Shane Warne mixed legendary cricketing deeds with lurid headlines off the pitch in a career as enchanting as his famously wrong ‘un.
Warne, who died of a suspected heart attack at age 52, was never one for half measures during his extraordinary 15-year testing career.
The greatest leg spinner of them all has carved a flamboyant lifestyle beyond the mold of a traditional cricket icon, often putting him at odds with the purists of the game.
While his discipline, passion and sheer talent propelled him to the 708 Test wickets in a 145 Test career that made him the scourge of batsmen the world over, the fat blond boy turned superstar did things his way.
Along with flowers placed by his statue on the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Saturday, there was a can of beer, a pack of cigarettes and a meat pie – a nod to the unconventional sporting lifestyle that earned him legions of fans on and off the pitch.
“Shane was one of our country’s greatest characters,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
“His humor, his passion, his irreverence, his approachability made him loved by everyone.”
Warne is entrenched in Australia’s sporting pantheon – in the eyes of many he is second only to cricket’s immortal Don Bradman.
He not only resurrected the waning art of leg spin, but became the first bowler to take 700 Test wickets and deliver the most famous ball in the history of the sport.
‘Ball of the Century’
Warne posted unfavorable numbers of 1-150 in his 1992 testing debut, but collapsed under spin guru Terry Jenner. Eighteen months later, Warne broke up the cricket world with the ‘ball of the century’ against England.
Warne’s first leg fracture in an Ashes Test turned evil in 1993 to prank England’s Mike Gatting at Old Trafford, heralding the arrival of a cricket superstar.
He was a master of mind games, targeting batsmen ahead of a series and warning that he was working on a new mystery ball to cast out his “bunnies” in the opposition lineup.
He gave a man-of-the-match performance when Australia won the World Cup in 1999, and was known for his sharp and inventive cricketing brain which has long touted him as an Australian test skipper.
But even Warne himself once described his life as a soap opera, such was the litany of controversy off the pitch.
Also known as “Hollywood”, “Warnie” survived several scandals and had an energetic love life that is widely believed to have cost him the Australian captaincy.
In 1998, it was revealed that Warne and Australian team-mate Mark Waugh had been fined three years earlier for providing information to an Indian bookmaker, and in 2000 he was stripped of the Australian team’s deputy captain.
A series of infidelities culminated in a public breakup from his 10-year-old wife, Simone, with whom he had three children. At one point, he was engaged to British actress Liz Hurley.
Success despite scandals
And yet, his performance in Australia’s failed Ashes campaign in England in 2005 is considered by some pundits to be the pinnacle of his career, as he overcame his disintegrating marriage and a tabloid frenzy to win 40 wickets.
He also missed the 2003 World Cup in South Africa after testing positive for a banned diuretic – a weight-loss pill sometimes used to mask steroids – on the eve of the tournament in a scandal that saw him banned for a year.
Warne returned to Test cricket in March 2004 but never played international one-day matches again, preferring instead to focus on the longer form of the game.
He continued to play after finishing his Test career in January 2007, scoring a title win with a rag-tag Rajasthan Royals team in the inaugural edition of the Indian Premier League in 2008, highlighting his nous and motivational skills.
But his final season as leader of Rajasthan in 2011 didn’t offer his hoped-for fairytale finale.
Off-field issues – including a tiff with Indian superstar Sachin Tendulkar – also ruined his retirement season.
Warne returned home to help launch the Australian Big Bash League, and was instrumental in raising the profile of the domestic Twenty20 competition in its first two seasons as one of its biggest draws.
Warne was inducted into the International Cricket Council Hall of Fame in 2013, just days after finally putting time into his playing career before transitioning to a respected commentator and pundit known for his outspoken views.