Shane Warne, one of the most colourful characters ever to play the game © Getty Images
Shane Warne was one of the most colourful characters ever to play the game © Getty Images

Shane Warne, born September 13, 1969, resurrected the art of leg-spin bowling, adding substance, style and glamour to the most intriguing of cricketing crafts, writing a new chapter big enough to merit a dedicated volume. Arunabha Sengupta lists 40 facts about the legend which may not be very widely known.

The memories will continue to linger. Of that peerless leg-spinner walking up to bowl, running those last three steps and sending the ball fizzing through the air, in various tantalising loops. The ball landing outside the leg stump and suddenly changing direction, tracing a path of flagrant treachery. And then there will be the memories of the man behind the turn and bounce and appeal, an eternal child of outrageous capers, often beyond justification and redemption, but always curiously lovable. The most colourful character of cricket.

To append the lasting recollections, here is a list of seldom recounted facts about the legend.

1.    Shane Warne’s father Jason picked up cricket after 40, to play alongside his sons at East Sandringham Boys Cricket Club.

2.    Instructed in the leg-break at East Sandringham as a kid, Warne could hardly land the ball on the pitch. He preferred to bat in those days.

3.    The first one-day game Warne ever attended was one of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cup matches at VFL Park. The first Test was the 1982 Melbourne affair which Australia lost to England by three runs.

4.    During the 1980s, after the Australians lost three out of four Ashes series and four out of five of the Frank Worrell Trophies, the Australian Cricket Board appended a cricket wing to the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) program in 1987. In 1990, a twenty-year old Warne was taken in as one of the ‘scholars’ — according  to Gideon Haigh, the only time such a term was tagged to this leg-spinner.

5.    It was at the Institute that Damien Martyn and Justin Langer came across Warne for the first time. He was an overweight youth sitting by himself, tucking into a family-sized pizza and guzzling down a can of Victoria Bitter.

6.    His misdemeanours at the Academy have become part of his folklore, an essential segment of the entire Shane Warne soap opera. His attitude remained casual. He often came close to being sent home, although he never was.

7.    At the Academy, Jack Potter, one of the managers of the cricket programme, taught him the fiendishly difficult skill of the flipper.

8.    In the 1970s Terry Jenner had played nine Test matches, turning a few deliveries but not enough heads. He had drifted in life, changing plenty of jobs along his way. He was suspended from a job for fraud and after a second offence was sent on a long prison term. At the time he met Warne, he had recently left prison after serving eighteen months for embezzlement. Warne himself was on his final warning at the academy, after swearing at the instructor during a sand-hill run. Warne and Jenner gelled, and soon the young spinner was chosen to tour Zimbabwe with Australia B and then made his Test debut against India at the Sydney Cricket Ground after just seven First-Class games.

9.    When he played his first Test match, against India at Sydney, Warne weighed 97 kilos

10.  At Colombo, with Sri lanka at 150 for 7, captain Border tossed the ball to his young leg-spinner. At that juncture Wane had a Test bowling record of 1 wicket for 346 runs from 93 overs. And he quickly finished the innings bagging the three remaining wickets. Australia won by 16 runs. They were not great scalps. None of the batsmen he dismissed that day ended his Test career with an average more than 6. However, this faith or hunch or simply a decision that could easily have gone horribly wrong — whatever it was for Border —gave Warne the foothold from which he climbed to the highest of peaks.

11.  Arriving in England for the first time, he was prevailed over by Border not to deploy any of his varieties when Australia played at Worcester. He was not played in the Texaco Trophy matches as well. The result was that England actually got to see him only when he ran in to bowl to Mike Gatting in the Manchester Test.

12.  In Cassell’s Dictionary of Sports Quotations the entry against Mike Gatting reads ‘see Food, Leg spin Bowling, Sex’

13.  Once at Trent Bridge Robert Croft hit him for six and was watching the replay on the giant screen. Warne told him, “Don’t worry mate, you will be able to see the replay again in a couple of minutes.” He was right.

14.  Before bowling the delivery that trapped Andrew Jones leg before in a Test, Warne had flashed a grin at umpire Steve Dunne and remarked, “This is the one.”

15.  One of the famous quotes of Warne was: “Part of the art of bowling spin is to make the batsman think something special is happening when it is not.” His mystery deliveries, always discovered before Ashes series, were often figments of his imagination which preyed on the batsmen’s minds.

16.   Another characteristic quote of Warne ran, “It is the batsmen who worry about combination, not the bowlers.”

17.  There were more tricks than just the rip on the ball. The elaborate field placing, the winces, the facial expressions, the expectant appeals that started with the release of the delivery and stopped with a curious look and hint of smile if nothing happened. If there was an appeal turned down, the umpire was given a startled stare. Warne could sometimes cajole out a shocking decision, he did so from Steve Bucknor against Andrew Strauss at Adelaide in his final Ashes series in 2006-07.

