Shane Warne: Beckham, Gazza and Ronaldo in one
Have you tried comparing Shane Warne to another sportsperson? Don’t bother.
On Friday evening, I attempted to explain to my wife what the passing of Shane Warne would mean to cricket and its fans. Although she knew his name and, after I showed her a picture, recognised his face, she didn’t grow up watching or playing cricket. I had just told her that it was the first time in my life that one of my sporting heroes had died.
At first, I compared him to David Beckham. They were on a par in terms of celebrity in their sports and starred in the same era; it was a comparison to illustrate the shockwaves of Warne’s passing. I essentially thought of the most high-profile late 90s/early 00s footballer in England, because despite not being English, Warne was the most high-profile late 90s/early 00s cricketer in England.
My first view of Warne in the flesh came through the legs of a pissed, kilt-wearing Scotsman mid-roly poly in 1999. The great man wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Having chanted and jeered at Warne along with his compatriots, mainly about his weight, for the first two hours of Australia’s opening World Cup group game at New Road, Worcester, said Scot took to the field, waddled towards Warne and displayed all as he performed the best of his gymnastics repertoire.
Warne laughed, waited for the superiorly rotund gentleman to return to his seat and waggled his little finger in his direction. Cue hysterics from those in on the joke and those – like nine-year-old me – who simply laughed at others laughing with a professional sportsman.
This is where the Beckham comparison falls down. Becks was the butt of jokes, but rarely – if ever – in on them himself. Not many would have fancied shooting the sh*t with the Beckham of the first five or six hairstyles, but few would have turned down that same opportunity with Warney. Paul Gascoigne had that same man-of-the-people appeal. Gazza too was a normal guy who happened to have an extraordinary talent.
“We hate him the most,” I was told having asked why Warne was getting by far the most attention from the crowd at Worcester. I was young, but aware of what that meant: most hated Australian = best.
You could argue Gazza was the best at one time, circa 1996, but Warne would go on to become the best of any time. In that enduring sense, he’s closer to Diego Maradona, Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi.
His skill and celebrity had kids applying suncream to the tips of their noses and on their lips, spinning the ball from one hand to the other and putting on Australian accents. A bit like kids now doing Ronaldo celebrations. But while the ‘siuuus’ do, or at least should, stop before adulthood, there is no such limit on Warne-isms.
“Bowling, Shane” can be heard countrywide on a Saturday or Sunday, usually with ironic overtones as some poor b*stard decided to copy Warne 20 years ago and take up the hardest skill in cricket, only to be pumped into the car park on a weekly basis. That same person plays for that very occasional genuine “bowling, Shane”. We all do. Partly because amateur cricketers at one point dreamed of being as good as Warne, but just as much because they want to be considered a decent, fun bloke. It’s was his character that appealed as much as anything.
He had the celebrity of Beckham, but was better. He had the charm and boisterousness of Gazza, but his quality has endured. He was as legendary as Ronaldo, but more fun. He was an incomparable sportsperson.
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