Cow Corner

Farewell and thank-you, Shane Warne

Cow Corner

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On Friday one of cricket's luminaries, Shane Warne, hung up his spikes once and for all after a Twenty20 fixture with nothing very much riding on it.

It's not an end that the 41-year-old could have contemplated 20 years ago when he made his first-class debut in Melbourne with match figures of 0/101 - but the game has changed immensely during that time.

Warne's an interesting figure for any number of reasons, and many of them were discussed when the leg-spinner retired from international cricket in 2007 with a then-record 708 Test wickets from 145 matches to his name.

But Warne's part in bridging that gap between old-fashioned cricket and the Twenty20 revolution has been an enormous one.

For all his flaws as a cricketer, Warne stands out as the game's greatest leg-spinner.Wisden voted him one of the best five cricketers of the 20th century - and then he went on to repeat all his feats and then some in the 21st century.

He did it all with a strange, obnoxious kind of charm which meant that despite tormenting England players and fans for the best part of two decades he still emerged as one of the nation's favourite visiting stars, given respect for the spirit with which he played the game, and the talent he applied to the dying art of spin.

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He even managed to be sexy, despite that dance after Australia retained the Ashes in 1997. Cowers knows you might laugh, but then again you're not with Liz Hurley.

The circus around Warne has always been extraordinary. There were tabloid scandals and triumphs in poker tournaments. There was even an endorsement of hair-loss treatments. Admittedly he shares that with a former England skipper, but for all his talent with the bat, there'll never be a Graham Gooch: The Musical.

Warne was keen competitor, with an intelligent perspective on the game, and yet occasionally he made moves which were naive at best.

Who else, though, could have had dalliances with bookmakers, miss a year of cricket for a drugs ban, and yet still manage to secure a legacy in which he is remembered almost exclusively for his contribution to the game?

And yet somehow Warne did manage to shrug those dark moments off. Cricketers are introspective, thinking types by nature, but Warne managed to live in the moment and embrace situations however he found them, more often than not coming up roses.

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"If I thought about what happened in my past," Warne said in a recent interview, "I could be in a straight jacket and padded cell somewhere. But I can't change it, so I don't spend any time worrying about it. It's what I'm doing now and in the future."

It explains how at the end of a career in which he became a Test legend in his own lifetime he still had enough left in him to make waves in the Indian Premier League.

Warne, captain, coach and icon of the Rajasthan Royals, managed to lead an unfancied bunch of Indian cricketers to the inaugural title. Success has not come so readily since then for his team, but as an individual only a handful of players have taken more wickets than the Australian in the history of the competition. This year, Warne still boasts 12 wickets at an average of 22.

There's a part of any cricket fan who'd happily watch Warne's leg-spinners forever - even if it's confined to four-over bursts in the new era of cricket.

Plenty of Australian fans, for example, who just months ago would have happily thrown Warne straight back into the Test team with the Ashes on the line. English fans laughed, Warne stayed in the commentary box - but perhaps for a man who lives his life without regret, Shane might just reflect that it is a shame that his career has not sparked a generation of Australian leg-spinners to follow in his footsteps.  It is as if his legacy is such that, like the West Indian pace quartet, it is simply too much to emulate.

Now, just as his first-class career began without the auspices of greatness, his last game was not, in itself, a symbolic or even fitting occasion to mark the end of his career - even if he did manage a wicket in his final over (a stumping after another turning delivery), and his Rajasthan side thundered to a 10-wicket win. 

What happened in between those first and last games, however, was something quite unique.

So consider this a thank-you from Cowers - the game will be poorer without you, Warnie.

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