Our eyes light up automatically upon hearing the phrase magic. Like the perfect plot of a Harry Potter book or a birthday party theme, the hope for magic to take place is ever-real. The one who brings it to a gathering is hailed unquestionably.
Magic happened each time Sachin played the straight drive. It occurred with roaring thunder when Brian Lara cracked a cover drive. And, it presided over a contest when the ball was in the grasp of a certain Shane Keith Warne.
There are players who happen to entertain. There are players that do not.
Each time Warne looped in clean-air, taking that stylish hop before hurling down a few surprises at batsmen, he produced sheer magic.
He was, at his peak, and even in the final moments of his cricketing twilight, one of the greatest assault levelled by the cricket ball at a sport perhaps called rather myopically the gentleman’s game.”
Warne was the answer to the famous lines, “if the bat could talk, then the ball could sing”. Warne was an actionable verb; the affirmation that, in the end, the twirl of spin would hold the last laugh.
Warne ensured a contest wasn’t over till he played his part
And truth be told, it often did.
It isn’t that each time Warne got out to bowl, wickets went flying and the timber was reduced to ashes.
But with great certainty can it be said that there was a thrill, an emotion, an anticipation for the magic to take control of proceedings when Warne sprung into action.
Warne, from the onset of 1993 to 2005, kept fans on the tenterhooks, batsmen on a state of a never-ending alert, and a contest on the edge of nerve-wrecking entertainment.
You paid for the tickets to come to watch Australia play. More often than not, you ended up receiving a bonus on your money with Warne grinding batsmen into dust.
Quite like Warne’s glittering career, his magic often seemed threatened by the man’s over-enthusiasm to court danger.
While the highs and lows of competing at the highest level made his craft appear threatened, but often only on occasions he was pitted against a ballsy Lara or an indomitable Tendulkar, picture Barbados 1998 and Australia’s tour to India in 2001, there were also moments where it seemed the magician was rather intent on uprooting himself from the very sport that made him.
And there were also times where the producer of some of cricket’s most magical spells- that have resulted in 708 Test wickets- experienced a season of self-cultivated despair.
Where Shane Warne went wrong?
While the need to mingle with bookies was about as irrational as bowling a full-toss to an in-form batsman, Warne’s usage of diuretics purposely whilst lying to media proved he was about as tiny a mortal as he was a giant sorcerer with the ball in hand.
In a series that was meant to pit Warne against another trailblazer, Murali- the leg-spinner pitted himself against controversies.
It was as if, the dexterity of the artist that came alive approaching the bowling crease was threatened by the obscurity of a man who produced the legend.
When despite being made of flesh and blood, bones and tissue, you manage to sketch an iconic image to yourself; it’s obvious that the world’s expectations of you are only going to increase.
Which is why Sachin became a God but also carried out his responsibility with full vigour.
Meanwhile, his sex-romps and wild ways off the pitch notwithstanding, Warne nearly dented his superhero image with the charity that got quashed to the ground and with it, people’s expectations of a man they had hailed.
The lesser mortal
It was as if, the Superman resorted to a lesser moral ground where mortals moved without capes. Warne even managed to raise brows when he held Samuels by his collar and vaguely attacked him with a cricket ball when all of that could’ve been settled with one cuss word since he couldn’t operate without a sledge.
But, characteristic to his sudden trait to bounce back against adversity, Warne came back through several turnstiles even in the final run of his international career.
While his explosive feats such as his 31-wickets in the 2001 Ashes, his third then made headlines, he ensured he’d once again become the darling of the media by taking 40 scalps in his last Ashes appearance, and with it, his swansong series.
He was also a guy adept at catching batsmen by sheer surprise, upholding the triumph of the ball when it was least expected. Picture the semi-finals of the Wills 1996 World Cup where Warne bowled West Indies out of a virtual semi-final.
Above anything, Warne’s charisma stemmed from his playing the capricious, unrelenting trier who never stopped believing.
And in the undulating rhythms of a true cricketing genius- one who forged a heavenly career by often selling his soul to the devil- the ball continued to cast a magic spell.
It constantly reminded fans just why the game was as much about batsmen’s daring as it were about Warne’s guile.
It happened when as a slightly pudgy bowler, a massively turning ball rocked Mike Gatting’s stumps heralding the incident into a timeless headline material; the effort being called the ball of the century.
It happened when this eccentric bamboozler decided, all of a sudden, to raise his weapon to the ground finally, but not before inspiring some of Rajasthan’s Royals-forging his experience to the exuberance of India’s youths- and not before hailing his contemporaries like Dravid, Lara, Sachin to whom he was often an unconquerable sorcerer.
Everything about Warne was spin. Often, it spun out of control.
On most other occasions, it shackled batsmen’s timber and galvanised cricket-lovers like few other things could.
For this and more, we must extend our regard to one of the true champions of the game; one who represented the darker and lighter colours presenting gloom and glory and yet manages to retain a colourful veneer of adulation in his fans’ hearts.