18.  And then there was the scientific art of sledging, customised for each batsman. He limped to mimic the injury prone Chris Cairns. He taunted Daryl Cullinan by asking him the ‘colour of the couch’ having learnt that the South African batsman had consulted a sports psychologist to deal with his terrors of facing Warne. He addressed Brian McMillan as Depardieu, greeted Nasser Hussain as Saddam and Graham Gooch as Mr. Gooch. For many less-significant batsmen it was just the odd query wondering at the puzzle that they were playing at this level. But he knew when not to needle as well. Ken Rutherford was a scrapper who relished exchanges and Warne determinedly uttered no word for him to savour. And hardly ever did he say anything to Sachin Tendulkar.

19.  Once Sourav Ganguly let patted near half-volleys defensively. Warne walked up to him, pointed at Sachin Tendulkar at the other end and said, “People have come here to watch that man play his strokes, not to see you block.” Soon, Ganguly stepped out, misread a ball horribly and was sprawling on the ground as he was stumped.

20.  All this showman stuff was as much part of Warne’s persona as his methods. But behind all this was a plan built up with every delivery. As Strauss put it, Warne planned the whole over before he bowled a single ball. Even if a batsman survived the mind-games, there was a truly methodical strategy being concocted in the fertile brain to bring about his demise. Warne visualised not where the ball would pitch and which way it would turn. He started thinking about the type of strokes the batsman was expected to play, and how his ball would bait that stroke and get him out.

21.  The amount of torque he got off the shortest of run-ups was incredible. The ball was given a massive rip and side spin. The furious rotations gave rise to the drift against the direction in which the sphere rotated, explained in physics as the Magnus Effect. Often the batsman stretched their pads out but still the ball pitched wider and found its way around the legs because the excess drift carried it further down.

22.  Later, with the slider, he became more cunning. The bats had improved by then, but for every stroke hit off him, there was a price to pay down the line. He had averaged 25.71 for his 491 wickets with a strike rate of 60.8 when the drug controversy had forced a hiatus in Test cricket. When he returned it was with a rejuvenated body, spirit to recapture the honour, ingenuity enhanced even further.  The slider was a weapon of deception that confused the best of batsmen with the presence, absence and varying degrees of spin. The big leg-break was used off and on, mixed in beguiling proportion. The last 38 Test matches got him 217 wickets at 24.75 at a strike rate of 49.8.

23.  The role of the loaded weapon this took toll on his fingers and shoulder. In 1995-96, he had to bowl with anti-inflammatories and injections driven directly into the knuckle of the third finger of his right hand. Physiotherapy sessions had to be arranged to preserve his shoulder. Warne missed a fourth of Australia’s Test matches between excellent performances in the two World Cups of 1996 and 1999. And in between he ran into Tendulkar.

24.  Tendulkar scored 1,209 against Australia in 12 Tests while Warne bowled at him, at an average of 60.45 with five hundreds. Brian Lara played eight more Tests against Warne, scored 1,837 at 54.02 with the same .number of centuries. Kevin Pietersen scored 963 at 53.50 in 10 Tests with two identical scores of 158. No other batsmen came remotely close to matching their feats. Warne prevailed over almost all his opponents.

25.  Warne would have been a legend with a murky end had he retired after the issues in 2003. From 2004 to 2007, he became almost mythical in his deeds. The murkiness, however, will follow him throughout.

26.  In 1994, while playing in the Singer World Series in Sri Lanka, Warne and Mark Waugh had been at the casino beside Oberoi Hotel when the latter was approached by a friendly ‘John’ —an alias of the infamous bookmaker Mukesh Gupta. Waugh, whose carefree playing style often formed a halo effect concealing his fondness for money, accepted $4,000 for disclosing pitch and weather conditions before the games. And he introduced the bookie to Warne who accepted $5000 as a token of appreciation from an insistent ‘John’. Of course, Warne promptly squandered the whole amount in the casino, and was fined an equivalent figure when the dalliance was revealed.

27.  There was another attempt at more brazen bribery by Salim Malik during the Pakistan leg of the tour, trying to entice Warne and Tim May to bowl outside the off-stump during a tense final day. The two spinners conferred and decided to ask the Pakistan captain to get stuffed.

28.  By 2000, Warne had come up through the ranks and was the deputy of Steve Waugh. At this juncture he sent drunken voice messages from the Leicester Holiday Inn to a 22-year-old nurse called Donna Wright. These found their way into the Daily Mirror under the glaring headlines SHAME WARNE. The longevity of the gossip was obviously as short as public memory, but it was taken up by Cricket Australia (CA) in all seriousness. Warne pleaded that his affairs, extra-marital or otherwise, was not really linked to his performance or credibility on the field. But, sensing some full blown scandal down the line when the seat would be too hot not to catch fire, the decision makers of Australian cricket relieved him of his vice-captaincy.

