Shane Warne bowlng durng the 3rd Ashes Test Match aganst England at Old Trafford, July 4 1997. Picture Credit: Tom Jenkins/Getty Images

Singing Shane’s praises

A man with an appetite for victory, and everything else too


This article is taken from the April 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

It was jiggery-pokery, trickery jokery,
how did he open me up?
Robbery, muggery, Aussie skulduggery,
out for a buggering duck.

Mike Gatting’s lament, as imagined by Neil Hannon and Thomas Walsh for their concept album The Duckworth-Lewis Method, is surely the finest song ever written about an international cricketer, with all respect to “Fuckin’ ’Ell, It’s Fred Titmus”, the 1985 song by Half Man, Half Biscuit about bumping into the Middlesex and England off spinner while shopping for Lenor.

Old Trafford in 1993 brought together two fatties

It pips “Victory Calypso”, Egbert Moore’s elegy to “cricket, lovely cricket”, written to celebrate the West Indies winning at Lord’s in 1950, with “those two little pals of mine, Ramadhin and Valentine”. Sonny Ramadhin, the last survivor of that side, died at the end of February aged 92. Five days later, and 40 years younger, Shane Warne joined him in the pavilion. Cruelly dismissed by the eternal umpire.

If fans were stunned by Warne’s death, the pile of beer cans, meat pies and cigarettes that grew in tribute beside his statue outside the Melbourne Cricket Ground showed they had an inkling of what had caused it. Warne was never one for clean living. The woman in charge of the players’ dining room at Lord’s once told me that his dietary requirement was for fags and cheese toasties to be sent regularly to the changing room.

Many cricketers have had appetites for more than runs and wickets, from WG Grace, the Victorian behemoth, to Ian “Beefy” Botham, Inzamam “Aloo” Ul-Haq and David Boon, who reportedly sank 52 cans of Victoria Bitter on a flight from Australia in 1989. That was in an era when, as Boon’s team-mate Steve Waugh put it, Aussie cricketers thought hamburgers were a healthy choice so long as you ate the lettuce and tomato.

That moment of jiggery-pokery at Old Trafford in 1993 brought together two fatties: the round-faced Warne and the hearty luncher Gatting. Having dismissed Australia for 289, England had the advantage at 81 for one when the ball was thrown to the leg spinner. As Hannon later sang: “He loosened up his shoulder and with no run-up at all, he rolled his right arm over and he let go of the ball…”

He used it to immense psychological advantage

It drifted way to the right, encouraging Gatting to play a simple defensive block, then span obscenely across him, clipping off stump. “How anyone can spin a ball the width of Gatting boggles the mind,” wrote Martin Johnson. Graham Gooch, watching from the non-striker’s end, reflected that if it had been a cheese roll it wouldn’t have got past him. Mind you, if it had been, Warne might not have parted with it.

What an introduction! And we just knew that this would not be a flash in the pan in the way, say, that Bob Massie’s Ashes debut 21 years earlier had been. Massie took 16 wickets in one Test at Lord’s but added only 15 more before his career ended. There was a foreboding that Warne would now torture us for years and years to come.

His return at Old Trafford of eight for 137 more or less matched the eight for 145 taken by Peter Such, England’s debutant spinner, but the headlines all went one way. Such dismissed Mark Taylor (twice), Michael Slater, Boon, Waugh and Allan Border, all world-class scalps, but he had not made the ball change postcodes.

The Gatting ball is often spoken of as if it were Warne’s first on the international stage. In fact, he had worn the baggy green cap for 18 months without looking the part.

He took one for 150 on debut, against India in January 1992, and after four matches his record was four for 386. Before the Ashes, Warne had taken 31 wickets in 11 Tests. Had he been a Pom, especially given selectors’ whims back then, he might never have reached Old Trafford. Peter Such only played 11 Tests, incidentally, in which he took 37 wickets. No one talks of him as the one who got away.

Warne ended up taking 708 wickets, many with magnificent deliveries, but it was his thirty-second that turned him into a magician. Wilfred Rhodes, the prewar England all-rounder, liked to say of his left-arm spin that “if they think it’s turning, it’s turning”. Once it was known that Warne could get such turn and control — and he showed he could often — he used it to immense psychological advantage, putting doubt into the minds of batsmen and umpires.

Some might argue that statistically Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan was the better bowler, taking 800 wickets at a lower average and with a better strike-rate and economy rate. Some might even claim that Warne was not the greatest leg-spinner for Australia: Clarrie Grimmett took seven ten-wicket hauls in 37 Tests in the 1920s and 30s: Warne took only three more in 145.

Both have also had songs written about them: the one for Muralitharan, disappointingly not called “Great Balls Muttiah”, has the line “The batsmen keep on guessing, not knowing how to play, when he bowls the doosra that goes the other way”, while “Bravo Clarrie!”, from 1930, features “Gee! The way he puts them through, sure he makes the English cricket writers blue.”

Whatever their merits as cricketing rivals, and Wisden preferred Warne as one of its five best players of the twentieth century which should give the definitive verdict, the chubby blond from Ferntree Gully has by far inspired the greater lyrics.
Though, to be fair to Gatting, he was actually out for a buggering four, not a duck.

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