By Rupha Ramani Mar. 07, 2022
I had the privilege of working with the Aussie who was as much a maverick off the field as he was on it.
Why does this loss shake us to the core? It isn’t the unpredictability or the suddenness of it. The pandemic, if not life itself has played its part in toughening us to expect the worst. It wasn’t even the fact that he was just 52, nor was it the dark irony of his last words being a condolence to the passing away of a fellow compatriot, Rod Marsh, just hours earlier. No. I think what rocked us was that we never thought he could really go away. It’s a strange, almost delusional thought, but reading the epitaph of a close friend and partner in crime responsible for giving endless nightmares to the best batters in the world, Glenn McGrath, only confirmed what I had suspected. “Warnie was larger than life. I thought nothing could ever happen to him. He was the ultimate competitor. He thought the game was never lost, that he could turn it around and bring us to victory…”, he said.
Shane Keith Warne was a special cricketer and a special character. He brought in a whole new dimension to the sport.
Shane Keith Warne was a special cricketer and a special character. He whispered life and colour into a landscape that was blissfully happy in playing in monochromatic tones, both aesthetically and behaviourally. Warne brought in a whole new dimension to the sport. For a leg spinner to shoot into the limelight, in the manner he did, paint the narrative in the way he did, is testament to his charisma. His persona had an impact not just on his peers but also on the generations that followed. Growing up I watched him trade his wits with our very own Sachin Tendulkar, bring us countless moments during the innumerable Ashes encounters against his English counterparts, and compete for that race to most wickets with Muttiah Muralidharan and Anil Kumble. He breathed life into these contests and the rivalries made it just that much more enjoyable for us to watch him at work.
As a cricketer, he was a showman, a magician, a performer and a clinical match winner.
I had the envious opportunity of working with him and interviewing him on a number of occasions. I still remember the first ever time I sat down across from him for an exclusive interview – almost underprepared and equally over the moon about the opportunity. Years later I worked with him on a couple of World Cup events that he would commentate on.
While interacting with some of us he was always warm, funny and quite like his on field persona , had a zero filter. To the extent that he would tell us, during the match broadcast, that he had to take a dump and promptly finish his business and come back to tell us what his stomach issues were. TMI Warnie, we’d tell him. But, with the mic in hand, much like when he gripped the leather ball during his playing days, he was enigmatic, eloquent, lucid and insightful. As a commentator, some things never changed. He still strove to be the best, he took great pride in reading every situation as the match unfolded and pre-empting what could happen. I had the privilege to witness a few times he did, lapping it all up in awe, watching a maestro at work, from the corner of the commentary box.
“Warnie was larger than life. I thought nothing could ever happen to him. He was the ultimate competitor.”
As a cricketer, he was a showman, a magician, a performer and a clinical match winner. Every delivery he bowled held so much promise, because he made us believe it did. That casual stroll, shuffle and whipping release was like a 3-act play in itself. It had a Beginning: Warne casually and piercingly reading his opponent, The middle: mind games he forced the batter to unwittingly engage in as he often had them second guessing themselves, and The end: that magical moment where it all concluded and the spectator-turned-fan, was ready to jump, scream alongside the bowling great.
On the cricket field he was ruthless; ready to lip, sneer, shoot some wisecracks but the difference was, he could very easily follow up the talk with the walk. Off it, he was far from perfect. Warne was flawed and he did not hide it. Whether it was about being caught smoking, revealing details of the pitch to an Indian bookie, missing out the 2003 World Cup after testing positive for a banned substance or his multiple affairs, Warne walked the tightrope of morality but wasn’t apologetic about it. His nonchalance about these episodes, in fact embellished an aura that was, maybe, a lesson in handling the burden of becoming a global star.
They say the true test of legacy is when the impact of the person lives on. Warnie’s will.
Furthermore, he countered every such setback with a resounding performance on the field. He not only knew how to spin a web around his opponents, but played enough mind games along the way; whether it was constantly reinventing himself or even announcing a new one, ’zooter’, ahead of an Ashes series to create that sense of curiosity and intrigue around what was an already potent challenge.
The expression Mike Gatting had on his face probably best epitomises what Warne’s talent truly meant. It was sensational to the point of disbelief. The wit and guile along with his cricketing brain prompted many to say he probably was the captain Australia never had. He fulfilled that dream when he took over the reins of the Rajasthan Royals in the inaugural season of the Indian Premier League. From my interactions with almost every member of that setup, I can safely say that Warnie touched lives. He was an inspirational leader on the ground and a stimulating mentor off it.
They say the true test of legacy is when the impact of the person lives on. Warnie’s will. Watching a young Australian leggie, playing in her first world cup in New Zealand, Alana King, thumping her black band in dedication to Warne after she snapped up 3 wickets is proof of the many sportsmen and women Shane Keith Warne has and will inspire in the years to come.
When she isn't watching sports, Rupha Ramani is dreaming of getting back to playing some sport. Now a freelancer, she worked as a reporter, presenter, and producer in a news channel for seven years, and was a producer at Star Sports for over four years.