Shane Warne: The greatest exponent of the art of leg-spin bowling
When he was at his best, the ball danced to his tunes, the batsman was left bamboozled, and the cricketing world was made to gasp in amazement. Has there ever been a better exponent of the art of leg-spin bowling?
Shane Warne was a magician with the ball in hand. In a career that lasted almost two decades, the blonde-haired leg-spinner etched his name in the annals of history as one of the greatest bowlers of all time.
Warne is the second highest wicket-taker in Tests, with a colossal 708 wickets to his name. He also took 293 wickets in ODI cricket, and will easily go down as the best bowler that Australia ever produced.
But more than the numbers, it was the beauty in the way he practised his art that made Warne the bowler of his generation. His ability to get the ball to drift and to extract vicious turn off the surface made him an incredibly spectacular match-winner for the Australian team.
Warne tricked several batsmen with the cherry in his hand. In fact, talking about his gift, this is what Warne had to say:
"Where my ability to spin a cricket ball came from, I honestly don't know. I can only think that I was born with it. I have a skill as cricketer and fortunately cricket found me."
This is clearly a statement from a genius. Extraordinary exponents of a particular craft are often unable to explain how they are able to do things that seem humanly impossible.
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Warne took a stunning 37 five-wicket hauls and a colossal 10 ten-wicket hauls in Tests. He is second on both these lists, headed by the legendary Muttiah Muralitharan. He is also one of the two bowlers to have taken more than 1000 international wickets (the other, of course, being Muralitharan).
No discussion on Warne can ever be complete without discussing the famous Mike Gatting dismissal. In what is widely considered as the ball of the century, Warne blindsided Gatting with the drift and loop he got in the air, and then extracted vicious turn off the surface to bowl the English batsman around his legs.
The leg-spinner’s battles with the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara were ones for the ages. The Indian batting maestro and the West Indian wizard were engaged in several battles with Warne during the 1990s and the first decade of the new millennium. The trio collectively elevated the sport to a new whole new level, and gave connoisseurs of the game a lot to cherish.
Warne retired from the game in the year 2007, after helping Australia thrash England 5-0 in the Ashes at home. With his retirement, one of the most special eras in cricket history came to an end.
It was an era where a leg-spinner cast spells of stunning beauty on the batsmen; an era where the art of leg-spin found its greatest exponent; and most importantly, an era that will live on forever in the minds of those who witnessed it.