I don’t actually know where to start with this one. Shane Warne was an icon. Bold. Brash. Bleached blonde hair. The suncream smeared across his face from him. Exuberant. The Aussie of all Aussies. The Spin King. The Ball of the Century. One of the greatest of all time. Gone.
I was driving down to Oxford and using the time on the M6 and M40 to catch up on phone calls for work and with mates when I heard the news. It was my best friend who told me, interrupting a somewhat poignant Jimmy Eat World song about “living in the moment.”
My first reaction was, “nah, mate, it can’t be, I was only reading his tweet about Rod Marsh passing away a couple of hours ago.” Rod Marsh was one of my dad’s heroes. Whenever we’d play our cricket board and table games when I was a kid in the 90s – Test Match, Wicketz, Owzthat! – Dad would have Marsh as his wicketkeeper from him, then wax lyrical about his glove work and his mustache from him.
He’d pick a team of retired legends from the 20th century: Sobers, Bradman, Richards, Lillee, Hutton, Marsh. I’d pick current legends (which makes me feel old given that it was 25 years ago) – Lara, Pollock, Ambrose, Kallis, Tendulkar, Warne.
Shane Warne is synonymous with cricket over the last 30 years. He respected and admired the world over for his graft and skill, as well as his work ethic. He made spin bowling cool.
The Ball of the Century against Mike Gatting in the 1993 Ashes is still ridiculous to watch. Shane ambles in with the aforementioned sun-kissed locks and suncream, the ball pitches a million miles outside leg stump and then crashes into off.
Jubilation and jumps of joy from behind the stumps and a little right arm fist pump from Warne. It’s a bit like Alan Shearer scoring a screamer from 35 yards and just sticking his arm up. You’d almost want an Asprilla back flip, like some kind of Olympic gymnast to do that goal/ball justice.
Gatting, Graham Gooch at the non-strikers end and the umpire, Dickie Bird, all look a little perplexed. We’ve got photos of me sat on my dad’s lap watching that Test series. I was six years old. He only retired from all formats in 2013, by which time I was 26 years old and working for the International Cricket Council, occasionally taking minutes whilst sat next to Mike Gatting in meetings opposite Lord’s.
I remember speaking to a former Hampshire player about Shane Warne’s time in England. He told me about his leadership and his strive for unity, team spirit and cohesion. He also told me about facing him for the first time in the nets. Shane came in and bowled a couple and he’s thinking, “yeah, this is okay, I can deal with this” and then receives an absolute pearler of a delivery that cleaned him up. The master of lulling you into a false sense of security.
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He was always a colorful character – which sounds like a phrase that should be used in a Guy Ritchie movie. Opinionated, not shy to share his thoughts about him, the occasional controversy, a ban for using a prohibited substance, an engagement to Liz Hurley. He was always around the game – in the commentary box, talking with passion and joy about what the sport he loved.
I saw him on BBC Breakfast a couple of weeks ago and he was talking about his life: “Sometimes people forget that sportsmen and TV people and everyone, we’re all human. We’ve all got feelings, we all make mistakes, some of us have made more than others, but it doesn’t mean we’re bad people, it means we’re just trying to learn, you know, and that’s part of the person that makes your character, is the mistakes you make, not the highs, they’re great, but the mistakes is where you learn the most.”
Invariably, whenever someone bowled a beauty in the nets or in a game, someone would shout “Bowling, Shane” to Adam Gilchrist behind the stumps in his baggy green. This time, I’ll quietly say, “thanks, Shane.” Rest in peace, mate.
Ben Cajee has been a main presenter on CBeebies since 2015 and is a regular on Match of the Day on BBC One. He previously worked for the International Cricket Council and is an ambassador for the ECB’s All Stars Cricket initiative. He’s also appeared on BBC Sport’s The Cricket Social, acted as stadium host for numerous games at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 and been involved in the BBC’s coverage of The Hundred
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.