@Phil_Wisden 4 minute read
Shane Warne, one of the greatest cricketers the game has known, is remembered by Phil Walker, Wisden Cricket Monthly editor-in-chief.
Shane Warne is gone and the game is broken. They say that cricketers die twice, once when they bowl their last, and then, well. Warne wasn’t like that. Warne wasn’t like anything else ever. There was no pause, no break in the flow. He rode on the tracks he built himself, never once got off and took everyone with him. He thrummed and danced and spoke his heart and did stupid things and took and gave it all. Always in the game, from the first slap of zinc to the last tip of the wink. He answered only to his vision for what cricket should be, only ever wanting to know if this casual muckabout, a thing he came to with a shrug, was up to it. He eyeballed the game, in its badges and stripes, and implored the thing to live a little, and he changed everything entirely by accident, which must be the purest, most sublime way of doing anything.
This is an Australian tragedy. But Warne more than any other cricketer across all our lifetimes belonged to the whole thing. English cricket adored him, took him in, a saviour and executioner all at once. And he gave back to it, even trod the boards at Southampton for a few years. Easy access routes to London, after all. He won the first IPL largely by dint of personality. He was the game.
You’ll remember how he emerged in ’91 as Benaud’s boy, all jowls and spunk, ostensibly a social experiment, approved with caveats by Border, his visionary captain. Even then he had history on him. It seemed to fall to him and him alone to resurrect those great lost Aussie wristies, dragged from the past into the present and ragging into the future. With the juddering news of Rod Marsh’s death, announced barely 24 hours earlier and eerily commemorated by Warne himself, three generations of Australian cricket are bound together in thick black tape. Somehow the current team, up against it in Pakistan, will take the field tomorrow. Warne, at the start, would have drawn each and every one of them in. And Marsh, who caught everything and coached everyone, would have made them good.
First time I interviewed Warne was at Lord’s, a couple of months before that valedictory whitewash in 2006, when he bent Boxing Day in his hometown to his will and took his 700th before walking off a week later, arm in arm with McGrath, at the SCG. That day at Lord’s he was there to front up a new scheme to identify some young spinners from the gaggle of hopefuls in attendance. (Just think for a moment of the sheer number of days that Warne did this.) After the interview was done, off he went to get changed into his cricket gear and have a cigarette (“Smoko!” he announced at the interview’s end, forever in search of a bike shed). He was about to give a masterclass in the indoor school, in front of the cameras and all that. Some of the journalists headed for the exit, and as we made our way through past the back door of the arena, Warne was there, in full whites, fag in hand, giving a solitary young boy, no more than nine, an impromptu tutorial in how to bowl the leg-break. He was bent over to the boy’s height and was demonstrating the grip. The boy leaned on his bat and listened. There were no cameras to capture the moment, no PR person to usher him along. It was just a bloke and a kid, talking cricket. Everyone who’s ever had a passing interest in cricket will have their own impressions, their own stories. The gap between him and his people was thinner than a silver Rizla.
At a swoop, the rest just falls away. None of it matters. All the other stuff, who cares now. The doomscroll of dodgy diuretics, iffy bookies, bad musicals, chat shows, filth scoops and captaincy scraps, graceless Waugh games, pool parties, Twitter beefs – all of it just melts away, attached to the Warne story only like thin strands of molten cheese on a ham and pineapple special.
Sitting here at The Oval, where he doffed his filthy white floppy on that autumn evening two decades ago, with the day’s highlights mutedly rolling on the TV in the corner, and this season’s intake training out there on the outfield, every ball from every arm from London to Pindi to Mohali to Melbourne seems to belong to him and him alone. The language of sport is stuffed to excess, overstretched, routinely pulled out of shape. The torrents that now will flow for Shane Warne will all be true.