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Dhaka Tribune

Shane Warne, the man who made it cool to be a leg-spinner

He single-handedly revived the fading art and inspired future leg spinners

Update : 05 Mar 2022, 11:20 AM

There have been many great cricketers in the sport's long history but few have changed the game quite like Australia's Shane Warne did during his brilliant career.

Warne, whose death at the age of just 52 from a suspected heart attack in Thailand on Friday sent shockwaves through the game, single-handedly revived the art of leg-spin bowling, a skill that had all but disappeared from Test cricket following the end of Abdul Qadir's career with Pakistan.

"The game was never the same after Warnie emerged, and the game will never be the same after his passing," said current Australia captain Pat Cummins, leading the team in the ongoing first Test of their tour of Pakistan.

But Warne's return of one wicket for 150 runs on Test debut against India at Sydney in 1992, during an innings where opener Ravi Shastri made a double century and future batting great Sachin Tendulkar 148, was no-one's idea of a dream start.

Yet there were a couple of clues even then that he was no ordinary bowler.

For one thing he bowled 45 overs, a hefty burden even for a spinner not under as much physical strain as a fast bowler, albeit he defied convention by walking to the crease.

That debut return meant Warne had conceded slightly more than three runs per over an average, with one of the hallmark of a career that saw him become the first man to take 700 Test wickets being an astounding ability to generate sharp spin with a degree of miserly control widely thought to be beyond the realm of any leg-spinner.

And then there was the way he played the game.

With his dyed blonde hair, stud ear-ring and willingness to 'sledge' or verbally abuse opposition batsmen, he had the look and attitude of an aggressive quick, with fast bowling then the dominant force among most Test attacks.  

Also Read A spin genius with soap-opera life

True, former Australia captain Richie Benaud, a leg-spinning all-rounder, had been something of a 'pin-up' with his shirt unbuttoned to the waist during the 1950s and 60s.

But that was in an era of newsreel and black-and-white TV. By the time Warne emerged in vivid colour, Benaud was far more widely known as a television broadcaster than as a cricketer.

And so it was appropriate that Benaud was on hand to commentate on the 'Ball of the Century', as Warne's first delivery in a Test in England, at Old Trafford in 1993, became known.

'Gatting has no idea'

Warne produced a remarkable leg-break that pitched outside the pads of England's Mike Gatting, a renowned player of spin-bowling, and then spun across the width of the stout batsman to clip the top of off stump.

"And he's done it," said Benaud after Warne had clean bowled Gatting. "He's started off with the most beautiful delivery.

"Gatting has absolutely no idea what has happened to it," with Benaud adding, as the bewildered former England captain looked round: "He still doesn't know."

So extraordinary was the delivery, the only way some of Gatting's team-mates could comprehend what had happened was by trying to make a joke, with fellow batsman Graham Gooch saying: "If it had been a cheese roll it would never have got past him."

Gatting, however, did come to appreciate what had happened following a delivery that set Warne on a path to becoming one of the Wisden Cricketers of the 20th Century along with Jack Hobbs, Donald Bradman, Garfield Sobers and Vivian Richards.    

"Without a doubt, he is number one," Gatting told Sky Sports on Friday.

"The nice thing is he (Warne) always said, 'Thanks for that, mate, it started my career off'. All I could say was, 'It was a bit too good for me', like many others who would suffer the same fate."

Suddenly, leg-spinners were back in fashion and every team wanted to have one, even if none could match Warne, whose influence was summed up in a tweet from Hampshire and England leg-spinner Mason Crane.

"Shane Warne made me fall in love with the game as an eight-year-old and he has completely inspired me every day since," said Crane while Sri Lanka's Muttiah Muralitharan, the right-arm off spinner and record Test wicket taker with 800 victims, said Warne was "truly a genius in reviving the art of leg spin."

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