He has been in the limelight for both the right and the wrong reasons, for doing things his way.
He has always competed hard, refusing to give an inch to the opposition, using the choicest words at times when situations seemed out of control for his team.
His off-field indiscretions and marital problems have been well-documented over the years.
But there is no denying a single inescapable fact: he still remains one of the greatest spin wizards ever to have played the game.
Shane Keith Warne – the Sheikh of Tweak, Australia’s highest wicket-taker in Test cricket and one of the key members of Steve Waugh‘s side that lifted the 1999 World Cup, turns 44 today. He must be credited for resuscitating the dying art of leg spin in modern times, and, along with Sri Lankan legend Muttiah Muralitharan, remains the only other slower bowler to have taken more than 1000 wickets in international cricket.
Warne never got to captain Australia during his entire career, which many consider to be his greatest regret (although the man himself hasn’t spoken too much about it). His dual role as captain and coach for the Rajasthan Royals received much praise, especially after they won the inaugural IPL title in 2008, almost a year after he bid farewell to the international arena.
As he celebrates his birthday today, here’s a look back at five moments in cricketing history that reflected his immense talent as a cricketer:
5. Sealing the Ashes (England vs Australia, Third Test, December 2006)
Warne rates this game as the best one he’s ever played in – and it was sweet vengeance for the Kangaroos after they were humiliated by England in the 2005 edition, losing the urn after 16 years.
He took four wickets in the second innings, after England were set a target of 557 to win – completely ripping apart the line-up despite a battling century from Alastair Cook and valiant half-centuries from Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen and captain Andrew Flintoff. The way he bamboozled the rest of the batsmen speaks volumes of the determination he had in wanting to avenge the previous reverse.
Warne’s five-wicket haul for the whole match enabled Australia to go 3-0 up in the series, and he helped them to achieve the 5-0 whitewash they had promised in the previous edition. Excellent stuff!
4. Mesmerizing the Proteas (South Africa vs Australia, World Cup 1999 semi final)
In a game that was later described as the greatest ever one-day match of all time, the pudgy spinner broke the back of the South African line-up as he grabbed four key wickets to peg the Proteas back significantly.
First up, Shane sent down a looping delivery to Herschelle Gibbs – it drifted away, landed in the rough outside leg, and nipped back in to take out the top of off-stump. One was instantly reminded of his delivery to dismiss Gatting six years ago – only this time, it was Gibbs who was bemused.
Next, Warne removed Gary Kirsten with a similar delivery identical to Gibbs’ dismissal, and was lucky to pick up Hansie Cronje as his third – the attempted flick did not produce any edges, according to replays.
In his final over, the leg-break bowler dismissed Jacques Kallis to complete a four-wicket haul.
Although Lance Klusener brought South Africa close to a win, a mistake by Donald cost them a place in the finals after the game ended in a tie. Warne was duly awarded Man-of-the-Match for his efforts, and by all accounts, he was the one who had scripted this finish for his side.
3. The hat-trick at the MCG (England vs Australia, 1994 Ashes)
England came into the match with a lot of players on the injury list – even their physio broke a finger during a fielding practice session. Warne had made life miserable for them in the previous year, with his ‘Ball of the Century’ that dismissed Gatting and later Australia to beat the Poms in their own backyard.
He was at it again at the MCG, after David Boon’s century pushed Australia to 320 in the second innings. England were struggling at 91/6 , when Warne came on to bowl.
His first delivery was a conventional leg-spinner to Phil DeFreitas; the batsman played it off the back-foot, the ball kept low and rapped him on the pads – a straightforward LBW decision.
The very next ball, Warne had Darren Gough caught behind by Healy – he added a bit of over-spin to the leg-break, bemusing the batsman. One more and he would have his hat-trick.
Warne turned to Damien Fleming, who had picked up a hat-trick against Pakistan at Rawalpindi a few months earlier. The pacer advised his colleague to keep it simple and bowl a stock ball. The spinner repeated the delivery he’d used to remove Gough, and Devon Malcolm responded like a typical tailender. He edged the ball, it went off his glove, and flew to a diving Boon at silly mid-on; the portly Aussie opener’s bulk belied his alertness and swift reaction.
Warne got his triple, and England suffered a massive 295-run defeat as they collapsed for a paltry 92. The Aussies would go on to win the Ashes 3-1, with one game ending in a draw.
2. The Cullinan tussle (South Africa vs Australia, 1994 and 1997)
South Africa’s veteran batsman Daryll Cullinan famously fell to the Aussie magician four times in Test matches and eight times in One-Dayers. The 25-year-old spinner ran rings around the bemused stalwart, bamboozling him with his turn and getting his wicket on more than one occasion.
On the 1997 tour of South Africa, as Cullinan took strike against the Victorian, Warne famously taunted him with the words: “I’ve been waiting for two years to humiliate you again.” Daryll threw caution to the wind, lost his head and retorted: “Looks like you spent most of it eating.“
The rotund leg-spinner dismissed him next ball.
Cullinan was noted for having sought the services of a psychiatrist in order to break free from Warne’s psychological hold. Sledging someone who was an exponent of that art seemed to have backfired on the batsman, and despite his noted ability to play spin very well, Daryll never found much success against Warne in his career.
1. Ball of the Century (1993 Ashes)
This was the moment that made the entire cricketing fraternity sit up and take notice of a blond-haired leg-break bowler who was relatively inexperienced in the longer format. Up until this magical occurrence, spin was considered an archaic art, and was seldom factored into a side’s bowling plans; it was pace bowling that ruled the roost in those days.
The Old Trafford pitch had traditionally assisted spinners; England went in with two specialists in Phil Tufnell and debutant Peter Such. Australia fielded three pacers, with Warne as the sole spinner.
Mike Gatting, a world-class batsman and a superb player of spin, was on strike, and England were on cruise mode in pursuit of Australia’s first-innings total. Skipper Allan Border turned to the young leggie, and what followed left everyone stunned.
Warne sent down a leg-break, taking a short run-up to the bowling crease. Gatting thrust his left leg forward, confident that the ball would pitch outside leg-stump. However, it spun more than he expected upon landing, beat the outside edge of the bat, and clipped the top of the off-stump, sending the bails flying in the air.
Gatting was numb with shock. Healy, behind the stumps, jumped for joy as the fielders swarmed around the young bowler. England never recovered, and Warne went on to take eight wickets in the entire match, as Australia ended up winning the series 4-1. This was the start of the Kangaroos’ long domination of world cricket, and the rise of the Victorian leg-spinner.