Shane Warne: Fags, flaws and a talent unmatched: Why English cricket fans loved SK Warne
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Bizarre is the realisation that if you were faced with an image of their haircut, their gait or a moment’s capture of their voice, you’d know exactly who they were in an instant. You’ve read their books, you might well know their kid’s names. It’s not an obsession, it’s admiration. And yet they most likely have no idea you even exist.
How is it possible that you can grow such affection for someone through such a unilateral relationship? How is it you can be so shaken by the death of a human being you never shared a word with?
Those were some of the questions pondered by cricket lovers all over the world today after the shock death of Shane Warne filtered through social media and onto news channels this afternoon.
For thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions; SK Warne was so, so much more than a generational-class cricketer. His talent elevated him to greatness to the point that he transcended the sport altogether. But it was his attitude, almost that of an enthusiastic amateur, that set him apart in the hearts of those of us that are exactly that.
Most who watched any of his journey to 708 test wickets will have shared with him the sheer love he had for the game. For us Poms, it didn’t matter he was an Aussie.
The only six-pack he bothered with came chilled and he played with an eyebrow raised, a crooked smile. In many ways, he looked like us and he played like us. He just did it better; so, so much better.
Those who watched any of his time playing county cricket for Hampshire did themselves a favour. It was a glorious sojourn into the sunset of retirement, the sort mere mortal sportsmen are so very rarely able to enjoy.
As an impressionable teenager I was one of a handful of spectators at Headingley one afternoon that watched on as Warne reached for his hamstring after a short spell and left the field of play. Moments later, necks craned, we watched his limp disappear as he nipped behind the Western Terrace to light up a cigarette.
He returned a few moments later with a cheeky grin.
The only recently-released documentary ‘Shane’ is a stunning portrait of Warne the man, the father, the son, the husband. He was flawed and that’s why we loved him. He was imperfect and charming and confident and everything every club cricketer wants to be.
The film closes with what now feels to be a deeply sombre injustice; the fact that of Wisden’s five ‘cricketers of the century’, Warne was the only one not to be knighted next to Sir Donald Bradman, Sir Garfield Sobers, Sir Jack Hobbs and Sir Vivian Richards.
That he will now never be elevated to the same moniker feels deeply unfair.
I never met Shane Warne. But like thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions, I felt like I did. And for all the ‘Gatting balls’ and the commentary box stints and the cheeky fags beneath the Western Terrace, it was his common touch that makes him so much more than a knight of the realm in the eyes of the cricket world.