Fourth march will go down as one of my darkest days as a cricket aficionado.
My mind is still not able to digest the fact that the world’s greatest leg-spinner is no more. “It is Shane Warne, he is supposed to be invincible. How can he disappear in a whisker?”, the heart-wrenched mind kept talking to itself.
A week ago, I had listened to his vodcast with a local Australian journalist. His voice is still reverberating in my ear. Shane Warne for us, cricket romantics, was an emotion. I still vividly remember in 2004, when Australia toured India. The last test match was played at the Wankhede, and I had booked the tickets for the test match well in advance, with the only objective of watching the spin maestro live in action. As it turned out, Warne was rested for that game as Australia had already bagged the series, puncturing my rosy dream. Such was his aura, that he used to put bums on the seats.
He revived the artistry of leg-spin when the spin currency was on the brink of collapse, at the end of the twentieth century. He was a chess grandmaster, who played with the minds of the batsman, toyed with their psychology, and made them dance to his tunes. He made things happen. In the 2005 Ashes, I recollect we had gathered at a friend’s place to watch the fifth day of the final Ashes test, such was his magnetism. The series was on the knife-edge, where Australia needed a win to retain the Ashes. At the start of the day, England were well in the driving seat, and within touching distance of creating history. That day one of my friends had remarked, “The defiant shadows of Mcgrath and Warner loom large, an Australian comeback cannot be ruled out”. I nodded in agreement, who would place a bet against the ‘poker’-faced Shane Warne. As it happened, England did manage to defy Warne and his heroics. But he had stamped his authority on the series, made his mark. But for him, Australia was dead and buried. That Australian team was brilliant, but Warne made them godly. He loved a contest, relished a fight. In the subsequent Ashes in Australia, no one can ever forget the Adelaide test where Australia stole victory from the clutches of England’s hands. It was Warne who ignited the fire, and showed Australia the way. He was on his last legs, but still his mind was as sharp as a razor. Even destiny was in awe of this genius. In the same series, he reached the seven hundred landmark, rattling the timber, through the gates of Andrew Strauss, and he did it on the hallowed turf of the MCG, the ground where the high-octane, dramatic story named “Shane Warne” unfolded.
I saw first-hand on television how Malcolm Galdwell’s 10,000 hour theory was rolled out in his art. Beyond the boundary, he was rock-n-roll, larger than life, a flawed personality, a controversial figure, someone who transcended borders, with everybody wanting a piece of him and having lost count of the people who wanted to imitate his action. Love him, hate him, but you could never ignore him. Amidst the glamour, cricket was his religion and he made cricket fashionable, and sexy. He was Lata Mangeshkar of his discipline, a true sporting genius who had an air of gravitas.
His commentary was as exciting as his leg-spin. Highly opinionated, uncompromising, invited debates sometimes peppering the border of belligerence. One thing that defined him as a human being, that he always stood up for his team-mates, and the way he passionately supported Justin Langer showcased that.
In the end, he did us like he had bamboozled all the hapless batsman, as we sat in shock with our jaws agape. He has left a huge vacuum behind in the cricketing fraternity, and I sincerely hope that his demise doesn’t lead to us to a recession in leg-spin economy, as the Warne currency was driving it enormously.
Must say, he probably lived ten lives packed in his magical fifty-two years.