Sad news today that Warnie is to retire after the Sydney test. Only twice more will we watch those long overs of him ripping the ball across hapless English batsmen and tail enders, running his fingers through the bleach blonde advanced hair and appealing on almost every ball.
I loved Warne in those early years, a leg spinner a novelty in my life of watching cricket and a damn good one at that. So many memorable events, the seven wickets he took against the Windies in 92/93 at the MCG, his first tour of England 29 wickets and they knew little of what to do about him. The seven wickets he took on the first day at the SCG against South Africa in 93/94. From memory for 5 consecutive overs he came on and took a wicket, including bowling Cullinan for the first time. The best spell of bowling I’ve watched at the ground.
Then there was his off field behaviour culminating in the drugs charge and slowly but surely I came to loathe the man while still admiring his cricket. It was perhaps harsh to place such judgement on him I think back now. The media pack was baying for his blood and it can’t have been easy on him but still Warnie made himself most problems you can’t deny.
I think little of the idea of sports people as role models. We expect them to play hard and fair but must realise that does not make them any more likely to be decent people off the field. He was a cricketer one of the best, and we should admire him for that and expect no more. I can’t condone his behaviour but what he does off the field is his own business.
He turned this all around for me in 2005 and once more I came to love Warnie. As the Ashes was about to begin his private life imploded around him. It was his own doing but Fleet street were also determined to trap him with whatever dirt they could dig up.
In the midst of this with McGrath out suddenly with an injury, Gillespie badly out of form and Lee only good in spells Warne stepped up and shouldered the burden. He took wickets in the first session of the tests and he knocked over openers. When Ponting looked bereft of ideas it was Warne there discussing tactics, and motivating the team, in the end they lost two close matches and the series. Warne with 40 wickets in 5 tests bowled out of his skin in my mind the best series he ever played.
Sure his tally was helped by the inability of the other bowlers to contribute, but his bowling was superb regardless. Twelve years after his first appearance in England, with his bowling scrutinized and his variations well studied he was still there making breakthroughs that others couldn’t.
Since watching that series I’ve thought it was a shame he was never made Captain, due of course to his off field behaviour. When Australia were in trouble in 2005 it was Warne who looked to be keeping them in the game. He had a fine brain for cricket, even if his batting was disappointingly impulsive at times.
There is no question that Warne has bowled well this series, but no where near his best. I had hoped to see him continue on. I’m sure if he was willing to stay fit he could have played till he was 40.
I will miss Warne and those hours of watching him work away, chip away, fizzing balls past stumps and bats, strangled cries of catch and his tentative and regular “how was that one”.