The New York Times
By Victor Mather
Shane Warne, one of the greatest cricket players of all time, and a larger-than-life figure on and off the field, died Friday in Thailand. He was 52.
The cause was suspected to be a heart attack, his management company said in a statement.
Warne was a bowler, the equivalent of a baseball pitcher. He was a master of spin, balls that don’t come in fast but instead twist and turn, potentially bamboozling the batsman. And few bamboozled more batsmen than Warne.
Playing for Australia starting at age 22, Warne took 708 wickets in multiday Test matches, and added 293 in one-day matches, making him one of only two players to take 1,000 international wickets, alongside Muttiah Muralitharan of Sri Lanka. During much of that time, Australia was the best team in the world, regularly vanquishing the likes of England, India, the West Indies and South Africa.
The specific type of balls he threw, known as leg spin, were considered passé at the time of his arrival on the scene, when fast bowlers were all the rage. But his success with them, though difficult to replicate by others, helped revive what was becoming a lost art.
Warne wasn’t known as a batsman, and he never scored an international century, 100 runs in a single innings, though he once scored a frustrating 99. But his longevity meant he tallied more total runs than every other century-less player.
The most memorable ball he bowled was one of his first. In the 1993 Ashes series between Australia and England, the 23-year-old Warne was brought in to face England batsman Mike Gatting. His first ball of the match veered sharply to the left, hitting the wicket and leaving Gatting completely perplexed.
The suddenness of Gatting’s dismissal, the physics-defying movement of the ball and the youth and inexperience of the man who bowled it enshrined it as a famous cricket moment. It has since been labeled the “ball of the century,” and there are few candidates to rival it.
In 2000, the Wisden cricket annual, a venerable chronicler of the sport, selected Warne as one of the five best cricketers of the century. Yet he kept playing for Australia for seven more years and after that played in club cricket in India and elsewhere.
In 2015, at age 46, he brought a team of retired players to the United States to promote the sport, nearly filling CitiField in Queens with cricket enthusiasts excited to see their sport in a land not known for embracing it. The game was Twenty20 cricket, a faster version of the sometimes sleepy sport that continues to grow in popularity. Warne was one of those to embrace it.
“Everyone has this preconceived idea of what cricket is,” Warne said at the time. “A five-day Test match, no result, like yawn.” He called Twenty20 “the rock ’n’ roll version — you’ve got no time to think.”
His post-cricket career also included play in poker events like the World Series of Poker and commentary on cricket matches. Last summer, he coached the London Spirit, an English Twenty20 team.
Off the pitch, Warne had a knack for making headlines as well. In 2003, he was suspended from the sport after testing positive for a banned diuretic, which he said he had used merely to lose weight to look better. His love life, including a rocky relationship and eventual divorce from his wife, Simone Callahan, and a romance with the actress Elizabeth Hurley, was gobbled up by tabloids from Sydney to London. He is survived by three children, Brooke, Jackson and Summer.
In a recently released documentary about his life, “Shane,” Warne said: “I like loud music, I smoked, I drank, I bowled a bit of leg spin. That’s me.”
Victor Mather covers every sport for The Times.