Magician with a wicked charm - Warne's loss a blow to cricket's heart

At 52, Warne had a massive legacy to rest upon and ahead of him were innumerable summers through which he could share his zest for cricket.

Shane Warne at his bowling mark during an Ashes Test in 2006.   -  GETTY IMAGES

It turned out to be a Friday shrouded in despair. The day broke with news trickling in about legendary wicket-keeper Rodney Marsh’s demise and as the skies darkened, his fellow Aussie and the sultan of spin Shane Warne followed him into the mists of time.

At 52, Warne had a massive legacy to rest upon and ahead of him were innumerable summers through which he could share his zest for cricket. Tragically, it was not to be and like Dean Jones, who passed away in 2020, Warne’s heart gave up. Cricket lost a rockstar, who practised the slow art of spin and added words like zooter to its vocabulary.

 

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As beginnings go, it was deceptive as hell. Warne emerged as a lad struggling to rein in Ravi Shastri while the latter scored a double century during the Sydney Test in 1992. Sachin Tendulkar struck a 148 too and Warne’s first steps seemed consigned to the cobwebs of memory. But the irrepressible spinner had countless tricks as batters would soon learn.

It started with the ‘Ball of the Century’ to a flummoxed Mike Gatting at Manchester’s Old Trafford in 1993. A willow-wielder known to be adept at countering spin, was castled and ‘Warne the legend’ was born. He along with Muttiah Muralitharan and Anil Kumble gifted renaissance to spin. Finally when the wily practitioner hung his boots in 2007, he had 708 Test wickets besides 293 ODI scalps.

Warne had presence and the naughty words to back it up. He was a magician conjuring new tricks and all this was done with a classical air coated with the latest marketing tools. He would christen his new-found deliveries and would prise out wickets with a wicked charm. If the rival got the better of him, like Tendulkar often did, he would graciously acknowledge and applaud. In the hard-edged professional sporting world, Warne revealed a sense of the amateur. “I trust my head not laptops,” he once said during an Indian Premier League (IPL) press-conference.

Be it the Ashes or other significant contests, Warne was up for the battle. Named among Wisden’s five cricketers of the last century, Warne sparkled in doughty Australian teams headlined by splendid batters and incisive fast bowlers. He lent them a mystical charm and turned out to be the buddy most hung out with. Later as captain and mentor for Rajasthan Royals in the IPL, he continued to reveal his leadership skills and then he seamlessly moved into the commentary box, ever alive to the moment, eyes lighting up on seeing a fresh talent and always retaining his sense of wonder about the game he loved deeply.

His personal life provided fodder to tabloids, he was mixed up with bookies while sharing ‘weather-information’ and had also taken a banned diuretic pill. Warne was always in the news, on the field and off it. And on a wretched Friday, the news about his departure is a blow to cricket’s heart. This is gut-wrenching and the sport is poorer.

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