black shorts and a sleeveless jersey. "All I wanted to do was play Aussies rules footy, but that ambition eventually changed once the importance and the privilege of playing for Australia hit home," he wrote in 1997. His career was snuffed after one match in the reserves for being too slow - a rare sporting failure that he turned to his advantage - and he has lit up cricket ever since.

The fire exploded at Old Trafford in 1993 and has burned the brightest and longest. He said this week that the Gatting ball was a fluke, but there has been nothing lucky about his rise. He has brought much mystery and produced strange ways of dismissing batsmen, which Marcus Trescothick proved again when Warne pitched in familiar Manchester rough.

Sweeping with the spin, Trescothick missed the ball and as he followed through it jumped off the back of the bat and bobbled to Adam Gilchrist. English supporters who have booed, cheered and chanted at him over four tours stood and applauded as he raised the ball and gave his wide-brimmed hat an old-fashioned wave.

A true bowling master, he always makes things - even getting in trouble - look easy. The difficulty is best defined by his example that gave children throughout Australia an excuse to test out leggies, flippers and zooters on ovals and in hallways. Despite the blanket coverage, Cameron White, a vague lookalike without the damaging repertoire, is the closest to a clone among thousands of "Warnebes".

Loved and hated, Australia deserve to fear his retirement. Already during this series he has showed he could carry the attack with or without Glenn McGrath. Forget the baldness, pick him for as long as opposition batsmen can't. His longevity is stunning - 126 Tests, a palm full of career-threatening injuries and more scandals than a cult religion. While his wife has deserted him along with many followers as his popularity and behaviour yo-yoed, Warne has revived an art that was dying and collected a tally of dismissals unthinkable when he first ripped a leg-break.

Dennis Lillee was Australia's leading wicket-taker on 355 when Warne sped from St Kilda third grade to the Test side in little more than two years. At 35, Warne could double Lillee's mark, but it will remain vulnerable to Muttiah Muralitharan in the short term and someone else with amazing endurance in the future.

However, Warne will always be the first to 600 and today, with help from Trescothick, was his moonwalk. Remember the moment and treasure the name. What a discovery, what a record, what a ride.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo