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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Warne was the greatest spinner I’ve seen and an incredibly generous cricketer | Shane Warne

The shockwaves are not confined to Australia. Shane Warne, like Rod Marsh, was a global presence in cricket. We were all trying to come to terms with the loss of Marsh, reading the torrent of tributes including this one from Warne, which suddenly acquired a haunting quality: “Sad to hear the news that Rod Marsh has passed. He was a legend of our great game and an inspiration to so many young boys and girls. Rod cared deeply about cricket and gave so much – especially to Australia and England players.” Then the second thunderbolt struck and this time without any warning.

Warne was a legend and an inspiration. He started under Marsh’s wing at the Adelaide academy before graduating in spectacular fashion to become the greatest spin bowler I’ve ever seen, someone who singlehandedly kept the art of wrist-spin bowling alive in the 1990s.

Marsh once counselled about the dangers of making a simple game too complicated. In that spirit we can analyse Warne’s greatness. Technically he was able to spin the ball vigorously and to land it in the right place with rare consistency for a wrist-spinner. He had the capacity to read a batsman’s mind and more importantly he could get under his skin, often prompting desperate acts of foolishness.

Warne was not the complete wrist-spinner. His googly, the one that spun into the right-hander, was probably inferior to that of England’s Adil Rashid. It was not that well-disguised and he did not use it very often. But that did not matter much. The leg break spun prodigiously as the replays of Mike Gatting and Andrew Strauss heading back to the pavilion as if betrayed by the cricketing gods demonstrate. And his flipper slid devilishly off the pitch as a famous dismissal of Alec Stewart reminds us.

Warne’s reputation as a cavalier cricketer, on and off the field, is justified but is not the whole story. He oozed confidence as he fizzed the first delivery of his spell out of the back of his hand whereas many spinners would be cagey at the start, more concerned with landing the ball in the right spot rather than spinning it ferociously. He would attack right from the start of a spell, staring down the batsman in a manner that suggested that the fall of another wicket was imminent and inevitable. He would hint at a limitless bag of tricks with talk of strange deliveries like “the zooter”, which apparently had the ball doing a somersault on its passage down the wicket.

Shane Warne climbs the steps of Hampshire’s Rose Bowl where he played for eight years and was a hugely popular captain from 2005 to 2007
Shane Warne climbs the steps of Hampshire’s Rose Bowl where he played for eight years and was a hugely popular captain from 2005 to 2007 Photograph: Chris Young/PA

Yet he possessed other less glamorous virtues. He was incredibly accurate. There was no easy escape to the other end and even if the batsman managed a single there was probably Glenn McGrath waiting ready to maintain the torment. If his prey was scoring too freely he might say: “Round the wicket, ump,” and would aim just outside the right-hander’s leg-stump, leaving a risky sweep as the only scoring option. It was almost a compliment when Warne used this ploy and against England he only really found it necessary when bowling to Graham Gooch and Kevin Pietersen. He recognised the need to test the patience of his opponents in between the magic balls. All the while he would keep the batsman in his eye, talking through him in his conversation with Adam Gilchrist behind the stumps. There was no respite because he loved the contest.

Warne was also an incredibly generous cricketer, a characteristic he shares with some of the great players like Ian Botham and Ben Stokes, partly because he was so good that he never felt threatened by younger upstarts coming through. He may have exasperated colleagues now and again but they liked him. He had the capacity to make ordinary cricketers feel better. He captained Hampshire for three seasons and they warmed to the way he would bolster the confidence of the ordinary mortals in the team. But for a few indiscretions he might have been a brilliant captain of Australia – as with Marsh.

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Maybe Warne was only ever in complete control of a colourful life when he was on a cricket field. Take that epic series of 2005. At the time there were major complications in his personal life as his marriage was disintegrating. Nonetheless he performed brilliantly throughout that summer, taking 40 Test wickets and scoring 249 runs. By the time the two teams had reached the Oval for the final Test the pantomime chant from the home crowd: “Where’s your missus gone?” had given way to: “There’s only one Shane Warne”. And they were right.

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