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The man who brought swag into leg spin

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Last updated on 04 Mar 2023 | 03:08 AM
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The man who brought swag into leg spin

On this day in 2022, the world of cricket were shocked to learn about the sad demise of Shane Warne in Thailand

It was on March 4, last year, when the cricketing world received the shocking news of Shane Warne’s death. The legendary leg spinner, who was only 52, was found dead in Koh Samui, Thailand while holidaying with three of his friends. It was the second death of an Australian cricketer that week after Rod Marsh had passed away a few days back.

There could only be one way of reminiscing about the Australian legend - celebrating his career. Credited for bringing back the art of leg spin in cricket by using it as a deadly weapon, Warne’s charismatic persona led to many Indian cricket fans falling in love with the wristy wizard. It wasn't every day that a player outside the subcontinent could hold such mastery in spin bowling.

Warne’s first claim to fame was in 1992 when his 3/11 in the second innings against Sri Lanka helped Australia wrap up the hosts for just 164 runs to win the match. However, while this propelled his talent to be noticed at the international level, the game that labelled him as a match-winner in an Australian team filled with legends was against West Indies in 1993. After having a quiet first innings, Warne went on to take a seven-wicket haul in the second outing in Melbourne.

Being a proven match-winner wasn’t enough for Warne; he was yet to become a legend. And he chose the platform of the 1993 Ashes to announce his arrival. After an underwhelming ODI series against England, his first delivery of the first Test match saw the ball pitching outside the leg only to turn two feet inside and hit the stumps.

Remembering the “ball of the century” as it is famously called, English batter Mike Gatting had said, “When it came down, I knew it was a leg break, but I didn't expect it to spin that much. When we often spoke about it, I am not sure he expected it to spin that much. He said he just tried to get it down the other end, the best he could. Well, it was a bit too good for me.”

One of the most watched videos on Youtube, “that ball” inspired numerous aspiring cricketers to take up spin bowling, some of them are Rashid Khan and Yuzevendra Chahal. Warne had brought a swag to spin bowling in a game where batters and fast bowlers ruled the masses.

Shane Warne was a controversial figure off the field, but it never affected his on-field displays. He retired from international cricket with over 1000 wickets (293 in ODIs and a whopping 708 scalps in Test cricket). He had 37 fifers, and 10 ten-wicket hauls to his name during this time. Australia's greatest rivals, England, couldn't claim the Ashes for 12 long years since Warne's 1993 display. Even in 2005, when England finally won the Ashes, the then-36-year-old Warne had ended with 40 wickets in one Test series.

He retired from international cricket in 2006 with a World Cup to his name, over 1000 wickets and the Ashes urn back in the Australian dressing room. To the naked eye, Warne’s bowling action was extremely simple. His most effective weapon was accuracy, which he could control to varying degrees, almost at will.

Warne’s reputation, which had women, bookmakers, prohibited pills and many more, had made him tabloid’s favourite headline maker - a trait that forced Australia to never really think of him as captaincy material. But India did. 

When Rajasthan Royals had picked Warne for $450,000 at the inaugural auction, many questioned the franchise's competitive intent. The side had the least number of superstars and was captained by a 38-year-old former cricketer who had never played the format at the international level.

However, Warne’s captaincy skills had seen the Royals make the best run in the IPL history before beating MS Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings in the final. Coming fresh from leading India to the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007, Dhoni was the hot deal, and Royal’s run was deemed a fluke by many. But Warne again stood in the end alongside Sohail Tanvir, who smashed the winning runs.

Expressing his grief after Warne passed away last year, former Royals player Mohammad Kaif tweeted, “(Warne was) my first IPL captain, Warne made you believe in miracles.”

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