There is a deep sadness in me on hearing of cricketer Shane Warne’s death in Thailand of a suspected heart attack aged 52. Watching S. K. Warne as a boy alongside my brothers and cousins was one of the great joys of my childhood. Over hours of backyard cricket, the awe I felt in following his bowling example helped me grow in love for life.
I remember those glorious test match summers with the TV on throughout the day for Warnie’s long spin-bowling sessions. Here was the best at work, and my open eyes were steady as they looked at the screen. Here was a bowler crafting, shaping, bouncing precisely on the spot he wanted it to land on, spinning the way from outside leg to off with confidence, verve and concealment. The “ball of the century” was Rembrandt-in-action, casting a spell over both Gatting and commentators in a video I remember watching again and again in the early days of YouTube.
The magician of leg spin, the exemplar of the wrong’un, the chef behind the flipper, that glorious supercharged and zealous wicket-taker for the ages! With Glenn McGrath on rotation at the other end, here was the height of teamwork. As they sounded off each other, how could you not be amazed? Offering ideas to the captain (Border, Taylor, Waugh, Ponting) on best field placements, you could see his mind buzzing with enthusiasm. With his expert strategic wondering, Shane Warne’s whole self was focused on catching a skilled batsman off guard with a well-concealed variation on the theme.
A letter to Shane Warne in gratitude
Dear Shane, in sharing your gift with cricket you gave us a great blessing. You were an artist with the red ball, a skilled example of passionate striving, a showman who could hide what sort of bowl you’d offer next. You would leave greats like Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar seeking insight into the mystery. You seemed to delight in the thrill of these exchanges. Your duels with the best were magic for me, a dedicated eleven year old super-fan.
In my school cricket from 1998-2005 I used to imitate your spin bowling craft: the exact pace and moving arms of the walk-in, through to the smooth arc of the delivery. My efforts were a study in imitation and love for you, this phenomenon of a sportsman. You taught me how skills in any pursuit require honing one’s craft.
Now you are at rest, with Richie Benaud welcoming you into the dressing rooms. Ready for the big dance on the balcony, stumps high above your head, joyfully proclaiming the wonder of life.
May your commentary from high above the stands offer encouragement and inspiration to cricketers on every wicket. With affection, James