Mark Nicholas, in a review entitled “Shane Warne gave us so much and he had so much more to give” …. He was cricket and he was rock ‘n roll too; he was the best of sport and he was the stuff dreams are made of.
I lay my penny down on the rails
As the summer wind sings its last song
One minute you’re here
Next minute you’re gone
Footsteps cracklin’ on a gravel road
Stars vanish in a sky as black as stone
One minute you’re here
Next minute you’re gone
– Bruce Springsteen, “One Minute You’re Here”, from Letter to You
There was something elemental about Warnie – like the wind and the rain, or the sun. He could be a wild and unpredictable ride and he could be a warm and kindly neighbour. He brought things into our lives that were unique and he illuminated the spaces we occupied; none of us would suggest that we were anything but lucky to stand in that light. It wasn’t quite exclusively his world in which we lived, but it wasn’t far from it.
Shane loved Springsteen’s music and especially that most recent album, Letter to You. It finishes with a song called “I’ll See You in My Dreams”, which is a eulogy of sorts to a friend who has passed, and which Shane said made him cry. Now the tears are ours, for the loss of an irreplaceable brother-in-arms.
The outpouring since the news of his death has stretched far and wide and is still doing so. The Times of London gave him 14 pages but he was front cover in Malaysia too. He was cricket and he was rock ‘n roll too; he was the best of sport and he was the core of aspirational dreams. He fed us the oxygen of the game in the most engaging and fascinating ways, changing perception, inviting debate, encouraging enthusiasm, breathing hope and never surrendering. We owe him so much.
“What’s the key to being a good legspinner, Warnie,” was the question. “A lot of love,” came the answer. “What’s the art of legspin, Warnie?” To which he would reply, “The creation of something that isn’t there, mate.”
It was my privilege to know him well and to frequently stay with him in Melbourne, in the various houses he loved to trade – up, and down, I should add. I was with him at home in December 2003 during the ban for the diuretic pill he took just prior to the World Cup in South Africa earlier that year. After the first night, I woke early but there was no sign of him. He walked through the door at 7.30-ish, clad in tracksuit and trainers.
“Been for a run?”
“No mate, been having a bowl at an indoor school out on the edge of town.”
“But you’re not allowed to.”
“I know. Wanna come with me tomorrow and have a hit?”
Later that day, after tennis, at which he was damn good, by the way, I asked him about these early mornings. He said he knew the fella who ran the indoor school and talked him into opening up at 6am so he could bowl for an hour a couple of times a week before anyone else in Melbourne had put the kettle on. The place was locked up again by seven and first arrivals weren’t till eight. For one period of his life, at least, he flew under the radar; albeit reluctantly, for it was during this forced sabbatical that Kerry Packer told him to lie low awhile and sell the red Ferrari. So he did. And bought a blue one.
“Did you sell the red Ferrari, son?”
“I did, Kerry.”
Anyway, back to the indoor school. A handkerchief to aim at was okay but a batter was better, and by great good fortune, that man with the willow was me. I borrowed his kit and padded up. As I write, I’m trying to imagine myself there – more than 18 years ago – nervous as a kitten. When Hampshire played the Australians in 1993, he was rested (well, he wasn’t at the game!), so I had never faced him.
The first thing that struck me was the aura, even at the start of his eight-pace shuffle and approach. I remember the rhythm of the approach, the power of the delivery stride and the symmetry of the action. I remember the flight of the ball and the hardness as it hit the bat or body: they say some seamers bowl a “heavy” ball, so did Warne. I remember the revolutions, the high bounce off the hard synthetic surface and the need to react quickly and definitively. I was surprised at how fast he bowled and how, when he bowled “up” (above the eyeline), the ball dipped at the last second and panicked the response. It didn’t spin so much off that surface so I asked if it was like bowling at the WACA in Perth. Not really, he said, the ball skids off the WACA pitch, so it’s easier to bat against me there than in here: “In here, Markie, the bounce will getcha…”
The ball hit the splice a lot and sent a fizzing sensation up the handle and into the bottom hand, so I adapted at each session by playing softer and softer, later and later. I found it very difficult to get down the pitch and meet the ball as it landed and so persuaded myself to play back more. It occurred to me that a better player would manage the shimmy down the pitch with more skill and faster footwork, and that the good sweepers would have to take him on in the way that Kevin Pietersen managed so successfully on occasions.
He hit the pad so often it was a joke – that slider! He even tried a few flippers, the stuff of gold. But no wrong’uns – aka googlies – because of his shoulder. On the second morning I goaded him into bowling one and he winced in pain. I mainly blocked because there were so few bad balls, occasionally slogged over wide mid-on and cut backward of point a bit. One or two drives, straight and through mid-off, were highlights. This was a kingdom of days, Warne and me, cutting it as the dawn broke in his home town.
I remember thinking how good the really good players must be, the few who made big runs against him – Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara, specifically. I was barely getting a hint of the overall show – just a little side spin, no wear in the pitch or footmarks, no close fielders (though he did set an imaginary field, but of course, fiction is fiction), no mind games, no crowd, no abuse, no TV or radio, no snappers, no reports the next morning, no pressure on the outcome, no representation of your team or country, no backstory, no scoreboard threat, no behind-the-game panic, no Ian Healy or Adam Gilchrist in your ear and so forth.
