How many spectators go to a stadium to watch a bowler? Unless you are Jeff Thomson. Michael Holding. Richard Hadlee. Andy Roberts. Allan Donald. It was a joy to just sit back and see them perform. The trio of Bishan Singh Bedi, B. S. Chandrasekhar and E. A. S. Prasanna was famous for holding the attention of the audience. Then came Shane Warne, the most beguiling exponent of spin in the modern era. We prayed for the captain to toss the ball to Warne. If his introduction into the attack dented India’s batting, so be it. Our eyes would be glued to this undisputed master of leg-spin.

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History is full of artists who created magic with the ball. One has heard tales of the legendary Subhash Gupte and Richie Benaud. The legendary and mysterious Clarrie Grimmett, who took 216 wickets in just 37 Tests. Our own Anil Kumble set such high benchmarks. His career ran along Warne and Mushtaq Ahmed and the three leg-spinners shared a splendid bonding and mutual respect. They would make it a point to have one meal together during the course of a tournament and Warne was the one who would look forward to a dinner at the earliest occasion.

Warne could make the ball talk. The strong shoulder that he put behind some of his lethal deliveries was a weapon he developed over time after a poor debut against India in Sydney in 1992 when he conceded 150 runs. He confessed it was a huge learning for him. Warne, however, did not make any impression on the Indian batsmen. In later years he admitted that he dreaded it when asked to bowl against India. He did not really worry about the state of the pitch he was to bowl on. Just like Chandrasekhar and Kumble. He loved his bowling and that was his forte too.

So, Warne was a phenomenon. He must have bowled hundred balls of the century. He had to come up with a stunner, a ball of the century, every time he broke a partnership. Every time he was tasked with a job he accomplished it with such fluency and consistency that many batsmen developed a complex when they took guard against him. True, N. S. Sidhu played him with a merry swing of the bat and V. V. S. Laxman on-drove him with baffling self-belief, but it was Warne who enjoyed the combat even when finishing at the losing end. There was an affable side of Warne’s personality where he admired the opponent and never failed to give credit.


One for the album: For cricket fans, Shane Warne and Sachin Tendulkar in the same frame, flanking Don Bradman, will easily be the photograph of the century.


Sachin Tendulkar and Warne were awesome competitors with each paying the other the highest compliments. Warne never shied from confessing that Tendulkar gave him “nightmares.” As far as Tendulkar was concerned, his encounters with Warne needed special preparation. The stint with L. Sivaramakrishnan pitching in the ‘rough’ ahead of a Test in Chennai helped the Indian maestro take on the Australian wizard with confidence. Tendulkar acknowledged a good delivery from Warne with a nod and Warne made no attempt to hide his admiration when he was hit for a boundary off even a good delivery. For cricket fans, the two in the same frame, flanking Don Bradman, was easily the photograph of the century.

That he loved his fans was well known. The champion that he was, Warne never wasted an opportunity to spend time with his admirers, chatting up in the hotel lobby, at the ground, and best, on the streets. Cricket lovers in Kolkata would remember occasions when they would have spotted Warne on his own, just strolling around the team hotel in Esplanade, having fun with street vendors. Evenings, he would step out of the cozy comforts of the hotel and walk down to Park Street for a drink. The idea was to soak in the local culture and understand the finest aspects of it.

His fascination for baked beans saw Warne carry more than a 100 cans in his bag when he travelled to India. He was not prepared for the Indian curries. It so happened that on his many subsequent visits to the sub-continent, the Australian came to relish the local food. Those who dined with him had stories of his liking for naan and dal . Warne was essentially a man who liked to make new friends and nothing pleased him more than a youngster requesting some technical guidance in leg-spin.

Warne was a cricketing genius with working-class desperation to win: Ian Healy

He was a journalist’s delight. He was choosy and rightly so. He feared being misquoted and getting involved in needless controversies. It is another matter that controversies chased Warne but he was wise when he gave interviews and insisted on speaking into a recorder. It so happened that I had a message from the office for a Warne interview during a tournament in Sharjah. He had turned down no less than 20 requests. I sought Kumble’s help and Warne agreed to meet me at breakfast along with the Indian great on the day of the match.

The breakfast over, Warne bowled a googly. “Let’s do it at the ground.” I was not convinced. “When,” I asked. “When we bat. I will reach you,” he assured me. Saying goodbye to the interview, I reached the ground and took my place in the Press Box. The players’ area and the media box were separated by a railing. As Australia batted first, I saw Warne looking for me. I couldn’t believe he had remembered his promise — giving an interview with the match on and the entire Press Box looking on.

We spoke for more than half-an-hour during which he interacted with his teammates too. It was just incredible doing a Warne interview in full view of fellow scribes, some of whom he had flatly refused to speak. One of the journalists passed on a piece of paper with a question meant for him. Warne saw the slip, read the question and whispered, “I am not answering that question. This is your exclusive.” Personally, it was a never-to-be-forgotten experience because one of the finest of the game had made an effort to make it special for me and Sportstar .

Warne gave me a nightmare, too, during the 1999 World Cup with his sensational strikes in the semifinal against South Africa in Edgbaston. I was one of the many who had to rewrite the copy as Warne’s magic forced a tie and gave Australia a place in the final by virtue of having beaten South Africa in the league match. Herchelle Gibbs, Gary Kirsten, Hansie Cronje and Jacques Kallis were foxed by Warne’s guile in an epic contest.

Remember running into Warne before the final at Lord’s and sharing the tension of meeting the deadline after his show against South Africa. “Sometimes you have to earn your salary,” he quipped. It was worth it. To make a living by watching and writing on greats like Warne. There never will be another like him….