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Memories of the King of Spin

This article was originally submitted on the 15th March

Picture this: a midsummer’s day in 2005, you’re sat at Lords. The Aussies are in town for the

classic biennial standoff. They have a formidable team, with a record to match. Between them they have over 700 caps compared to a fairly inexperienced English squad, many of whom have never played in an Ashes test. However, while sitting in the intermittently shining sun, with a cool beverage by your side, you, like many England fans, are quietly optimistic about the upcoming series.

After some encouraging play and some classic head in hand performances, your optimism holds out. However, in England’s second innings, Australia make a change to the bowling. At first you can’t quite make out who it is but then you see the frosted tips and earring glistening in the light. Feelings of agitation and dismay pass over you. Shane Warne spends the better part of the afternoon dismantling the English batsmen, making them look like a bunch of amateurs. He does it all with unadulterated confidence and style. This only rubs salt into the wound. You trudge out the ground at the end of the day feeling bitter and frustrated.

For an Englishman, this was the usual feeling and response one would get when they encountered Warne’s expertise on the field. It was hard to accept when he did it with such cheekiness and style. It made him the archetypal Aussie anti-hero for any English cricket fan.

Although, upon hearing of his death I was filled with a true sense of loss. The word is bandied

around too often nowadays but Warne was a true legend of the game. He managed to

resuscitate the dying art of leg-spin bowling. Not only did he resuscitate it, he used it with overwhelming effectiveness. One only has to see his delivery to Mike Gatting, the first ball in his first Ashes test, to understand this. It has since been enshrined as ‘the ball of the century’. He took 708 test wickets in total, second only to his rival Muttiah Muralitharan. Warne was no layman with the bat either. On several occasions, he put on rescue efforts after seeing the top order collapse, both impressive as a lower order batsman and entertaining.

Warne, however, was not impervious to criticisms. His glittering career was often shrouded in

controversies, and he was accustomed to featuring in the tabloids. He also gained a

reputation as something of a philanderer, not helped by the breakdown of his marriage to the model Simone Callahan, after being snapped with numerous other women, and being prostrated all over the front pages. Warne, most notably, was also engaged to the model and actress Liz Hurley, but their relationship mutually ended in 2013.

2003 was to prove a disastrous year for Warne. In February he was handed a 12 month long ban for testing positive for a diuretic, (commonly associated with masking other banned substances) resulting in him missing the World Cup. This only furthered his reputation as a bit of a bad boy. A chain smoker and lover of a pint or two, his cheekiness and lack of convention in a game shrouded in tradition stood him out from the rest.

Warne can truly be recognised as one of the greatest players of the game in modern times. Like

many sports, cricket underwent a makeover in the 21st century, adapting to a more modern climate to accommodate new audiences. Warne was one of these new players; a breath of fresh air in a game which had had a reputation for being stuffy and outdated.

Image courtesy of Eva Rinaldi via Flickr