And I very well remember marvelling at the level of skill in what he did and the power with which he did it. I saw at first hand how the 10,000-hour theory rolled out. He was astonishingly gifted at something extremely difficult – and he knew it – and he practised relentlessly to perfect it and rejoiced in taking it to the world.
Here is a passage from his autobiography, No Spin, which I wrote with him:
“The art of leg-spin is creating something that is not really there. It is a magic trick, surrounded by mystery and aura. What is coming and how will it get there? At what speed, trajectory and with what sound? How much flight swerve, dip and spin and which way? Where will it land and what will happen? There is no bowler in the history of the game that a decent batsman couldn’t pick if he watched the hand, so a leg-spinner must unsettle that batsman. Every leg-spinner gives the batsmen a clue, some just disguise it better than others. Leg-spinners cannot create physical fear, in the way fast bowlers can, so leg-spinners look to confuse and deceive.
There is, however, an intimidation factor in leg-spin that comes from the batsman’s ignorance and fear of embarrassment. Few batsmen, if any, truly know what I do, so to maintain that mystery I look to develop an atmosphere of uncertainty and, if possible, chaos. It is all about being in control, about winning the psychological battle.”
And there you have it. The reason why, during a year-long ban from all cricket, the master was at work on his craft. Be damned, he said to himself, I love what I do and I’ll do what I love. And when the time comes, I’ll be ready.
Goodness, there is so much else we will miss. He was very funny, and great fun. He was naughty but in the best sense, and smart, in the streetwise sense. He made people happy, which is a gift, and he made people stronger with his support and counsel. He was generous and would put himself up for auction at charity events – “An hour’s coaching at Lord’s with Shane Warne for ten people” – and it would sell for a shedload and he’d meet the buyers, charm them utterly, and do double the time with the group they sent along, often longer if they were enthusiastic kids.
He had friends in high places and friends from the sticks. He learnt to play tennis on the court in Bob Hawke’s backyard and, years later, fired up the pizza oven for Chris Martin and Ed Sheeran to have chill nights in his own backyard; Michael Parkinson and Tim Rice took him out for lunch at The Ivy; Coldplay called him on stage to sing with them during a sellout concert in Melbourne. At Sunningdale Golf Club one day, Sean Connery heard Warnie was putting out on the 17th green and stayed behind an extra 15 minutes just to meet him. He hung out with Dannii Minogue, Jemima Khan and became engaged to Elizabeth Hurley. On Twitter, Mick Jagger mourned his passing.
He completely adored his parents – Keith and Brigitte – was a loyal brother and friend to Jason and doted on his three children. The girls – Brooke and Summer – are heartbroken their dad won’t be walking them down the aisle one day. Jackson, his son and closest mate, is in denial, sure that his father will walk through the door tomorrow. Wonderful husband he may not have been, wonderful father he truly was. The Warnes are a fine family. It hurts deeply to think of their pain.
There is a place in the story for Simone, his ex-wife, who lived it hard with him and is now living it hard in shock. She is the mother of the children who held him in raptures and was the girl he asked to marry while rowing round in circles on a quick trip to the Lake District in northern England in 1993. The longer he rowed so hopelessly, the funnier it got. And she said yes.
Frankly, he has left a lot of folk in pain. He gave so much and had so much more to give. Bloody hell, how we will miss him.
So will the tables. He played high-level poker, risked high-level stakes at the roulette wheel, and liked nothing more than a punchy unit or two on the golf course. Each year, his great joy was an invitation to the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland, and this last early October he had a run of birdies that saw him fall only a shot short of winning the amateur event with his professional partner Ryan Fox. I promise that had he done so, he would have regarded it as a pinnacle alongside the Ashes.
He had become a terrific commentator, listening and learning from others and applying his remarkable cricketing intelligence to the stories he was telling. He liked cricket kept simple; he loved the game to fizz and to sparkle, and he believed implicitly that attack was the ultimate answer to defence.
He spread a gospel of spirit and enterprise, trusted his intuition, raged against the dullards and refused to believe that anything was beyond him or the teams for which he played. He lived off the “blame the messenger and always get ahead of yourself” mantra that, when you think about it, is how he managed pretty much every situation in which he found himself.
He made cricket cool and he made those around him happy. Sure, he had the odd blind spot but, hey, in this portfolio of achievement we can forgive a little stubbornness. So it is that we have come to an end. It seems barely believable that the Warne smile is no more. By 52 years of age, he’d had a hell of a run, living five, maybe ten, lives or more. Every day, in every place, the magic appeared in one form or another and you just had to be lucky enough to be there and have it rub off on you. It’s gone now but better to have loved and lost than not to have known him at all. There will never be another Shane Warne.
Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, is a TV and radio presenter and commentator
Thuppahi's Blog · This web site presents the interventions of MICHAEL ROBERTS in the public realm with reference to Sri Lankan political affairs. It will embrace the politics of cricket as well. ROBERTS was educated at St. Aloysius College in Galle and the universities of Peradeniya and Oxford. He taught History at Peradeniya University and Anthropology at Adelaide university. He is now retired and lives in Adelaide.