The King is dead; there will never be another

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I don’t know a life without Shane Warne.

For as long as I have been alive cricket has revolved, and evolved, around him. He was, for good or bad, one of those things that is today virtually extinct. A sportsperson with a personality.

It’s one of those of those days we put the bad to another side. We remember only the good. His legend was born early in his career. At Manchester in 1993, still a few months before I was born, he bowled Mike Gatting with that ball.

And cricket was never the same.

Cricket had had rock stars before. Viv Richards, Imran Khan, Ian Botham. But never had spin been cool. The early nerves gave way and his bluff and bluster, and mischief and mastery, propelled him to the very top of his game. And it was his game.

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Without Warne, leg-spin bowling might well have gone extinct. Now, though largely absent from Tests, they are indispensable in the white-ball formats. Adil Rashid, Adam Zampa, Rashid Khan all play in his shadow. Doomed to be compared to an unmatchable genius.

Adam Zampa of Australia celebrates a wicket

Just as geniuses do, the more he played the more he learned. Many of his greatest achievements came in the last couple years of his career. In 2000, Warne was named one of the five greatest cricketers of the 20th century. In 2006, he was even better.

In 2004, he took 26 wickets in three Tests against Sri Lanka. In 2005, as Australia lost The Ashes for the first time since 1986-87, he took 40 wickets at an average under twenty and scored 249 runs at an average of 28. Even in a losing series he was the best on the ground. Also in that year, Warne took a world record 96 wickets.

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Finally, there was his final summer, his final series. In many ways his finest hour. The vast majority of sporting careers don’t end like his did. Claiming his 700th Test wicket. Winning every game. Winning back the biggest trophy. Tens of thousands of people cheering you while you’re surrounded by friends and family.

And for all the flippers, zooters and sliders, it was in the simple things that his genius was most apparent. That the beauty of his game shone through. He was greatest when he employed his simplest weapons. Unerring accuracy and the perfect legbreak. Like the greatest artists and composers.

Like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, his work was never lovelier to behold than its softest and most simple moments.

Warne himself described his life as like a soap-opera. Like a pantomime fairytale, his extraordinary behaviour and showmanship was intrinsic to his career. Part of the legend. We all came to watch the King.

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His legend will enter a new phase now. His legacy, in the coming years, will undergo a forensic analysis and revision. Most likely he will be deified. An untouchable like Don Bradman.

For today, let us all remember that this genius, flawed as he was, changed our great game for the better. Brought joy and wonder to so many backyards and laughter and awe into the living rooms of even the unconverted.

The game lost something special when he retired but its spark was still around. Lighting up whether we liked it or not. Now that spark is gone, and cricket is poorer now he is in his long rest.

King is dead.

Rest, King.

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