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There once lived a King and we called him Warne

Last updated on 05 Mar 2022 | 08:02 AM
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There once lived a King and we called him Warne

A treasured chapter in the sport’s golden history has come to an end

If you were a kid growing up in India in the 90s and early 2000s, you know the sheer impact Shane Warne had on our psyche. On the field, he might not have the same kind of impact against India as he did elsewhere but Warne meant a whole lot more for a generation of kids far far away from downtown Melbourne. 

For many people averse to the idea of statistics, it was unbeknownst that the magician conceded 47.18 runs per dismissal against India. Only 43 wickets in 14 matches in a career spanned over 15 years. Nothing extraordinary with that. There was a fierce Glenn McGrath to deal with and at times, even Jason Gillespie and Michael Kasprowicz had the wood over the Indians but Warne never really cut a swathe.

When he made his debut against India at the iconic SCG in 1992, Ravi Shastri showed his might. Navjot Singh Sidhu and Sachin Tendulkar never really let Warne have a stronghold against India. The likes of Mohammed Azharuddin and Rahul Dravid found him too easy to deal with. At a time when wickets were flat to a fault, a spinner, that too a non-sub-continental leggie, doing anything worthwhile was beyond the realms of expectations. 

Yet Shane Warne still was the most-feared entity for Indian fans and that tells a story of its own. You can’t imagine another player, holding that level of ingenuity to drive the culture in a country that produced some of the best exponents of spin bowling. Warne did - in Test cricket, in IPL, and later as a mentor and a commentator - that too never mincing any words.

Warne became big in India - even in small villages and towns - when cable television was not even democratized. It was tough to witness Warne’s magic in Ashes and other series around the world. Yet you’d walk around, you’d see kids imitating the fluidity of his action, failing each time but never giving up. The sheer brilliance of the man was transfigured in many Indian kids’ growing-up dreams - a few steps of forward march and then weirdly moving the ball away from a right-hander, not giving any time for capturing the imagination and holding an incremental value to eternity.

Warne lived his life in the public domain. His cricket career was a soap opera and his journey traversing the two ends was a culmination of the highest of the highs and lowest of the lows. If someone wanted to know more, Gideon Haigh’s ‘On Warne’ and ‘Sphere of Influence’ - two fine pieces of cricket writing - provide real doings of Warne stratosphere. There was literally nothing more that could have been documented further.

Despite all that, a raving self-admirer like Warne would never have been satisfied without telling his own story, in his own irreverent way, in his own words. Thus he hired Mark Nicholas to author his own autobiography and later produced a documentary for Amazon Prime Video that came out only last month. Because he never lived in another’s definition of his own life and had to shape the narrative his own way.

In 2015, when he joined forces with Sachin Tendulkar for a first-of-its-kind retired cricketers series in the USA, it eventually had to buckle down because Sachin exerted “too much of control and dominance”. Another cricketer would have budged under the pressure and would have been happy to take a cut from the profit but Warne had been his own man all his life. Not only did he excuse himself from that, but also openly spoke about the issue he had with Sachin Tendulkar.

He understood the loneliness of a maverick and hence, was always ready to lend a helping hand to individualistic cricketers. He had a chapter dedicated to Kevin Pietersen, another forthright and populist cricketer, in his autobiography “No Spin” and had words of support for Michael Clarke when the latter decided to leave the tour of New Zealand to break up with his high-profile girlfriend, glamour model Lara Bingle. 

In the Australian cricket circle, you had to be one of them. You have to hold a can of beer and raise a toast. You need to respect the traditional Aussie notion of mateship. Warne was none of that. He cared about his cricket, not for baggy green. He cared about wins and wickets, not apprenticeship or coaching. He had to clash with the perceived notion, but then again, he was Warne. He could do it effortlessly, without having to worry about the world for a second.

The End never seemed near. And hence it sucks.

Quoting Ed Smith, “No cricketer is irreplaceable, that sport is defined by continuity rather than full stops” and it is true for almost everyone. But in Warne’s passing away, a treasured chapter in the sport’s golden history has come to an end. We would have to live with it, perhaps, by imitating that never-seemed-possible action on the streets. 

Vale, Shane Warne. 

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