Test cricket is the perfect metaphor for life. It’s why so many of us love it. A game played not in minutes, or by score, but in days. When the ball’s moving or a batter seems impossible to get out, other codes demand aggression, where cricket demands resilience. Cricket says: ‘while it is not your time now, there are 5 days, and your time will come’.
It doesn’t always come.
It is a long slog. Understandably, it is not an attractive spectator sport to the uninitiated. Shane Keith Warne’s superpower was, with every single delivery he ever bowled, making us all believe our time was now and forever.
‘Warnie’, in a time of upheaval and pessimism for the Australian people, made the mundane magical. In his monstrous hands, he held the key to our time – his ability to deliver a cricket ball in ways that defied physics as we knew it.
To understand Warne as a cricketer, you need to understand the difficulty of the skill he specialised in. A cricket ball more or less is ‘thrown’ with a straight arm. Conventionally, in order to go forward, the ball exits the front of your hand. In order to bowl leg-spin, you need to deliver the ball backwards, out of the back of your hand. It is exceedingly counter-intuitive and exceedingly difficult to master with any sort of accuracy.
The first ball he ever bowled in an Ashes series is known as the Ball of the Century. A ball that spun so viciously it was lost for a split second, and yet pitched so accurately that it took only a single bail. In this moment, Warne wasn’t a sportsman, he was an artist. It was a moment filled with such tangible and unbridled enthusiasm for life: delicate, visceral, shocking. This nation, rediscovering its national identity entering the new millennium, now had its icon, its genius, and it was powered by meat pies and Victoria Bitter. This was Michelangelo, Il Divino, as egalitarian. He went on to take 708 Test wickets, more than anyone before him. Unquestionably, he was the greatest to ever do it.
It was, however, not only leg-breaks, flippers and sliders that were the basis of Warne’s magnetism. It was the theatre. The charisma. Cricket is a conservative game, and yet he never once cowered and gave us someone he was not. Peroxide streaks, the zinc, the partying, the drinking, the smoking, the indiscretions and the salaciousness were in full unadulterated view for the entire world, and without a shred of disingenuousness.
His zest for life was infectious; he was, at heart, an amazing athlete who truly wanted nothing more than for everyone to love him. His 2019 interview with Leigh Sales encapsulates this in one perfectly disarming exchange that has endured as a perfect representation of his charm:
“Shane, it’s lovely to meet you.”
“Yes, it’s nice to be met.”
‘Transcendent’ is an utterly inadequate word to describe his presence beyond the game. Warne embodied white Australian metanarratives: a blond, tanned, athletic larrikin. Yet he was more, embracing a celebrity that extended beyond race, class and nationality. Effortlessly, he embodied all of us. Eddie Perfect’s Shane Warne: The Musical (and who else would have their own musical?) concludes with the chorus lyric ‘everyone’s a little bit like Shane’. Aren’t we?
Warnie was somehow a larger-than-life hero and everyday comrade with every step he took, and he knew it. We were brought along for the ride, and we could relate to him. Our time was every single delivery, a certainty when Warnie was bowling. Indeed, it was the only certainty for a man who relished the titillation of a punt – Warnie would concede boundaries, take wickets and end careers at will; a master of pure spectacle for spectacle’s sake. The world was at Warnie’s will, and with us in his intergalactic orbit, it was at our will too.
Our transience is so omnipresent; very rarely do we appreciate just how much we are loved, but I’m quite certain Shane Warne did. We were all incredibly privileged to share that love.