A Magical Maverick ~ Well played, Warnie!
1001 international wickets ~ 708 off those came in Tests; 195 off those in The Ashes and 96 off them in the year 2005 alone.
He spun the ball over 51,000 times to get these truckloads of wickets and he usually got them at 25 runs-a-piece.
Along the way, he also managed to score over 4000 odd runs, plucked 205 catches, and has the dubious record of scoring the most number of runs without scoring a century ~ alas, only if there was DRS back then that would have spotted Vettori’s no-ball, he would have scored his maiden ton.
But these mammoth, unparalleled statistics is not what defined the magical maverick, the wizard, the king of spin ~ Shane Keith Warne, or Warnie as most of us knew him as.
He was an enigma, as mysterious as his sharp turning leg-spin or his ripper of a flipper; his intelligent & intimidating mind games created an aura that was as effective as his bowling, if not more sometimes.
His ability to read the situation and compel batsmen to play to his strengths was his biggest strength; setting up batsmen with enticing looseners and tactical field changes was part of his arsenal.
Turning tracks and the ‘roughs’ definitely helped him but his real advantage was his shrewd, aggressive mindset that helped him take the pitch out of the equation.
We have all been enamored by his magical art of leg-spin where his wrists gave the ball enough ‘revs’ for it to twirl and swivel sharply from outside the leg stump to go onto bamboozle the likes of Gatting, Strauss, Peterson, Macmillan, and many more and shatter their stumps through or behind their legs; if not that we have seen the likes of Cullinan, Stewart & Gibbs perish and succumb to his deceiving flippers.
Growing up, like millions, I used to wait for the famed Sachin-Warnie duel, of which there was aplenty. The narrative around Sachin’s preparation ahead of the much-awaited Tests in Chennai & Kanpur in 1998 captured our young, impressionable minds.
Whilst Warnie got him out in both Tests, it didn’t stop Sachin from scoring match-winning centuries in a year that everything he touched turned into gold.
When the Indians played Down Under in 1999, Warne got the better of Tendulkar in Adelaide and Melbourne, both games that India lost with heavy margins. Sachin was dismissed by Warne only on these 4 occasions out of the 29 times they faced each other but it was the competitive spirit, preparation narratives, and mind games that made the contests so memorable.
Warne was notorious for these mindgames and made them count ~ Basit Ali’s around the stumps dismissal on the very last ball of the day post a chat with Ian Healy was one of those classical moments; or when a mic’d up Warnie predicted live on air how he will get Brendon McCullum out and delivered on his promise to everyone’s astonishment!
To do this on a regular basis, one needs a fighting spirit and immense self-belief, which he had in plenty. I was enthralled when I saw Warnie choke the West Indies on a fast & bouncy track in Mohali in the 1996 Wills World Cup and turned the game on its head.
Chanderpaul & Lara had the Windies cruising at 165/2 on their way to chasing a modest 207 but then walked in a man called Shane Warne who scalped Ottis Gibson, Jimmy Adams, and Ian Bishop in overs 45, 47, and 49 and helped his team secure a narrow 5 run-win with 3 balls to spare. It was all self-belief and the desire to compete hard.
He displayed similar heroics in the 1999 World Cup semi-finals and the finals, especially the former, wherein he showed that Warnie believed that he could turn the match in his team’s favour no matter how hopeless the situation was.
To be able to get Kirsten, Gibbs, Cronje, and then Kallis when he was counter-attacking setup the game beautifully, which eventually led to an epic tie that got the Aussies into the finals, wherein the Spin King rattled the Pakistani unit with 4–33, which helped his team win the World Cup with 8 wickets.
He was a big-match match player & a confidence-inducing one at that. To be able to help the rookie Rajasthan Royals win the inaugural IPL in 2008 as both coach & captain shows the impact the man could have and how well he could transfer his knowledge, attitude, and approach to others in the unit.
The underdog unit went on to win 11 out of the 14 league games after losing the very first one and eventually beat the Chennai Super Kings by 3 wickets in well-contested finals where Warnie supported the young Sohail Tanvir right till the end with the bat.
Royals’ Tanvir went on to pick the most wickets (22) and the other Shane in the unit was awarded the Man of the Series for his 474 runs and 17 wickets in the tournament.
Warne was picked for his base price of $400,000 and stuck with the unit for the next 3 years and went on to pick 57 wickets in the 55 games he played, the 3rd highest for the franchise to date.
His leadership demonstrated the value of experience, wherein he could guide experienced blokes like Watson, Smith, Kaif, Lehmann, Younis Khan, and Langer and young guns like Yusuf Pathan, Asnodkar, Jadeja, Tanvir, and Munaf Patel, all of whom went on to do well for the franchise or their international sides.
He was an artist, a showman who loved to perform tricks for his audience — playing poker on the field, calling batsmen’s bluff, chirping from the slips, giving glares, delaying tactics to fluster the opponent. Anything to get under the batsman’s skin and entertain the crowd.
He continued the same as a commentator, columnist, and author and his bold, honest refreshing approach ensured that he captivated the audiences throughout.
Unlike many of his peers he was suited for social media, be it sharing memes; supporting #baggygreen campaigns; relaying his predictions and match comments, often controversial, or footages from his larger-than-life, rockstar moments. He was all about impact!
The fact that nearly every young, budding spinner in the 90s and the naughts in every colony and backyard wanted to imitate Warnie’s famous lazy walk-up, wrist spinning action, tells us the impact the man had on the game and the art of leg-spin.
For someone who didn’t grow up wanting to be a cricketer at first and who focused on playing football till he was 19, it is incredible that he could so easily pivot to international-grade, competitive cricket as quickly as he dished out his lethal flippers.
Thereafter to be a match & series-winning asset in both Steve Waugh & Ricky Ponting’s competitive units, where he went on to take 27% and 19% of the wickets in Tests and ODIs respectively, in a squad that comprised of leading wicket-takers like McGrath, Gillespie, Fleming, Lee and to become the 3rd highest Man of the Match award winner in Tests (17 times!) is quite an indication of the genius and the team-player he was.
Warnie was a born competitor, a spirited fighter, someone who loved and mastered the art of winning and made it a habit.
He was uber stylish and had a flair that was incomparable. He would not give an inch and fight till the very end and lived life on his own terms.
And just like that, Warnie abruptly left on his own terms but he made those 52 years count and made a massive mark in everything he did in those years.
Between the bookends of his first and last wickets in Ravi Shastri and Andrew Flintoff, he has left a mark in our hearts that will never be forgotten and has left the sport, especially the art of leg-spinning & playing to win, at a much better place than when he erupted on the global stage with the famous ‘Ball of the Century’ that had left the batsman — Mike Gatting, commentator — Richie Benaud and pretty much the entire world in a dizzy.
Well bowled & well played, Warnie!