New Delhi: “He’s started off with the most beautiful delivery, Gatting has absolutely no idea what has happened to it, and he still doesn’t know!” exclaimed the iconic Richie Benaud on television on 4 June 1993, when up-and-coming leg-spinner Shane Keith Warne dismissed veteran England batsman Mike Gatting.
The delivery pitched wide of Gatting’s leg stump, then turned sharply to crash into the stalwart batsman’s off-stump.
Warne, who was found dead Friday of a suspected heart attack at his villa in Thailand’s Koh Samui, went on to describe the delivery as a complete “fluke”. But this Gatting dismissal had long since been christened as “the ball of the century” due to the utter spectacle of it and because of Warne’s inexperience at the time — it was his first-ever delivery against England, and in an away Ashes Test.
Benaud and his co-commentator Bob Willis may or may not have known this at the time, but they had witnessed the initial stirrings of a storied career. A career that would result in 708 Test wickets, 293 ODI wickets, an ODI World Cup win.
Warnie, as his teammates and cricket fans called him, was a key cog in what many would consider the best-ever male cricket team across formats. Then, he went on to captain and coach an unfancied side, Rajasthan Royals, to an IPL victory in the tournament’s first edition in 2008.
The success the Australians achieved in the 1990s and 2000s is attributed to the captains Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting, and rightly so. But behind these faces, the stocky, blonde Warne was the biggest fan favourite around the world.
He exploded in popularity not just for his unparalleled talent with the ball, which frequently kept the likes of Stuart MacGill out of the side, but also for his personality both on and off the field.
Occasionally this led to butting heads with teammates, off-field controversies, on-field bans and never really staying out of the media limelight for a variety of reasons.
World’s greatest wrist spinner
His escapades off the field ultimately never impacted how the vast majority of people interested in cricket, be it in Victoria, Hampshire or Rajasthan (his primary domestic teams) viewed Warne. To cricket fans, he was the world’s greatest wrist spinner, and was honoured alongside his contemporary, off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, in the name of the trophy Australia and Sri Lanka compete for in Tests, the Warne-Muralitharan Trophy.
Warne retired from Test cricket as a national hero in early 2007, after helping Ponting’s side complete a 5-0 demolition job of England, and avenging the famous 1-2 upset that had taken place away from home two years earlier.
He later took up roles commentating on cricket around the world, building an audience with Sky Sports in England and Fox Sports back home, and became the subject of a documentary earlier this year.
But, perhaps to most Indians of younger generations, he is just as fondly remembered for his longtime association with Indian Premier League side Rajasthan Royals. Based out of Jaipur’s Sawai Mansingh Stadium, the Royals were arguably the weakest side financially ahead of IPL’s inaugural season, and the least glamorous in the eyes of the media.
But in his dual role as captain and head coach, Warne made the most of the Royals’ underrated Indian and international talent, to guide it to a dominant IPL title on 1 June 2008.
Rajasthan’s record of 13 wins out of 16 remains unmatched by any IPL team within a single season since then, but the Royals have never reached another IPL final.
In an era that predated modern analytics and match-ups, that remains Shane Warne’s greatest post-international retirement triumph.
The day he died was already a bittersweet one for Australian cricket — while the men’s team began a historic Pakistan tour, the first in 24 years, another legend, wicketkeeper-batsman Rod Marsh, also passed away.
Warne’s shocking, sudden death leaves a pandemic-hit cricketing world, and Australian cricket, much poorer.
(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)
Also read: The shame game
Source: The Print