Cricketers from past and present, along with fans, found it hard to come to terms with his sudden demise, considering it was only 12 hours ago that Warne had tweeted to express grief over the death of another Australian legend, Rod Marsh. Warne had looked fit and fine a fortnight ago, commentating during a T20I series against Sri Lanka in Australia.
Warne, who claimed 708 wickets from 145 Tests he played for Australia between 1992 and 2007, was the second most prolific bowler in the annals of cricket behind only Sri Lanka legend Muttiah Muralitharan (800). In the ODIs too, he had an impressive record with a tally of 293 wickets from 194 matches.
More than wickets, though, Warne was about the impact he created not only with the ball but his towering presence on the field. He didn’t bowl like any other spinner. He weaved magic with it. After all, who can forget his ‘ball of the century’ that he conjured up to bowl English batsman Mike Gatting around his legs in his very first Ashes Test at Old Trafford on June 4 1993?
That ‘ball of the century’ was not a one-off moment of brilliance. He produced similar deliveries time and again, with one of them castling South African opener Herschelle Gibbs in a semi-final of the 1999 ICC ODI World Cup (WC).
The dismissal turned the game on its head, and Australia went on to tie that epic game which facilitated their entry into the final. In the final, Warne made Pakistan batsmen dance on his spinning deliveries to deliver Australia their second ODI WC crown. He was player-of-the-match in both the semi-final and the final.
Warne was a lifelong tormentor of England both at home and away in the Ashes. He held the record for most number of wickets in the Ashes history with a tally of 195 scalps in 36 Tests. Even in the 2005 series that England won (the only Ashes series where Warne finished on the losing side) after a climactic battle, he topped the bowling charts with 40 wickets at an average of 19.92.
Warne would also be remembered for his iconic on-field duel with Indian cricket great Sachin Tendulkar. Though Tendulkar often got the better of him, he never lost his competitive spirit and played an important part in Australia’s historic Test series win in India in 2004.
Apart from being a leggie par excellence, Warne was a master tactician. Many experts opine that he was the best captain Australia never had. He gave a glimpse of his leadership talent in 2008 when he captained and coached Rajasthan Royals to the inaugural Indian Premier League (IPL) title. Even after retiring from cricket, he carved a niche for himself as an astute commentator and expert.
Warne is no more, but his deeds will keep his name alive forever. Farewell, Wizard of Oz.
PS: In what could be termed a morbid coincidence, it was the second instance of Australia losing two of their cricketing legends in the span of 24 hours in the last six months. Last year, former offie Ashley Mallett passed away on October 29 and the following day, former pace legend Alan Davidson breathed his last. And once again today, two legends left the world for good in less than 24 hours.
(Ankit Kumar Singh is a journalist-turned-media academician. Views are personal)