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Shane Warne was the tempestuous genius who had a volcanic range named after him

Australian Test legend Shane Warne has died aged 52.
Australian Test legend Shane Warne has died aged 52.

The venue was Headingley in Leeds and I had heard mixed reviews about Shane Warne in advance of meeting the Australian in 2002.

Apparently, he could be bumptious, didn’t suffer fools gladly, and loathed dealing with personal questions. Yet, when he walked towards me and asked “How are you doing, mate?”, it was the prelude to a terrific conversation with one of the most talismanic figures in the sport at the height of his powers.

He was lively, engaging and when I told him I had watched him during Scotland’s first-ever World Cup match against the Aussies at Worcester in 1999, he laughed out loud and replied: “Yeah, I remember that. Some of your fans got on my case, didn’t they, and started calling me a ‘whale’. That was a fun afternoon. And I gave back as good as they gave me. It’s all banter, mate.”

Warne’s zest for life was intoxicating and he was such a force of nature that it’s difficult to believe he has died at just 52. The statistics confirm his legendary status: 708 Test wickets in 145 matches, another 293 on the ODI circuit, and the man who sent down the “ball of the century” to Mike Gatting and left him so perplexed it was as if somebody had handed him a diet sheet.

Off the pitch, there were frequent brushes with authority, intemperate text messages, the use of a banned diuretic which led to him missing the 2003 World Cup and spats with anybody he regarded as a stuffed shirt. And, of course, his relationship with actress Liz Hurley which excited the tabloids.

But if he was a tempestuous character – and scientists at the universities of Aberdeen and Adelaide named a region the Warnie Volcanic Province in his honour three years ago – he was also plagued by self-doubts and told me that he never took anything for granted even after becoming a global superstar.

So much competition for places

He said: “I learned early on that the day you start believing your reputation is the day that problems start and I’m always aware there are people wanting to knock me down and take my place in the team. That keeps you hungry and gives you the boot up the backside you need. It’s why Australia are so strong”.

As a shrewd tactician, master leg-spinner and aggressive batsman, Warne should have captained his country more than just in ODIs, and he almost defied England single-handedly during the Ashes series of 2005.

Shane Warne in action at the 1999 World Cup.

But, as a larrikin with an antipathy towards the blazerati and a penchant for stirring up controversy, he had to be content with creating new records and being picked as one of Wisden’s All-Time Test XI, alongside the likes of W G Grace, Viv Richards, Don Bradman and Sachin Tendulkar, in 2013.

Not that such accolades bothered him unduly. “We play cricket because we love it, mate,” he explained.

“When you are in a dressing room with all these different people and you’re pulling together for your country, it doesn’t matter where you come from or how big your house is.

“We’re all equal once we cross that white line and are on the same field.”

Shane Warne on a visit to London in 2018.

Even in retirement, Warne maintained a gruelling schedule and became an astute pundit as well as a charity fundraiser and the face of several international advertising camapigns.

He tweeted in 2019: “Scotland-Gold Coast-Melbourne-London-Melbourne-Brisbane-Melbourne-LA-Melbourne in the next 6 weeks and a mix of fun plus work. Someone has to do it!”

He missed his kids growing up

Yet he realised he had missed out on watching his children – Brooke, Jackson and Summer – grow up and clearly regretted not being there for them.

He said: “Unfortunately, I wasn’t a nine-to-five dad who would come home every night. I would go away for months on end and not see them.

Australian legend Shane Warne rings the bell at Lord’s in London.

“That’s part of the sacrifices, and one of the biggest sacrifices you make, is that you’re away from your family for long period of time and it’s not easy.”

Everybody will have their own opinion of Shane Keith Warne. Speaking personally, he was one of a kind, a king of his domain, and a mate to so many.

Shane Warne’s fame went way beyond cricket.

Former Scotland captain, George Salmond, said he was devastated by Warne’s death and recalled his joust with the great spinner at the 1999 World Cup.

He said: “When I went out to bat with [former Aberdeenshire player] Mike Smith, it was Shane and Glenn McGrath bowling in tandem.

A ball had our name on it

“And, soon afterwards, we had a chat in the middle and just decided that we might as well give it a go because we knew there was a ball coming with our name on it. These two were that good.

“Shane had this aura about him, he was bringing something new to the sport and he was probably the finest spinner who ever played the game.”

Shane Warne excelled during the 1999 World Cup.

Salmond said he felt doubly shocked at the Australian’s passing because he thought Warne had so much still to offer the sport.

He added: “One of the saddest things is to think what he could have done as a coach and an analyst. He had a rare insight into the game and was always devising new ideas which took him and his teams to a different level.

“Many sportspeople are predictable and you can almost cut and paste their answers to questions. But he was one of a kind and was a genuine trailblazer.

“I’m almost in disbelief at the moment.”