Shane Warne: The beach bum who was a cricketing supernatural

It seems surreal. Shane Keith Warne, one of the greatest cricketers to have played the game, is no longer with us. Planet Sport's Jonathan Doidge reflects on his life and career.

A simple statement issued by his management team on March 4, 2022 said:

"It is with great sadness we advise that Shane Keith Warne passed away of a suspected heart attack in Koh Samui, Thailand today, Friday 4th March.

"Shane was found unresponsive in his Villa and despite the best efforts of medical staff, he could not be revived.

"The family requests privacy at this time and will provide further details in due course."

Warne, 52, will be deeply mourned by the game. In a Test career that didn't begin in the brightest of fashion, he learned, grew and made himself into arguably the greatest bowler of them all.

With magical skills of wrist and fingers, a deep-seated self-belief, and a mastery of mind games, Shane Keith Warne will be remembered fondly by all those who witnessed his brilliance.

I was privileged to see him at first hand on more than one occasion. I vividly recall the dying embers of a Headingley Test, where I took my two-year-old son along with me on a chilly morning in the old Football Stand, just so that, in later years, he could say that he'd seen him. He'll always have that.

Just like his passing, it seems unthinkable that Warne was treated with disdain by opposition batsmen in those early Tests for Australia. But he didn't give up. He worked on it.

The 'Gatting Ball'

Mike Gatting and Shane Warne after passing 600 Test match wickets

Then, touring England with the 1993 Australians, his life, and cricket, changed in an instant. The 'Gatting Ball', as it has now become known, is surely the single delivery that has garnered more column inches and more video replays than any other in the history of the sport.

The delivery had revolutions on it such that the ball drifted way down England batsman Mike Gatting's leg side. At that point it bit and turned so much that Gatting, an excellent player of spin, watched in disbelief as the ball passed the outside edge of his bat and took the top of off stump. Bowling perfection in a heartbeat.

From that moment on, batters worldwide were under Shane's spell. He finished leading wicket taker in the series, with 34 and did so many more times before hanging up his boots at the highest level in 2007.

An astute thinker on the game, it rankled that he was never made Test captain for his country, though he did that job for the one day international team.

You couldn't write with sufficient brevity to cram in one book what he brought to the game. Aussies loved him. Ashes-deprived English supporters loved to hate him but deep down they loved him too.

He was fun. He was the blonde beach bum that would have looked more at home walking out with a surf board under his arm than a ball or bat in his hand.

It is no coincidence that, with Warne in their ranks, Australia dominated Test cricket for a period similar in length to that which the West Indies had done in the late 1970s and throughout the '80s.

Wicket taker... record breaker!

Shane Warne Ashes Fifth Test

With metronomic fast bowler Glenn McGrath setting records for seam bowling, Warne pushed back the boundaries for spinners. Along with his contemporary, Muttiah Muralitharan of Sri Lanka, the pair made spin bowling 'sexy' again and Warne himself can pretty much single-handedly be credited with a revival in the art of leg spin, which had all but died.

In total, he took 708 Test wickets, the second most in history, in 145 matches across a stellar 15-year career. While his countryfolk were throwing another shrimp on the 'barbie', Warne was bowling his latest grenade-like delivery at his next, nervous victim, so often psyching them out as bowling them out.

In the shorter form of the game, he was one of the Australian team that won the 1999 50-over World Cup and claimed 293 dismissals in 194 one-day internationals between 1993 and 2005. After retiring from international cricket in 2007, he continued to play franchise Twenty20 cricket until 2013.

Shane Warne with official Ashes trophy carried by Michael Clarke and Andrew Symonds

In 2000, he was named as one of five Wisden Cricketers of the Century. His selection was even more significant in that he was the only specialist bowler among the quintet.

A larger-than-life character, he courted controversy and it is a fair bet that he has died wondering about nothing that he wanted to try.

In 2003, he missed the World Cup after being sent home due to testing positive for a prohibited substance. He was banned from cricket for 12-months.

In 2005, Warne took a record 96 wickets in a calendar year, during which time he also became the first bowler to take 600 Test wickets. That feat came amid a losing Ashes series but the Aussie was still so good that he helped to take England all the way before they could lift the famous urn. 

He even came up with a similar delivery to the ‘Gatting Ball’ 12-years earlier, this time bowling the left-handed England opener Andrew Strauss out around his legs.

And let's not forget just how useful he was with the bat too. A handy right-hander who batted in the lower middle order, he remains the only man to have scored more than 3,000 Test runs without having scored a century. He came agonisingly close, with an innings of 99 against New Zealand.

Cricket is unlikely to ever see his like again. Shane Keith Warne. All-time great.

Read more: How Shane Warne rose again after being banned from cricket in 2003

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