The death of Australian legend Shane Warne at the age of 52 has not only made the cricket fan sad, but it has also made the game poorer in many aspects.
When Shane Warne died shockingly at the age of 52 on Friday, the outpouring of shock, grief, and distress from the cricket world was universal. From Glenn McGrath, Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, and many past and future legends of the game, the loss of Shane Warne is a massive void. However, in the course of the tributes, one cartoon summed up the importance of Shane Warne and what he meant to the cricket world.
God is waiting at the gates of heaven. Suddenly, Shane Warne spins past him and enters the gate. God is giving a stunned reaction stating, “What?! I failed to read it.” That was the sudden impact that Shane Warne’s death has left in the cricket world. For many, penning down the many memories of Shane Warne is a really difficult task. His art, spin, and guile are something people like us growing in the 90s will always cherish.
In the past, there have been magnificent legspinners in the form of Clarrie Grimmett, Bill O Reilly, and Richie Benaud. But, due to the eras in which they were there, we could not fathom their contributions visually. With Shane Warne, we got the total package and it was a sight worth seeing.
Before the arrival of Shane Warne, leg-spin bowling, or for that matter, spin bowling was a dying art. Pace bowling and later reverse swing bowling was the order of the day. The West Indies pace barrage was like ballistic missiles, decimating opponents in varying degrees. Australia had the likes of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson. Pakistan had Imran Khan, Sarfaraz Nawaz while New Zealand had Richard Hadlee. England was boosted by John Snow, Chris Old, and Ian Botham while India had Kapil Dev as one of the best.
In the era of the 80s, pace bowling was the dominant force. There were players like Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Abdul Qadir, and Narendra Hirwani who tried to keep the flame of leg-spin bowling alive. Qadir struggled for control and was always in the shadows of Imran and then later, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. Hirwani had only one brief moment of success which he could not sustain later. Chandra used the deformity in his right arm to his advantage and was the best during the 70s.
But, the arrival of Shane Warne seemed to be a shift in the epoch. The action and the approach all suggested the makings of a great bowler. Taking four or five paces, a slight side on action combined with a high circular motion of the arms, Warne had all the capabilities to achieve success. And achieve it he did!
If there is a starting point to Warne’s genius, it has to be 1993 at Old Trafford against England. His first ball in Ashes cricket would set the tone not just for Warne’s career, but the rivalry between England and Australia. Bowling to Mike Gatting, Warne loosened up. He paced in and released a flighted ball. Because of the way how his wrist snapped, the ball drifted in a big way to the leg stump. Gatting looked to cover the line. But, such as the revolutions imparted on the ball that it gripped the wicket and spun away. It squared up Gatting and hit the top of off stump. At that time, Richie Benaud, in his iconic commentary style, remarked, “Gatting has absolutely no idea what has just happened. He still doesn’t know.”
That ball made leg spin bowling cool and viral. Everybody wanted to replicate the ‘Ball of the Century. Over the years, Warne would make many batsmen look foolish. Basit Ali in 1995, Sydney, Pat Symcox in Sydney 1994, Herschelle Gibbs in Edgbaston 1999, Andrew Strauss in 2005 in Edgbaston, Kevin Pietersen in Adelaide 2006, the list just goes on.
Rip, drift, drop, revs. On these four basic parameters, Warne achieved his greatest success. But, it is his contribution to Australia’s dominance that is often understated. If Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, and Brett Lee all got wickets, it was thanks to the unrelenting pressure built by Shane Warne. It was vice-versa too. If Lee, McGrath, Gillespie built pressure, Warne would strike.
Great Man Theory has often stated that a player becomes great if he dictates the terms to the opposition in a big match situation. During the 1999 World Cup semifinal in Edgbaston, Shane Warne produced a dream spell that left everyone on the ground dazzled. In the Adelaide Ashes Test of 2006, he showed that he still owned England when he took four wickets on day 5 to give Australia a famous win.
However, even gods can be mortal sometimes. To tame a wizard, another god had to step in. Perhaps, Shane Warne could never get the better of Sachin Tendulkar. The Indian maestro countered him by his own ways of brilliance. Chennai, Sharjah, and Sydney, Warne never got the upper hand against Tendulkar.
In his contests with Muttiah Muralitharan, the numbers will state that Warne ended up 92 wickets behind Murali. But, Muralitharan always carried the burden of a flawed action, something Warne never had to undergo. Plus, Muralitharan also played 25 Tests against minnows Bangladesh and Zimbabwe while Warne played just three. Take out Murali’s 176 wickets against them, Warne lords over.
Perhaps, the one blot in his remarkable career was that he could never captain Australia. The greatest player to have never captained Australia. In a very Shane Warne way, this sums up some aspects of his career. His off-field antics, the drug ban which saw him being banned for one year just before the 2003 World Cup, the allegations of fixing in the 1994 tour of Pakistan all sullied his reputation.
But, each time, Warne came out stronger and victorious. Just his IPL 2008 fairytale win for Rajasthan Royals showed the genius of Warne the leader. His contributions go way beyond his 708 wickets, 195 Ashes victims, and a hat-trick in 1994. It is well beyond his 1999 World Cup heroics. He transformed Australian cricket and leg-spin bowling. Warne ensured leg-spin bowling would be the stuff of wizards and legends.
Shane Warne will be missed. His death is the saddest chapter in the history of the game. You will be mourned greatly, Warnie.