Sydney: When the news broke, it was tempting to quickly conclude that Shane Warne died the way he had lived. On holiday in Thailand, nudge nudge. The tabloids, especially in Britain, where he lived for much of his life, had described his life in a gruesome way. Many may have speculated that he died to the fullest of life.
As it turned out, Warne, who had just turned 52, had stated that he was on a serious health kick in an effort to lose weight and get in shape. He had even previously managed to make a scandal out of weight loss when he failed a drug test at the 2003 Cricket World Cup in South Africa and was sent home. He was ridiculed for blaming his mother for recommending the banned diuretic.
To say that Warne was no stranger to controversy is as trite as to say that he was a superlative cricketer. One of the five Wisden Cricketers of the [20th] For centuries, cricket fans have looked to his bowling record with the same forensic eye as the paparazzi followed his carousing. It was Warne who delivered the ball of the century, arguably the most famous dismissal in modern cricket, in 1993 to a stunned English captain, Mike Gatting. It was a piece of sporting wizardry to remember.
These contrasting images make us wonder who Shane Warne is, and why is he so important to so many?
Warnie: the soap opera
Few athletes are interesting enough to devote an entire musical to them, but Eddie Perfect found enough material for his 2008 production Shane Warne: The Musical. The subject may be admired by cricket fans around the world, but it is also well known to a much wider audience precisely because it has generated so much gossip.
Warne is often presented as the lovable larrikin, a male archetype long celebrated in Australia. This is a colonial-era image of young men who mocked the stuffy decency of the British with brutal, anti-authoritarian attitudes and behavior.
Perfectly suited to play a key role in the post-colonial pantomime that is the Ashes cricket series, he was loud, sloppy, disrespectful and, crucially, very good at beating the Poms at their own game.
Warne was radically different from other Australian cricketing heroes such as Sir Don Bradman and Richie Benaud. When the latter died in 2015, I reflected on his transition from rebel on the field to sober commentator.
Shane Warne also made the move to television commentary, but while Benaud provided dignified attention, Warne was animated and opinionated. Restraint was never part of Warne’s arsenal, although his successful career as a professional poker player and the subtlety of his bowling proved a shrewd, calculating mind behind the brash exterior.
But Warne was a different type of larrikin than older cricketers like Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh, who died in a different time zone on the same day.
Lillee and Marsh were creatures of the cricket world, aggressive practitioners of the art of destroying opposition teams.
Warne went way beyond this territory as the emerging global sports galaxy fully embraced gossip-based entertainment.
He was both product and producer of the sports celebrity who now moves effortlessly across the cultural landscape. He approved hair loss treatment without blushing. Warne’s doomed engagement to British movie star Liz Hurley was a classic case of a relationship that was largely in the media.
The advent of social media and the ever-available pocket cameras to upload evidence of fouls was instrumental in shaping Warne the man’s world knowledge when he failed to deliver astonishing performances on the cricket pitch.
He is therefore much closer to the postmodern cohort embodied by the bad as I wannabe American basketball player Dennis Rodman than the traditional Australian sporty larrikins.
More than just a cricketer
No need to convince cricket fans to remember Shane Warne. His phenomenal track record puts him firmly in the cricket pantheon. But he is also important to the sport in general and beyond the world of bat and ball.
Warne reminds us that sport is always much more than performing on the field. It is not just a question of what is done, but also how. There is just as much fascination with the backstory as with the big game.
Warne, an uncaring college student from suburban Melbourne, was socially mobile purely because of his athletic prowess. This man did extraordinary things with bravado, but was also a flawed personality. From his ill-advised early fraternization with bookies to his feuds with past and present players, Warne became Warnie, almost a caricature of the sporty Aussie dude loved by some and scorned by others.
Warne sought and compulsively attracted attention. Despite his expression of grief over his family relationships in the documentary Shane, he insisted that I smoke, drink, and do a little bowling. No regrets .
Bystanders admire and criticize this life on its own terms. It is in the conversation space between where Warne lives on. (The conversation)
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