And so departs arguably the greatest bowler to have graced the game of Cricket. Friday saw Shane Warne bow out of the sport of which he has had such an impact, having led his team to ten wicket victory. Incidentally, it was by the same score line with which Warne left international Cricket in 2007; when Australia beat England by 10 wickets at the Sydney Cricket Ground to complete an Ashes whitewash that still gives England Cricket fans nightmares. Yet on Friday Warne said his goodbyes in front of a cheering Mumbai crowd rather than a loving Sydney one. Warne’s departure almost left a taste of an anti-climax, bowing out in a country he has always struggled in, playing in carnival cricket tournament more motivated by advertising and profit rather than the quality of the game. The ambiguous nature of Warne’s farewell is endemic of his career as a whole, which combined greatness with scandal.
However, it could be firstly argued that having given so much to the game, Warne was well within his rights to end things on his terms, who cares if he played in IPL for money? Surely it is well deserved (and let’s not forget he led his team to victory in its first season) considering the way in which Warne revolutionised the game. Making his debut in 1992 Warne entered the stage off the back of a generation dominated by fast bowling. The all-conquering West Indies of the 1970s and 80s was built upon a fearsome pace quartet; spin bowling, and particularly leg spin, was a dying art until Warne graced the field.
Warne’s magisterial “ball of the century” in 1993 captivated the Cricketing world, and was an ominous sign of things to come for a generation of English Cricketers. The “ball of the century” kick-started a phenomenal career, which saw Warne take 708 Test wickets at an average of 25.42 and 293 ODI wickets at 25.73, no matter that Warne has since been overtaken by his great rival Muralitharan for it could be easily argued that Warne was the greater bowler. The key to Warne’s legacy is that he turned spin bowling into a form of art. For Cricket lovers, watching Warne’s flight and variation was like watching a Bernini sculpture or Raphael painting in the making. Named one of five Wisden Cricketers of the twentieth century, Warne certainly has been a gift from the Gods.
Yet their was another side to Warne’s career, one that was plagued by scandal on and off the pitch. From 1994-5 Warne and Australian batsman Mark Waugh accepted money from an Indian bookmaker in return for information regarding weather conditions and the state of the pitch and were later heavily fined. In 2003 Warne was suspended for one year having taken a banned diuretic. Furthermore, Warne’s marital infidelities have often caught the eye of the Press; in 2000 Warne was stripped of the Australian vice captaincy following reports that he harassed an English nurse with lewd text messages, and in 2007 Warne’s wife left him for the second time having received text messages intended for another woman. In early 2011 Warn’es carless texting cost him again and brought an end to his high profile relationship with British actress Liz Hurley (though the two are now reportedly reunited).
However, the scandals which were endemic of Warne’s career somehow served to reinforce his popularity. English and Australian crowds in particular enjoy players with a personality and character and Warne was able to take these scandals in his stride. His winning smile (now enhanced by his dazzling new pearly white teeth) and ability to jest have ensured that he is much loved. One can draw comparisons with the great English all-rounder Sir Ian Botham. Both are widely respected for their talent, and both had their share of scandal (Botham was banned for smoking cannabis, and also had an extra-marital affair), and yet both were adored by the crowds of their arch-rivals. It will be interesting to see if Warne follows Botham and the other four Wisden Cricketers of the twentieth century as a knight of Her Majesty’s realm.
Thus whilst Warne’s send off on Friday was perhaps a touch disappointing his magical career and legacy is anything but. It was said that the Emperor Augustus found Rome in brick and left it in marble, the same has been said of Warne’s impact on spin bowling.