Shane Warne was unlike any cricketer we’ve ever seen but behind the bravado there was an inner turmoil the public didn’t get to see.
Part of what made Shane Warne the greatest cricket showman ever known was he knew he was better than everyone else — and he made sure everyone else did too.
Whereas some athletes humbly downplay their achievements, Warne was a master manipulator whose ability to use his own aura to get inside rivals’ heads became a huge part of his success.
The most mesmerizing bowler the world has ever seen, who finished with 708 Test wickets to his name, changed the game forever. Leg-spin is the most difficult art in cricket and Warne made it the most fashionable.
The cruel irony is while Warne inspired generations of cricketers to try and master wrist spin, he was such a freak that it simply wasn’t possible.
After a serious injury in his childhood Warne spent time in a roller-like apparatus to get around, which is how he developed such incredibly strong hands that allowed him to generate prodigious fizz and turn the ball such a long way.
It was a fool’s errand trying to copy Warne’s slow, almost laborious, approach to the crease. He could get away with it because his shoulders and wrists were so strong, but nobody else was so blessed.
As a rule, leggies need pace towards the crease to put enough work on the ball and get it to drop in time — think the likes of Abdul Qadir, Anil Kumble and Stuart MacGill bounding to the wicket rather than strolling in like the Spin King.
Any child who ambled in like Warne was doomed. Replicating his style would leave you hoisting up moon balls rather than roaring leg-breaks.
You could own a Shane Warne Spin King ball that told you how to grip the six-stitcher like him for all his different deliveries, but you were never going to send them down like he did.
The legend took leg-spin to another stratosphere but at the same time, in a strange way, almost ruined it for every aspiring spinner (this reporter included) who was left feeling like a fool and wondering: Why can’t I bowl like that? ?
If Warne inspired a generation of leggies, why hasn’t there been a plethora of successful ones flourishing on the international scene since he retired? The most successful Test leg-spinner to debut after Warne is Pakistan’s Danish Kaneria – 42nd on the all-time Test wicket-takers list with 261 wickets from 61 matches).
And why hasn’t Australia had a permanent wrist-spinner in Test cricket since him if, as logic would have it, every kid growing up watching Warne tried to be like him?
It’s because he was a freak of nature. Warne was one of a kind and nobody could do what he did.
‘I was nasty’: Crucial ingredient to Warne’s greatness
The “Gatting ball” in 1993 is Warne’s most famous delivery but there are plenty of other moments that delighted cricket purists during an illustrious career. The wrong-un that bowled Jacques Kallis through the gate for 300 wicket was *chef’s kiss* and his set-up of him before knocking Alec Stewart over with a flipper in Brisbane was something special.
We could go on and on here, from the MCG Richie Richardson flipper to the big-spinning leg-break to bowl Chivnarine Chanderpaul but as much a part of the Warne narrative is how he used his ego as well as his spinning finger to wreak havoc on oppositions.
The GOAT and former England captain Andrew Strauss told a story about a moment during the 2005 Ashes when orthodox spinner Ashley Giles was bowling to Warne from around the wicket, trying to land the ball into the rough.
Strauss, fielding at silly point, said: “Come on Gilo, he’s really struggling against you here.”
Warne wasn’t about to cop that from someone in their second year of Test cricket.
“I sort of just stopped and said, ‘Straussy, you’re kidding yourself mate’,” Warne recalled.
Strauss said: “These two eyes turned to me and went, ‘Mate, there’s only one guy struggling here — it’s you, you’re f***ing s**t’.
“Pretty humiliating to be honest. You’re hoping your teammates back you up and everyone was just not engaging in that conversation at all.”
Strauss revealed Warne continued the assault, telling him if the batter uttered another word, he would hit the next ball for fix. Strauss thought about it, then took the bait, telling Giles again he thought the Aussie spinner was “struggling”.
You can guess what happened next. Warne deposited the following ball over the square leg fence. It was the Aussie legend to a tee.
That was the same series in which Warne dubbed England rookie Ian Bell the Sherminator — after the american pie character—and got him out for fun.
Speaking on his recently released Amazon documentary, ShaneWarne opened up on how attitude was just as important as ability.
“Standing at the top of my mark with a ball in my hand and I looked down the pitch, it was my domain. I owned it,” he said.
“One of my strengths on the field is I can intimidate people. Whether it be a word, whether it is to grab a bit of silence, whether it is to eyeball someone, whether it was a little sledge, I was a man on a mission. I wasn’t taking any prisoners.
“I wouldn’t have liked to play against me. I was nasty.”
‘Needy’: Teammate reveals Warne’s inner battle
The bloody-minded will win – and the belief he always could, no matter what the situation – was also part of Warne’s mental make-up. His sensational match-turning spell against South Africa in the 1999 World Cup semi-final was one of countless examples where he grabbed a game by the scruff off the neck and dragged his teammates along for the ride.
So too was his effort against England during the “Amazing Adelaide” Test of 2006. The match was set for a draw before Warne worked his magic on the final day, predicting the night before he’d bowl England’s best better Kevin Pietersen around his legs – then doing just that – to spark a dramatic collapse and lead Australia to one of its most memorable wins.
But behind the mind games and bravado were periods of self-doubt. Shoulder injuries left Warne wondering if he’d ever be the same bowler he was. When the fizz out of the hand deserted him because of physical ailments, mental demons soon followed — and they plagued him at other times of his career too.
Warne’s former teammate Ian Healy revealed deep down, the greatest of them all was actually insecure and needed others to validate his performances.
“Warnie was really vulnerable as well,” Healy said on Sports Sunday. “Tubby (former Test captain Mark Taylor) will know how needy he was.
“Even when he came off the field and had a good day he’d say, ‘Was that OK?’
“I always needed feedback.
“For the incredibly confident man he was in the middle under all the fiercest of pressure and displaying the skills of leg-spin which was the hardest in the game, he still needed some reinforcement.
“I don’t think Bacchus (Rod Marsh) needed that, I don’t think Mark (Taylor) needed that or myself or Chappelli (Ian Chappell).
“But Warnie, the genius, needed people around him to tell him that he was going fine.”
With this in mind, one of Warne’s most significant series is the 2004 tour to Sri Lanka, where he came back and played his first Test in nearly 15 months.
During an ODI against England in the 2002/2003 summer he’d dislocated his shoulder fielding off his own bowling, then was suspended for 12 months for taking a banned diuretic and missed the 2003 World Cup.
Competing head-to-head against legendary Sri Lankan spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, Warne must have been nervous to find out if his wrist and fingers still possessed the same magic. He need not have worried.
Warne reminded everyone he was still The King by taking an astonishing 26 wickets across three Tests. In the course of that series win he also took his 500th Test wicket.
He was back, baby. But sadly, not for long enough.
Originally published as Cricket legend Ian Healy reveals Shane Warne’s inner battle