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Shane Warne: The man who lived, laughed and smoked to greatness

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Last updated on 13 Sep 2023 | 06:18 AM
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Shane Warne: The man who lived, laughed and smoked to greatness

When everyone around him played for the records, for the rivalries, for the glory, the legspinner played because it made him happy

It would be hard to believe that a cricketer who retired with more than 1,000 international wickets under his belt didn’t take his art any more seriously than he took partying, or in his case, living his life.

But, in the bid to sum up his life, Shane Warne himself had said, “I smoked, I drank, I bowled a bit. No regrets.”

The universe is often criticised for thwarting limitless talent onto individuals whose life’s single-most purpose hasn’t been the art itself. As if, it is communicating to us that life wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. Warne was born with this mindset.

When everyone around him played for the records, for the rivalries, for the glory, Warne played because it made him happy. This was perfectly demonstrated in a 2001 Channel 4 documentary where the spinner was captured gorging down on a packet of chips just before the match.

Justifying himself, Warne had said, “Well, if I don’t have my chips, I’m not happy. And if I’m not happy, I don’t bowl well. A piece of lettuce or fruit doesn’t make you feel good, does it?”

Words like discipline, pride and single-minded focus have been thrown around successful sportspersons so many times that one cannot associate happiness with taking the field. Warne, however, remained unbothered by these narratives.

Like most other sports, cricket has had personalities whose off-field antics were more in the spotlight than their on-field achievements, but very few escaped the brunt of it as regularly as the Aussie larrikin. Whether it be his relentless smoking and drinking, his association with bookies, or his multiple affairs that led to divorce, social criticism could never stop Warne’s return to cricket again and again.

While some players are said to be “natural”, Warne was born “supernatural”. How else would one describe a bowler delivering the “ball of the century” just one year after his debut? So good was Warne with his craft that a player like Stuart McGill, who could have gotten into any playing eleven as a leg-spinner, had to be content with being the second choice. And he wasn’t entirely sad being second fiddle either.

Warne wasn’t just a very good leg-spinner, but he was a very, very good-looking leg-spinner. Not only did he revive the dying art of leg-spin bowling but he looked sexy doing it. Whether it be the grip he used on the ball or his heavy body approaching the crease with an iconic run-up - there would be a handful of cricket fans who never mimicked Warne’s bowling action.  

Despite the plethora of talent that only Warne possessed, he never cut across as a pompous figure. From admitting that Sachin Tendulkar gave him nightmares following the Sharjah battering or endorsing his hair loss treatment, ego and insecurities never bothered Warne, which was precisely why he could make comebacks time and again.

Having gotten sent back from the 2003 World Cup for consuming a banned substance and seeing his team winning the tournament regardless, it was easy to incur low self-esteem. But Warne would return a year later during Australia’s tour of Sri Lanka in what was touted as the battle between Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan. 

Though Muralitharan ended up taking more wickets in his backyard, Warne won the Player of the Series, having taken 26 scalps with an average of 20.04 as Australia whitewashed Sri Lanka.

Another instance of how Warne never let pressure come to him was the 2005 Ashes. With Australia missing Glenn McGrath and the England batsmen being in the form of their lives, Warne was the only constant for Australia, having taken 40 wickets despite Australia losing the series to England 2-1.

Apart from being credited for delivering the “ball of the century” to Mike Gatting, Warne also holds a Test hat-trick to his name and a Man-of-the-Match award in a World Cup final. He was the first cricketer to reach 700 Test wickets as well.

Unfortunately, Warne had only one World Cup to show when he retired from international cricket in 2007. But, he wasted no time in taking to poker professionally soon after, and ended his career with a total live earnings of $161,325.

Though Warne was widely applauded for winning the inaugural IPL title with Rajasthan Royals, he would also get banned for a game a few years later after getting into a fight with Marlon Samuels in the Big Bash League.

Despite enjoying his commentary post-retirement, Warne was vocal about his weight loss treatment and health ailment. He would eventually succumb to a heart attack on March 4, 2022, aged 52 in Thailand.

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