Australia’s former Test cricketer Shane Warne who is considered by the cricketing fraternity as arguably the greatest leg spinner of all time turned 48 year old on Wednesday. The champion bowler was greeted with birthday wishes from fellow cricketers past and present and the large fan base he has globally.
On the Aussie leg spinner's 48 birthday, let us go down in memory lane and recall how this giant of a cricketer left an impregnable mark in sport.
While the Indian subcontinent has been widely regarded as the breeding ground for producing the all-time spin greats, the land ‘Down Under’ can lay claim for giving the gentlemen’s game the greatest of them all.
Australia which dominated World Cricket in the late 90s and the first decade of the new millennium had a galaxy of stars in Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Waugh brothers, Adam Gilchrist, Glen McGrath and Brett Lee, each a legend in his own merit. But perhaps the stalwart who became their biggest match winner in their golden era was their ‘Spin King’ Shane Warne.
In the mid and late 80s, the art of leg spin has reached its nadir and was invariably dying a slow death. With Pakistan’s ‘old wily fox’ Abdul Qadir being the only major exponents of the trait, the cricketing world eagerly awaited for someone special to revive the fascinating art.
In came a bloke from Victoria in Australia, a little chubby blonde with good looks who instantly turned all the heads with the mesmerizing skill he possessed with those magical wrists. He turned the red cherry viciously and had tremendous control over his flight.
The Aussies were yet to come to terms with this prodigious talent and found it rather hard to digest the fact that they could boast of a quality leggie after a long time post former greats in Bill O’Reilly and Richie Benaud.
After a rather subdued debut against India in 1992, Shane Warne bowled the ‘Ball of the Century’ in his first Ashes Test to dismiss England’s batting mainstay Mike Gatting. Shane Warne had announced himself on the big stage. Warne ended the Ashes with a bagful of wickets and gave a teaser of what would follow in the next decade and a half.
Right from 1993 to his retirement, Warnie became the lynch-pin of Australia’s bowling attack in a pace heavy battery which comprised of pace stalwarts like Craig McDermott, Glen McGrath, Jason Gillespie , Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson to name a few.
Warne became Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting’s go to man whenever they wanted to peg back the opposition. He mesmerized the best with his big turning leg spinners and bamboozled them with those deceptive googlies.
Add to that his natural drift which made his deliveries float in the air, much to the batsman’s awe. Warne formed a lethal partnership with ace glovesmen Ian Healy and Adam Gilchrist who were hand-in-glove with some of his classical dismissals behind the stumps.
For almost two decades, Warne had a healthy rivalry with his contemporaries in fellow legends Muttiah Muralitharan and Anil Kumble. The troika was engaged in bragging rights for being deemed as the greatest spinner of their generation.
Warne had indeed pioneered the art of leg spin and courtesy his exploits international cricket saw a plethora of spinners in Mushtaq Ahmed, Paul Strang, Stuart McGill, Danish Kaneria, and Imran Tahir who made the craft an attacking dimension of cricket.
Warne brought out his best against arch rival Australia in the much revered Ashes series where he tormented the English for over a decade with his bagful of tricks. South Africa was another Test powerhouse who fell prey to Warne’s spin many a times.
Daryll Cullinan famously came to be known as ‘Warne Bunny’ all through the 90s. New Zealand, West Indies, Pakistan and Sri Lanka all succumbed to the magician’s magic. Perhaps the only country where Warnie could not cast a web was the India where he was taken to the cleaners by batting legends Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Navjot Singh Sidhu.
However Warne’s enormous following ensured that the Indo-Australian series got dubbed as the duel between Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne. The ‘Master Blaster’ vs the ‘Spin Maestro’ battle gripped the cricket frenzy fans all across the sub-continent and turned the contest into one of the most high profile series of that era.
Besides his glittering Test career, Shane was a champion one day bowler. He had the ability to produce magic in big matches and his match winning spells in the semis and final of the 1999 World Cup spearheaded Australia to World Cup title in 1999.
Warne had a great cricketing acumen and was considered to have one of best cricketing brain. Apart from his leg spin prowess, he was a capable lower order batsman and an excellent fielder at the slips. His accomplishments and great service to Australian cricket got recognized by the way of him making the cut as Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Century.
For the numbers, 708 wickets in 145 games at an impressive bowling average of 25 odd makes him the second highest Test wicket-taker and is testimony to his wicket taking prowess. 293 wickets from 194 ODIs made him Australia’s strike weapon in limited overs cricket.
A great competitor on the field and a colourful and charismatic character of it, Shane Warne is one of those rare sportsmen whose charisma shall fail to fade for times immemorial.