LONDON/SYDNEY —- Shane Warne, possibly the greatest spin bowler in the entire history of Test match cricket, has died at the age of 52.
Warne, one of only two bowlers to have taken more than 1,000 wickets at international level, reportedy suffered a heart attack while in Thailand.
The most renowned single incident of his career was bowling ‘the ball of the century’ on June 4, 1993, in the Ashes series against England. Warne, then 23, tossed up his first ball against England well outside leg stump before it spun back to clip the off stump of an astounded Mike Gatting.
Cricket instantly had a new leading man. Wearing a shock of bleached blond hair, a gold chain around his neck and with zinc sunscreen smeared over his nose and lips he could have walked straight off the beach, the stage or the bar.
He enjoyed all three over the years, but his truest home was on the field with a ball between his fingers and a batter to get the better of.
More often than not, he did exactly that. When he became the first bowler to in history to reach 700 Test wickets – another Englishman, Sir Andrew Strauss his landmark victim – he simply noted: “Whoever writes my scripts is doing an unbelievable job.”
Warne was born in the Victorian suburb Upper Ferntree Gully on September 13, 1969.
While still at kindergarten he broke both arms and had to wheel himself around in a trolley for up to a year. Later he pondered whether the workload was responsible for his unprecedented ability to spin the ball with his wrist.
Warne was also a talented Australian rules footballer and was offered a sports scholarship at Mentone Grammar School. By 1991 he was making a first-class cricket debut for Victoria and made his first Test appearance against India the following year.
It was a chastening debut, with bruising figures of one for 150 as Ravi Shastri taught him some hard lessons. By the time he arrived to face Gatting in Manchester, he had learned all of them and more.
The wickets and the wins kept coming, with a star-studded Australia team establishing themselves as the sport’s dominant force.
There was World Cup glory in 1999, with Warne’s four for 33 a key pillar, but a sharp fall from grace that prevented him defending the trophy four years later.
He tested positive for a banned diuretic on the eve of the tournament and was hit with a year-long ban, later claiming he had been taking his mother’s diet pills in a bid to win a lengthy battle with his waistline.
Warne returned to play a leading role in a dramatic 2005 Ashes campaign. For the only time he was on the losing side against a rejuvenated England but still managed to harvest 40 wickets in five Tests.
He did so against the backdrop of a crumbling marriage, brought on by revelations of infidelity that saw his wife Simone leave the country with their three children.
Warne retired from international cricket on a 5-0 Ashes high in 2006-07.
Inbetween times he captained Hampshire with verve and panache and won the first Indian Premier League with Rajasthan Royals.
Warne, an avid poker player, was also caught up in betting scandals. He once alleged he turned down a big money offer from Pakistan captain Saleem Malik to under-perform in a 1994 Test match, but was later fined by the Australian board alongside Mark Waugh for providing information to an Indian bookmaker.
In a recent documentary on his life, he concluded: “I wasn’t perfect. I love loud music. I smoked. I drank. I bowled a bit of leg-spin. That was me.”