Warne out: Australia's spin-king abdicates
Dec 21, 2006, 7:33 GMT
Australian cricketer Shane Warne gestures as he announces his retirement in Melbourne, Thursday 21 December 2006. Warne will retire from cricket after the fifth Ashes Test at the SCG, starting 02 January, 2007. EPA/JULIAN SMITH
Sydney - Cricket captain is the next job down from being prime minister in sports-mad Australia and an honour the country would happily have bestowed on spin bowler Shane Warne a decade ago had he not shown a flair for getting on the front pages of newspapers as well as in the sports sections.
The podgy bottle-blond who Thursday set off a delirium of adulation by calling time on his international career was just two years ago excoriated as an incorrigible lout, a convicted drug cheat and even a sex maniac.
'He can rut with whomever he likes, but as a serial liar he should never again be allowed to debase the Australian colours by wearing them,' Sydney Morning Herald sports writer Paul Sheehan thundered after yet another steamy affair was exposed in the tabloids and wife Simone declared their 9-year marriage dead.
'At some point in all this, after yet another lie is exposed, yet another tawdry text message published, yet another piece of irrefutable evidence of betrayal emerges, a tipping point has to be reached with Warne, an end to the big lie,' Sheehan declared.
Warne's genius meant the tipping point never came and the 37-year-old bad-boy went on to become the leading wicket-taker of all time and the only current player to be named in sports-bible Wisden's top-five cricketers of the 20th century.
He's quite simply the best bowler in the history of the game, his 699 wickets in 143 Tests a mere statistical summary of 15 years of bamboozling batsmen with balls that twist and turn and bend.
Warne's reputation, his theatrics, his mental agility, his mastery of sports psychology, had many opponents beaten before they even faced him. He delivered the 'ball of the century' in 1993 to send a gobsmacked Mike Gatting back to the dressing room. It was the first ball in his first over in Test cricket against England and although it pitched well to Gatting's left it swerved and took off the bail to his right.
Warne never lost confidence in both his ability and his belief that his magnificence on the field would always trump his tawdry off-pitch antics.
'Over the years, every game I play, people say 'he's no good any more' and write me off. Then I have a good game and people say 'he's as good as ever,'' Warne said after taking an astonishing 40 wickets in England 18 months ago.
Sir Donald Bradman, acknowledged as the best-ever batsman, described the novice Warne as the 'best thing that's happened to the game of cricket in many many years.'
Warne resurrected the art of spin bowling. Then, in the early 1990s, teams were stacked with fast bowlers. Now, most teams field spinners as well.
'What he's brought to the game is immeasurable,' said former Australian captain Allan Border.
Warne brought drama to what can be a dour contest. When he was tossed the ball, when he fixed the batsman with his stare, a hush fell over stadiums.
Said fellow Australian bowler Dennis Lillee: 'He's the best I've seen at first hand - the only spinner who has made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. If I'm watching him on television, I can't leave the room. No other spinner has ever done that to me.'
Warne's penchant for test messaging his latest squeeze lost him the vice-captaincy. He was fined for accepting money from an illicit Indian bookmaker for 'pitch information.' He was banned for a year for taking a diuretic he said his mum gave him to look slim. He manhandled a New Zealand lad who snapped him puffing on a cigarette at a time when he was endorsing a smoking cure. He boasted about never having read a book.
Those who want their sports heroes to be role models were exasperated by Warne. For those not fussed by grown men who dress and behave like adolescents, Warne was deserving of the adulation he received.
Peter Lalor, sports write for The Australian, summed up Warne as an outrageously gifted sportsman who either couldn't or wouldn't tailor his public profile to the dictates of the times.
'The man is a genius and a goose. Proud and pathetic. A defiant warrior and a deceitful philanderer. He could be canonised, or fired from one - both acts would be similarly legitimate,' Lalor wrote.© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur