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Wine, women and wickets; a flawed genius Warne

Published: Thursday, December 21, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
 
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Sydney:Throughout his career, only Shane Warne's sublime on-field performances have generated more headlines than his tempestuous life away from the cricket pitch.

By retiring at the height of his powers, the 37-year-old leg spinner who announced his departure from international and Australian cricket Thursday has cemented his reputation as the greatest bowler ever to play the game.

Already, Warne has been acclaimed as the second best sportsman in Australia's history, behind only legendary batsman Don Bradman, one of his heroes.

"People have turned up and I like to think that I've given them entertainment and I've tried my guts out every single time," he said, announcing his retirement.

Warne has taken more Test wickets that any other bowler, skittling 699 batsmen in 143 Tests at an average of 25.49 since his debut against India in January 1992.

But the statistics tell only part of the story. The cigarette-puffing, beer-swilling Warne revived the long-dormant art of leg-spin bowling with his amazing ability to turn the ball and intimidate the opposition.

His former national captain Steve Waugh said he knew there was something special about the chubby young bowler from suburban Melbourne when he first saw him bowl on an Australian youth tour to Zimbabwe in 1991.

"I could hear the ball fizzing down the wicket," he said of the unlikely prodigy sporting spiky blond hair.

"It's something I've never heard before or since from another bowler, it was just the revolutions and energy he was putting on the ball."

Warne posted inauspicious figures of 1-150 in his 1992 Test debut but knuckled down under his mentor Terry Jenner and 18 months later caught the cricketing world's attention with the "ball of the century" against England.

The delivery, Warne's first in an Ashes Test, turned prodigiously to bamboozle England's Mike Gatting and herald the arrival of a cricketing superstar.

But controversy accompanied the stellar performances, tainting Warne's reputation to the extent that he was never made captain of the Australian cricket team, a position his ability certainly warranted.

The first negative headlines came when it emerged in 1998 that Warne and batsman Mark Waugh had been fined three years earlier for supplying information to an Indian bookmaker.

He was stripped of the vice-captaincy in 2000 after it emerged he had bombarded an English nurse with lewd text messages after meeting her in a nightclub.

A series of infidelities culminated in his break-up last year from his wife of 10 years Simone, with whom he has three children and still shares a home despite their split.

He produced a man-of-the-match performance when Australia won the World Cup in 1999, but missed the 2003 tournament after he tested positive for a banned diuretic, a drug scandal that almost cut short his career.

He insisted his mother had given him the pill to help him lose weight before a television appearance but doping authorities said it could have been used to mask the use of steroid and he was banned for a year in February 2003.

Warne returned to Test cricket in March 2004 but never again played international one-dayers, instead preferring to concentrate on the longer form of the game.

He beat several career-threatening injuries, coming back stronger than ever, and while his deliveries lost some of the turn produced in his early career he concentrated on deceiving batsman with flight and pace.

He also became a master of mind games, targeting batsmen ahead of a series and warning he was working on a new mystery ball with which to bowl out his "bunnies" in the opposition line up.

His performance in the 2005 Ashes is regarded by some pundits as the best in his career when he overcame his disintegrating marriage and a tabloid frenzy to take 40 wickets.

While he was unable to single-handedly prevent England winning the series, he later admitted his passion for cricket was the factor that held him together during the tough period.

However, with reports Warne has reconciled with his wife and a spot on the commentary team at Australia's Channel Nine likely beckoning, the "Sheikh of Tweak" decided to call stumps on his remarkable career and reinvent himself.

"I'll sit back and have a few quiet beers and few smokes and try and weigh it all up and see what the future holds," he said.

AFP

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