Quite apart from its literal context, there is yet another compelling reason for choosing this headline. For in my book, unschooled but imaginative, Shane Warne was the 007 of Cricket, a lovable superhero with a potent license to kill.
It all starts with aura, and Shane’s was no less than Bond’s, in the way he made the 22 yards his casino roulette. Even when under fire from a briefly ferocious opponent, the poise was intact as was the killer gaze, Sean Connery would be a defensible benchmark. Yet he was charming in his entire demeanour, the scathing assassin blessed with ominous grace as he sought to befuddle the usually-awestruck foe. For quite like Bond, his secret sauce was the conviction of victory, and that is why captains trusted him in even the most troubling tides of play. Yes, when facing Tendulkar and Sidhu in Indian conditions, he could go for a few but at no time was the impression served that he was out of the game, yet another relevant analogy.
For a moment, let me digress to the hard-core terrain of the game, on which I am grossly underqualified to comment, giving my ‘Sporting Sam’ credentials. But then as an avid viewer for four decades, from a purely performing perspective, he must deeply qualify as the ‘GOAT’ in this much eulogized sport, and one can simplistically explain why. Spin bowling has always been a niche skillset, the subcontinent being its core turf, while of course there have been great bowlers like Lance Gibbs and Jim Laker, from both tropical and temperate climes. But Warne elevated his genius to a format-agnostic calibre and each time he bowled, it did not quite matter whether he was express fast or gentle guile. As he effortlessly combined the native aggression of a Michael Holding with the Oriental charisma of Bishen Bedi, once again like James Bond, a fine cocktail of the suave and the ruthless, with a sense of humour to boot. He was threatening in every kind of playing conditions and under all circumstances, thus many notches above the other great spinners of the era, who usually needed collateral advantage to deliver the goods.
What made him further endearing was the human equilibrium, the lager-laced belly fat and the Down Under temperament, most certainly never the robotic clones of the current age. It was further enhanced by a perennial streak of streaky romance, no less than Ian Fleming’s iconic hero, which often veered towards the alarmingly reckless. He was also prone to in-field temper tantrums, the Ugly Australian persona not leaving him in a terrible hurry, but that was truly par for the course. What inspired me totally was his sotto voice rendition of ‘Come On’ that could be scarcely heard but immensely felt, during his bowling run up, something we shamelessly emulated before the strategic examinations in the midst of irritable clients. And of course, the passionate intensity, not a hint of casual diatribe, as he was always performing for a higher cause, which defined his erudite focus. This was a warlike character, laced with a modicum of statesmanship, in every scheming delivery that was unleashed on the fellow 'not in baggy greens'.
In sum, just like James Bond, he was a top bloke as well, helping like-minded fellows sharpen their craft as a gesture of largeness, a responsibility of celestially privileged citizenry. In his death we must not mourn his absence, but instead celebrate his Himalayan presence, as he crafted his very own peaks, disregarding the existing. On a very fundamental note, he was clearly the best cricketer of his era, and this I say with candid emotional authority.
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