It’s not often that a single individual succeeds in donning both the mantle of an icon and the garb of an iconoclast, especially in the world of sport where sportsmen are forced by a contrivance of compulsion and inevitability to weave their magic within sequestered parameters. But Shane Keith Warne was beyond capture. Rules for him were an anathema. An avoidable hindrance. Staidness was the enemy of progress. At a time when the art of leg spin was almost confined to the status of an extinct practice, Warne resurrected it from being a relic and placed it on a pedestal hitherto unseen. A pinnacle which, arguably attained zenith in its most ardent, aesthetic and astounding practitioner. A master who leaves behind a rich legacy whose endurance is as eternal as the name of the preceptor bequeathing it to the world.
On the 4th of March 2022, the sporting world was rocked by the news of the sudden and untimely demise of the Australian cricketing sensation Shane Warne, at a resort in Thailand. The cause of death was cardiac arrest. As this catastrophic news began permeating the portals of social media, reactions ranged from disbelief to demoralization. The intervening period between the assimilation of the news and the deluge of tributes was characterised by a strange calm. A vacuum where events, emotions and expressions are sucked in leaving behind a huge void. A void which in a weird sense was calm, tranquil and serene. Then the floodgates opened. A cathartic outpouring of emotions hit home the ramifications of the loss. The loss of a genius cricketer, a magnanimous soul and a doting father.
Enough and more connoisseurs of the game have waxed lyrical over the cricketing exploits of this mercurial mastermind. The “Gatting” ball, with which the virtuoso announced not just his entry into the world of cricket, but also the beginning of an incandescent era, has been dissected, deliberated, debated and discussed to the point of the magical moment being reduced to a cliché. But Shane Warne was more than the sum total of all his wonderful bricolage of enchanted deliveries and exotic variations. He was one of cricket’s greatest contributors. He gave without consideration and will continue giving till such time the game is in vogue.
Professor Emeritus of history and literature of religion at New York University, the late James Carse acquainted the world with the unique concept of “Infinite Games”. According to Professor Carse, an infinite game is neither invested by the rules that bind its finite counterpart, nor is hemmed in by the constraints of time or space. The protagonists in an infinite play are rendered by an inability to even identify the commencement of the game, and they do not care a fig either! There is no label of eligibility or qualification attached to a player participating in the infinite game, and the sole objective of an infinite play is to keep playing, in perpetuity. Unlike in a finite game, where the opposing factions are always on the lookout for executing a terminal move that would kill the game, infinite games are antithetical to terminal moves since they are self-perpetuating in nature with no end. Thus, while finite players play within boundaries, infinite players play with boundaries.
Shane Warne played the infinite game. He cocked a thumb at convention with aplomb and panache. His ingenuity and curiosity were self-perpetuating. He constantly reinvented, reimagined and repackaged his chosen art with a fervour that bordered on the maniacal. But he also liberally and generously shared his secrets with friend and opponent alike. For him, nothing could be bigger than the game.
Walking into his bowling stride, he was loose limbed, relaxed and casual. The only indication of enervation was the tongue that was wedged firmly between two sets of teeth. With an action that was as graceful as it was potent, he used his steely wrists and chubby hands to propel the ball towards the unsuspecting batsman. The sequence of predictability firmly ended here. The ball that whizzed, fizzed and whirred out of his hand could metamorphose into a hundred different demons. Unlike a speedster who exercised the fear of raw pace to intimidate the batsman, Shane Warne employed the highest degree of guile and deception. A sorcerer par excellence who could conjure tricks at will, Warne’s weapons were infamy, ignominy and insecurity. Australian wicket-keeper Ian Healy who was Warne’s perpetrator in crime – combining gleefully in more than 80 dismissals – amazingly revealed that picking Shane Warne out of his hand was relatively easy since the maestro was predictable. Healy wondered why batsmen still managed to find a path to perdition while facing Warne. This astounding revelation enhances Warne’s reputation if not denting his repertoire.
A layman would find Healy’s claims quite incredulous. A six minute clipping that made the waves on Twitter following Warne’s passing, has befuddled batsmen being reduced to a state of fossilized zombies while unsuccessfully attempting to negotiate just one variant from his formidable arsenal, the flipper. A ball which shoots forth at the speed of light at the batsman after pitching, the flipper will either have you plumb in front of the wicket or castle the stumps altogether.
But the greatest quality of this extraordinary cricketer was his magnanimity. He was a largesse that never stopped its altruistic miracles. Whether it be asking the father of a 10 year old kid to send front on and side on pictures of the child bowling, so that the aspiring youngster could be helped perfecting his action, or transforming a bunch of aspiring and enthusiastic youngsters in the Rajasthan Royals squad into IPL winning Champions, this champion cricketer was the X factor. A clinical mind that plotted the sequence of events with a precision that would make an expert surgeon proud, Warne was cricket’s most precious and advanced supercomputer. This inimitable acumen enabled Australia to snatch victory from the proverbial jaws of defeat, a multitude of times. Just speak to any member of the unfortunate West Indian squad that faced Australia in the semifinals of the 1996 World Cup.
Warne breathed life into Test cricket at a time when the shorter and shortest forms of cricket respectively, threated to eclipse the most enduring version of the gentleman’s game. He was the unfailing bridge between the purist and the dilettante. He not only excelled in all formats but also facilitated equanimity. But his unmatched contribution was towards the format played in white. His duels with Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Kevin Pietersen, Kumar Sangakkara, and Inzamam-ul-Haq are now etched in gold and have become part of cricketing folklore. Singlehandedly he was responsible for manipulating the turnstiles, day after day, year after year, in country after country. For this indefatigable endeavour alone, he will go down into the annals of immortality.
As he was predictable on the cricket field as a gold standard champion, so was he unpredictable with his exploits off the field. Controversial, combustible, and chaotic, he was one part raconteur and two parts tyrant. “Ten Vodka/Red Bulls and 50 darts”, not to mention a salacious ‘threesome’ represent a night well spent, in Warne’s own words. Then again, he was also the first man to have got a hole in one with the pin in the back right position at the Augusta Masters!
The author Scott G. Fitzgerald once said, “personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures.” However, in the case of Shane Warne, one of the greatest ever sporting legends of any generation, personality has been an unbroken series of gestures, not necessarily successful. This man’s gestures have alternated between spontaneity and confidence, oscillated between gestures of conviction and indiscretion. Nevertheless, they have been gestures animated by freedom and exemplified by naturalness. The gestures fizz with the same verve which induced the fear of the devil in every batsmen as they watched with impending doom the breathtaking trajectory of the ball leaving the conjurer’s hand. In the same way as there was no knowing what would happen to either the delivery or the prospects of the batsman facing up to it, this remarkable human being’s gestures do not lend themselves to prediction.
That’s exactly how it ought to be! For Warne, both cricket and life were tenets of glorious uncertainties!
Shane Keith Warne, sleep well G.E.N.I.U.S! Thank you for every single run-up, delivery, scalp and celebration. I will tactfully desist from going into your highest score as I do not want the Gods who are awaiting to receive you, get a rude shock! You are for the ages. You are timeless.
YOU ARE CRICKET!