It’s right and proper that Shane Warne should be offered a state funeral, if his family should want it. Warne not only played cricket in Australia, but epitomised it – part hard work and talent, part larrikin, always fiercely competitive. But it was the announcement on Saturday by the Victorian government that the Great Southern Stand at the MCG, home of the infamous Bay 13, would be renamed the S.K. Warne stand, that is the most fitting tribute.
Warne loved, and was loved by the denizens of Bay 13, a section of seating behind the slips to a right-handed batter. The chant, “Warnie, Warnie”, deafening and tireless, as the local hero worked his way through whichever opponent confronted him, was the sound of summer in Melbourne for the 15 years he graced the field. It was also rough and loved a drink, so much so that in 1999 Warne was called on late in a one-day international to pacify a crowd throwing beer bottles at British fielders.
Off-field Warne, too, was a bit loud and a bit louche. He drank. He gambled. He was a life-long smoker. Famously, in 1999, he was paid $200,000 by the manufacturers of Nicorette gum to give up, but was caught out having some not-so-quiet puffs in a Barbados bar.
Like so many of Warne’s exploits, this apparent breach of contract was outed in the British tabloids, which also delighted in exposing some of his romantic misdemeanours, involving the pursuit of young women and, often, indiscreet text messaging. This behaviour led in 2006 to the breakdown of his marriage to Simone Callahan, the mother of his three children, Brooke, Jackson and Summer.
But while some of cricket’s traditionalists tutted, nothing could eclipse the magic he produced on the field. The “Ball of the Century” – Warne’s first delivery in test cricket in England in 1993 that bamboozled Mike Gatting and the rest of the cricketing world; the hat-trick in front of his beloved MCG crowd in 1994; his seven-wicket demolition of the West Indies at their peak. We’ve all watched the videos again in the past day, and these moments remain no less stunning for the passage of decades.
Since his retirement, Warne travelled, commentated, coached and lived in suburban Melbourne. He never, according to readers of The Sun-Herald, lost his sense of being part of the community – he was happy to chat to a kid about ice-cream flavours or to a fan wanting an autograph or a photograph.
But it was all done too soon. Warne’s mother, Bridgette, who still lives in Melbourne’s bayside suburbs with his father, Keith, spoke for all of us when she expressed her shock at her son’s death in the Thai beach resort of Koh Samui. When Rod Marsh died on Friday, aged 74, from a heart attack, it was bad enough. With Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, and the Chappell brothers, Marsh the athletic gloveman, helped define his era of cricket. But for the following generation to lose one of its giants in Warne, at just 52, also from a likely heart attack, was jolting. The outpouring of tributes at his statue at the ‘G is testament to how he was regarded.
Announcing his retirement in 2007 after breaking the twin barriers of 700 test wickets and 1000 in all forms of the game, a grinning Warne said, “I couldn’t have written my script any better”.
Well, Warnie, we could have. It would have involved a long life spent mischievously, giving the benefit of your wisdom to younger players as a coach, and to the world at large as a commentator. Sadly, it was not to be. You will be missed. Especially in Bay 13.
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