His reputation as one of the all-time cricketing greats was established with the first ball of his inaugural Ashes Test. The vicious turner landed a foot outside the leg stump and cannoned into the off bail leaving English batsman Mike Gatting in a daze. That was Old Trafford, circa 1993. Nearly a decade and a half on, Shane Warne will vie for an unprecedented 700 Test scalps when he takes to the field against the Poms in his pen-ultimate appearance for Australia, in Melbourne, on the Boxing Day.
It is a testament of his impact on the cricketing world that Warne is the only out-and-out bowler to be chosen among the top five cricketers of the last century. That heâ€™s made the cut as a leg spinner makes his achievement even more remarkable. Leg spin is an excruciatingly difficult craft to master. Warne makes it look ridiculously simple: his control of the degree of spin, especially in his sliders and his signature â€œzootersâ€, has been a source of awe and inspiration for budding leggies and millions of spectators the world over.
Among Warneâ€™s achievements: helping Australia win the 1999 World Cup, almost single-handedly; being the first bowler to bag 650 Tests wickets (and surely the first to break the 700 mark); the only bowler to scalp over 90 Test wickets (96) in a calendar year... The list goes on and on. But, above all, Warneâ€™s an entertainer.
As a spectator sport cricket is all about fours and sixes, his ability to bedazzle the paying public purely on his bowling skills puts his achievement in perspective. His slow, halting approach to the wicket, tongue glistening his parched lips, his vociferous appeals,
the oohs and aahs following the decisions against his favour â€” Warneâ€™s a showman. But for the diminutive Victorian the sense of drama went beyond the field. His notorious addiction for booze and broads, occasional flirts with drugs, match fixing scandals: whatever he did, controversies were never far off.
Warneâ€™s hinted that he might take up commentary after he calls it quits early January. Given to dozing off in the commentary box, his calibre as a television commentator is as yet questionable. Whatâ€™s not is that heâ€™ll leave a yawning void that will be nigh impossible for any single cricketer to fill.