“Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.”
Warne, after all, was not about cricket alone. His persona transcended cricket. Everything he did both on and off the field made headlines. He was an event in himself.
Celebrated Australian cricket writer, Gideon Haigh, summed up the phenomenon of Warne best while talking to Rajdeep Sardesai on India Today two days ago.
“He was the most compulsively watchable cricketer of my era. It was almost as though there were two games taking place. There was a game involving Warne and there was a game involving everyone else,” Haigh said.
MAN OF INDOMITABLE SPIRIT
Warne was widely given credit for reviving the dying art of leg-spin. He would also be remembered for his acumen and charismatic presence on the field. However, there was another standout quality that only a select few have mastered like the wily Australian tweaker.
The Melbourne-born cricketer was a king of comebacks and epitomised the never-say-die spirit. There were at least two crucial junctures in his life when Warne managed to revive his career, thanks to his indomitable spirit.
The first of these occasions transpired in the nascent phase of his international career. In his debut Test against India in Sydney in January 1992, he was taken to the cleaners by Ravi Shastri, who registered a majestic double hundred, and Sachin Tendulkar, who notched up his first hundred on the Australian soil. Warne’s figures in that match read a forgettable 1 for 150 from 45 overs. He looked unfit and overweight. The critics wrote him off.
To Warne’s credit, he transformed himself physically and mentally in only a year. Playing his first Ashes Test against England in Manchester in June 1993, the blonde-haired leggie produced the ball of the century and tormented the hapless English batsmen in an unimaginable manner. His player-of-the-match performance made his detractors eat humble pie. Since then, he remained an enigma for a generation of English players.
Warne scripted another box-office comeback in Sri Lanka in 2004. He was banned for a year from international cricket after failing a drug test during the 2003 ICC ODI World Cup in South Africa. Once again, critics said his career was over. Surely, he could not make a comeback and perform to the best of his ability at the age of 35.
Warne, though, was not any other player. He was a magician who never ran short of novel tricks. The Victorian went on to bag 26 wickets in three Tests and was at the heart of Australia inflicting a whitewash on the island nation.
The series was also billed as a battle between Warne and spin icon Muttiah Muralitharan. Though Murali took two more wickets than him, Warne's average (20.04) was better as compared to his Sri Lankan counterpart (23.18). Deservedly, Warne was adjudged player-of-the-series, and his reputation was re-established.
When the news of Warne's sudden demise flashed on the social media platforms on Friday evening, many of his fans and contemporaries, including former Australian speedster Brett Lee, found it hard to fathom and wished it to be a hoax. They hoped against hope that the king of comebacks would make another comeback.
Warne was a larger-than-life figure capable of pulling off anything in their eyes. However, nobody returns from the dead, including the superhuman that Warne was. This was the only comeback Warnie could not have made.
PS: Through my numerological brooding, I have discovered how the No 4 was related to Warne’s fate. Three of the dates that will always remain associated with the maverick cricketer's life have the presence of No 4. Take a look.
1. Warne's date of birth was September 13 (1969). The sum total of numbers in 13 is 4 (1+3= 4).
2. He passed away on March 4 (2022).
3. Another date that defined his career was June 4 (1993) when he conjured up what came to be known as ‘the ball of the century'.
(Ankit Kumar Singh is a journalist-turned-media academician. Views are personal)