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Plays like a peach, falls like a prat. You've just got to love Shane Warne

Tanya Aldred
11-Aug-2005
Shane Warne celebrates his five wickets, England v Australia, Edgbaston, August 6, 2005

Shane Warne: the best thing to happen to cricket since decimalisation  •  Getty Images

Reasons to hate Shane Warne: 1 His links with bookmakers, 2 His flirtation with diet pills, 3 His laissez-faire attitude to marriage, 4 The availability of his mobile phone number to sexy nurses, 5 His bad language, 6 His vulgar post-match celebrations, 7 His nationality, 8 His success, 9 Stuart MacGill.
Reasons to love Shane Warne: Because. He is who he is - a rogue and a knave but the best thing to have happened to cricket since decimalisation - a superstar with magic in his wrists.
Do you remember cricket before he came along? In England at least, some of us grew up thinking that spinners were men of premature middle age who went by the names of John and Phil. Their job, we had learnt, was to hold up one end while the fast bowlers (or nearest imitators, in England's case) took wickets at the other. A spinner was by necessity, possibly by birth, boring. And what was a legspinner anyway? Now, the wrist-spinner is the master of the known universe. The two current players to have taken 500 wickets are Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan. The one bowler to be voted into the top five cricketers of the twentieth century? Warne. With due respect to Abdul Qadir, Warne single-handedly popularised a dying art.
And all this from a bad boy who hails from the seaside suburb of St Kilda. A beach bum with a fondness for the bleach bottle, chunky jewellery, and the odd diamond earring. A young man who got into scrapes, who wasn't very keen on regimented practice, and was kicked out of the Australian academy.
In the early days he looked like an old-fashioned garage mechanic with a preference for liquid lunch. His tummy swayed as he walked in to bowl, just covered by the slightly creased shirt that was never tucked into his trousers. It didn't matter though. With boulders for hands and hams for arms, he had all the right equipment for 36 inch-perfect legbreaks, a quick scratch, and a slice or 12 of pizza afterwards.
Now, post-ban, he has gone all streamlined. A friend of mine even swore she saw a six-pack nestling within his shirt. But the ghost of the laidback guzzler remains; even with a dinner suit he is given to wearing a vest and flip-flops. Mark Ray took a great black and white picture of Warne on tour making a snack. Barefoot and with a cheese sandwich he looked completely at home - how could you not warm to a man like that? But the charm and insouciance would all be for be nothing if he was no good.
Take one Warne. Give him the ball and put him on the field with 12 other men. Then try to flick through your paper or to concentrate on someone else. He makes it impossible. Warne with the ball is a horrible addiction. With each gesture: flick, ball toss, lip suck, trigger of the finger to the temple, he intimidates the batsman. His slightly lop-sided skip is full of menace, and that's before he even bowls: old fashioned legbreak, zooter, flipper, slider, backspinner.
Of course he left his calling card early: in his 12th Test in Manchester on 4 June 1993. His timing, as always, was perfect - it was his first delivery in an Ashes contest and eagerly awaited on both sides. The ball sprung from his hand, drifted to leg, fizzed like a top, and shot back two feet to knock out Mike Gatting's off stump. The ball of the century they say - not a bad achievement in itself - which also succeeded in scarring a generation of English batsmen.
My favourite memory of him is during a Championship game for Hampshire against Kent in 2000. The sun had been blazing since dawn and salt prickled your face like a shaggy dog. Rahul Dravid was playing for Kent and the day became an epic battle between the two. Dravid came off the victor, making a beautiful century, but Warne tried every trick in the book in two sensational spells from the pavilion end - a twirling dervish from the antipodes with a white stripe of sun cream on his nose, bewitching the crowd.
For someone of such talent, he has managed a surprising number of comebacks. There was the 1999 World Cup campaign which started disastrously and ended with Australia victorious and Warne being named Man of the Match in the final. Then there was the dodgy diuretic (for which he blamed his mum and her diet pills, which wasn't his finest hour) discovered on the eve of Australia's first game of the 2003 World Cup in South Africa. He was sent home and banned for a year. Few believed that he could successfully come back but he returned fitter than ever, went to Sri Lanka and became the first spinner to take 500 Test wickets.
It is the little things that make Warne who he is. His promotion with Nicorette which ended in fabulous style when he was caught on camera having a fag. His charitable work. His almost lone willingness among Australians to stand up for his big rival Muralitharan's action.
Warne gets it wrong, often spectacularly. He isn't a cardboard cut-out. He is a real-life star who has cocked up but has made cricket, and life, immeasurably more fun. This summer's Ashes will be the last chance to see him at his favourite sport - eating Englishmen for lunch.
Though genius does not beget genius - and the other Test teams are hardly awash in legspinners - this very minute a boy is whipping his wrist because of Warne. His legacy will come good someday soon.

Tanya Aldred writes on cricket and other sports for The Guardian