Shane Keith Warne
September 13, 1969, Ferntree Gully, Victoria
Right hand bat
At first there were nerves and chubbiness. Then came wild soaring legbreaks, followed by fame and flippers. For a long while there were women, then a bookmaker, then diet pills, then more women - and headlines, always headlines. Now he has come out the other end, his bluff and bluster and mischief and innocence somehow intact. The man who in 2000 was rated among the five greatest cricketers of the 20th century was, in 2006, bowling better than ever.
When Warne likened his life to a soap opera he was selling himself short. His story was part fairytale, part pantomime, part hospital drama, part adult's-only romp, part glittering awards ceremony. He took a Test hat-trick, won the Man-of-the-Match prize in a World Cup final and was the subject of seven books. He was the first cricketer to reach 700 Test wickets. He swatted more runs than any other Test player without making a hundred, and was probably the wiliest captain Australia never had. His ball that gazoodled Mike Gatting in 1993, bouncing outside leg stump and cuffing off, is unanimously esteemed the most famous in history. He revived legspin, thought to be extinct, and is now pre-eminent in a game so transformed that we sometimes wonder where the next champion fast bowlers will come from.
For all that, Warne's greatest feats are perhaps those of the last couple of years of his career. Returning in 2004 from a 12-month hiatus for swallowing forbidden diuretics, he swept aside 26 Sri Lankan batsmen in three Tests, and the following year scalped a world record 96 victims - a stunning 24 more than in his show-stopping 1993 - and still missed out on the Allan Border Medal. Forty of those were Englishmen in what sometimes appeared to be a lone stand in a thrilling Ashes series. At the end he was helped by his stockpile of straight balls: a zooter, slider, toppie and back-spinner, one that drifted in, one that sloped out, and another that didn't budge. Yet he seldom got his wrong'un right and rarely landed his flipper. More than ever he relied on his two oldest friends: excruciating accuracy and an exquisite legbreak, except that he controlled the degree of spin - and mixed it - at will. Like the great classical painters, he stumbled upon the art of simplicity. His bowling was never simpler, nor more effective, nor lovelier to look at.
Maybe, as with Posh Spice or Kylie Minogue, Warne is more famous than he is loved. Maybe we didn't fully appreciate his genius until he quit at the end of the 2006-07 Ashes series when he achieved his final goal, the reclaiming of the urn; maybe, like Bradman's, it will become ever more apparent with the passing of decades. One thing's for sure, though. Cricket was poorer for his going.
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