29.  Some of the transgressions of Warne included the hairy-backed Sheila, the exotic dancer, the blonde promotions model, the girl who had sex with him on the bonnet of a car and then engaged in a game of kiss and tell with a tabloid, more girls with sex toys with whom he was caught literally pants down on hidden cameras. Warne screamed himself hoarse, with genuine confusion on his innocent face, that these were his personal affairs. Well, a nation which witnessed a silently suffering Simone, the wife for 12 years and the mother of his three children, begged to differ quite often.

30.  Warne did have the ability to feign innocence, almost literally like the adolescent kid led or laid astray by trusted people in his life. After swallowing Moduretic, he came up with the tale that he had been badgered into taking it by his mother Brigitte, a sterling lady of German descent. He confessed tearfully to his teammates.

Ricky Ponting later told the media that Warne was guilty of using drugs, as also stupidity. When Gilchrist said in his reaction, “I think there’s no doubt that people don’t like being deceived,” Warne was bitter enough to proclaim to a mutual acquaintance that he would never speak to Gilchrist again.

31.  The problems continued well into his post-international cricket days. Even in early 2013, Warne was fined $4500 and banned for a match for using obscene language, making inappropriate physical contact with Marlon Samuels and showing serious dissent at an umpire’s decision during a Big Bash League Match.

32.  Warne was never really a stickler for fitness drills. Ian Chappell tells the story of Warne bounding down to him before a match and saying, “Why are we doing these stupid 45-minute fielding drills? What I need is to bowl a few balls at the nets and then sit in the dressing room, have a smoke, a cuppa tea and think about the guys I have to bowl at today.” Chappell and Warne agreed that the leg-spinner should have played in the former’s era.

33.  During a Gabba Test, when visited by Australian Rules footballers from the Brisbane Lions, Warne grabbed a beer, sat in the corner, put an ice pack on his knee and smoked away as he chatted. There was the old world Australian cricketer about him.

34.  Steve Waugh and Warne had  a few differences in their time. In his Shane Warne’s Century rating cricketers he had played with, the leg-spinner ranks his captain at No 26, saying he was less aggressive and not a big risk taker. Waugh, in his Out of my Comfort Zone hints at some irritating characteristics of Warne, although they are all but lost in the bulk of the book.

35.  Warne took charge of the Hampshire side, leading it from second division to within striking distance of the county title. And there he struck a close friendship with Kevin Pietersen, the explosive South Africa born batsman knocking on the English cricketing doors, with whom he would form a dashing debonair duo that rivalled the post-War legend of Keith Miller and Denis Compton. The duo could be spotted every evening, drinking themselves to glory in the Southampton pubs.

36.  In the 2005 Ashes tour took place, Warne ended with 40 wickets at 19.92 apiece, 249 runs at 27.66. It was perhaps the best of all his Ashes campaigns. Yet, the image that remains embossed in our minds is that edge from Pietersen that flew into his hands and out, that perhaps cost Australia the Ashes for the first time in nearly two decades.

37.  Captaining Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League (IPL) after having been acquired for a whopping $450,000, he spiced up the outfit both in terms of glamour and insight. The four overs he bowled in every match were impeccably planned, the strategies on the field threshed out to perfection, and when required he was not averse to hitting a couple of sixes to earn victories. Twelve wins resulted in 14 matches, and the Royals won the first edition of the tournament.

Although in the most pungent version of cricket, the results led many to voice the claim that Warne was the best captain Australia never had.

38.  Before India’s match against England in the 2011 World Cup, Warne tweeted – “My prediction, a tie.” When it was a tie, the Fox Sports headline ran, “Genius or Match-fixer?”

39.  With the camera spotting Warne having a chocolate ice-cream bar, Harsha Bhogle remarked on television  that it was perhaps the most harmless thing in his hand. He hinted that he could neither bowl leg-breaks nor text with the ice-cream.

40.  In 2013, during the Ashes, it was painful to watch Nathan Lyon, perhaps in a desperate bid to call on the spirit that had confounded the earlier Englishmen, proceeding to bowl round the wicket as Warne had done. Only neither did he break the ball the same way, nor nearly as much. In between this tale of the Australian struggle, during a lunch interval, the former leg-spinner popped up on the giant screen, demonstrating his esoteric art for a television channel. A few days shy of 44, he had played his last international match six years earlier, having restricted himself to a handful of matches in the Indian Premier League and the Big Bash League since then. And here he was, appearing in front of the camera to share the secrets of one of the most difficult crafts of the game. He spoke briefly about a plan, where he would pitch each delivery of an over and how much he would turn each one of them. And casually taking his five walked and three trotted paces to the crease, he proceeded to do bowl his talk. Every ball landed exactly where he had promised, and ended precisely where he had predicted.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)