Shane Warne: A Genius On The Cricket Field, An Enigma Off It
Warne and Australia's dominance reached its crescendo in the 1999 ICC World Cup as he picked up 4 wickets each in the semi-final and final to guide the Steve Waugh-led team to the world title, which was Australia's second.
Shane Keith Warne, the Australian spin bowling legend, was as enigmatic as a sportsperson could be. A true artist with a ball in hand, a fierce competitor on the cricket field and a bit of a maverick off it. The leg-spinner went from one career high to another and the controversies followed him all along. Warne's rise to superstardom began with his very first delivery in Ashes, cricket's oldest rivalry. Playing his first Test match against England, Warne clean bowled veteran batter Mike Gatting with a delivery hitherto unseen on a cricket field. It was 4th June 1993, the second day of the first Ashes Test at Old Trafford in Manchester, when Warne managed to get a ball to pitch outside the leg stump, and the vicious turn on the cherry took it past Gatting's bat and clipped the top of the off stump. That delivery has since come to be known as the "Ball of the Century".
Warne ended the match with 8 wickets to claim the "man of the match" award. He would end the series as the highest wicket-taker with 34 scalps and that started his rise to cricketing immortality, as Australia bulldozed England for more than a decade in Test cricket.
Warne's rise to stardom coincided with Australia replacing West Indies as the dominant force in world cricket. Warne and Australia's dominance reached its crescendo in the 1999 ICC World Cup as he picked up 4 wickets each in the semi-final and final to guide the Steve Waugh-led team to the world title, Australia's second.
But his life off the field also kept attracting the headlines for all the wrong reasons. From being accused of revealing pitch details to a bookie, to missing the 2003 ICC World Cup after testing positive for a banned substance, to several reports of his cavalier lifestyle, Warne was controversy's favourite child.
His on-field relations with contemporaries like Steve Waugh and Adam Gilchrist were also not the best to say the least, something which may have eventually cost him the top job in Australian cricket.
But the Victorian was his generation's biggest match-winner with the ball. For him to finish with 708 Test wickets and 293 ODI wickets at a time when the Australian cricket team was full of wicket-taking fast bowlers like Craig McDermott, Merv Hughes, Glenn Mcgrath, Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie and those who followed, is testament to his greatness.
Warne was not just a cricketer. He transcended the sport to become a true Australian icon. The full range of his fighting spirit and wizardry was on witness in the summer of 2006-07 down under, as Warne produced one last piece of magic to help Australia win back the Ashes. His hunger for wickets and appetite for a fight still intact as he walked into the golden sunset.
He showed his leadership credentials in the Indian Premier League, guiding rank outsiders Rajasthan Royals to the title in the inaugural season in 2008. He remained a huge draw among the media and paparazzi till the last day.
Warne's media commitments often showed the entertainer and astute reader of the game that he was, someone who wasn't shy of calling a spade a spade.
The 'King of Spin' might have passed, but he will continue to shine bright in the galaxy of cricketing superstars.
Shane Warne, Rest In Peace!