In the end, he seemed to have reserved his final Googly – as beautifully deceptive as many of his deliveries with a cricket ball – in the way he bid farewell to the world. It was just that, unlike the joyous celebrations he engineered in the stands and in the drawing rooms every time he foxed a batter, the suddenness of it left people stunned into disbelief. Shane Keith Warne probably played the shortest format in life, leaving when he was just 52 years young.
And yet, he lived many lives on and off the field. Much like Don Bradman and Viv Richards, or his good friends and rivals Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara, he seduced fans across the world to fill the stadiums. A packed stadium with frenzy in the stands was his theatre. And Warne set the adrenalin flowing every time he had the ball in his hand. His deliveries seemed to defy both geometry and science, blessed with such art at the bowling crease that there was ‘no logic, only magic’ as he went about his business with passion and fire. In his pomp, he was much like a Grandmaster playing chess with the schoolboys; he just didn’t dismiss the batters, he destroyed them psychologically.
Interestingly enough, Shane Warne’s arrival in international cricket at Perth was against India where opener Ravi Shastri and Sachin Tendulkar took him to the cleaners. However, Shastri – who scored a double hundred – openly acknowledged that the leg spinner was blessed with rare skills and will soon have his place under the sun. How prophetic those words were!
As years rolled by, Warne’s love for life beyond the boundary made news too; his larger-than-life persona was always under the microscope. His call for baked beans and spaghetti on his first tour of India, supposedly because he wasn’t comfortable with spicy Indian food, grabbed headlines.
“Everyone thinks all I lived on in India for 12 weeks on the 1998 tour, was baked beans. False, incorrect,” he revealed later.
Apparently, having eaten spicy Indian food for a couple of months, at breakfast one morning Warne saw team coach Geoff Marsh open a tin of spaghetti and baked beans. He and some other players asked if they could have some too. Within days Cricket Australia had sent over a parcel. Or consignment.
“So we get to the docks where the baked beans and spaghetti have been delivered, and there’s 3 tonnes of it,” Warne recounted in an interview. “On both sides of this big crate (were the words) ‘Shane Warne, India’. There were other players who wanted the spaghetti and beans, but it was just addressed to me! And that’s how the myth was born.”
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Given his great cricketing acumen, it is an irony of fate that Warne will go down in history as the best captain Australia never had. However, at the age of 41, he demonstrated his leadership skills in India when he inspired a young, inexperienced team like Rajasthan Royals to become champions in the inaugural edition of the Indian Premiere League in 2008. He threw his boys into the deep, asking them to overcome the fear of failure. Players like Ravindra Jadeja and Yusuf Pathan among others made the most of Warne’s wealth of experience, and gave him credit for making them confident and aggressive cricketers.
Only a day after his death, his protégé Ravindra Jadeja, who he christened with the nickname Rockstar, brought up his second test hundred (an unbeaten 175), playing against SriLanka at Mohali.
In congratulations, Rajasthan Royals tweeted, “100* off 160. Rockstar Jadeja. You’ve made him proud.”
Speaking to Jadeja after play, broadcaster Warne said on air, “Warnie loved you, Jaddu.”
Only hours before, the Rajasthan Royals had paid rich tribute to Warne.
“Shane Warne: The name stands for magic. Our first Royal; a man who made us believe that impossible is just a myth. Warnie, you are forever going to be our captain.” Sachin Tendulkar had once said famously, “Warne is God’s gift to cricket”. There couldn’t have been a better tribute from a greater batter. The two shared a great rapport and their love for food and fast cars is well known.
Indeed one important thing that Warne didn’t learn from his good friend Tendulkar was to keep his feet on the ground. Besides, for all his success against the best of batters across the world, somehow Warne couldn’t have his way against an Indian team that had greats like Sachin
Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. Navjot Sidhu too would give the side a great start taking on Warne before the others consolidated and cut loose.
Yet, that didn’t dilute the respect he commanded among the Indian greats. Over the years, people in India too developed great admiration for Warne. In fact, as this is being written, Indian legend Sunil Gavaskar is fending off the bullets for suggesting that Muttiah Muralitharan may have been a better spinner.
A man who lived life to the full and entertained fans across the globe has made an unexpected exit.
Sometimes life imitates sport. It’s not just the game of cricket that is unpredictable.