It’s safe to say that these past few weeks have been rough. One of my favourite celebrities, the incomparable, feisty and most wonderfully natured person I know passed away — the one and only Kuli Roberts. An influencer before influencing. She left her mark on the entertainment industry. One of my favourite rappers also passed away. The warm-hearted, humble game changer, Riky Rick. My last living uncle, Tiffie Barnes, a legend of nonracial cricket and a hero who I looked up to when growing up also left us. He passed away on Sunday 27 February.
The reason I bring this up is because on 12 February 1964 he could have easily played against the late Richie Benaud, the great Australian leg-break bowler’s last Test match. That Test match was played against South Africa and we all know why Tiffie Barnes wasn’t even considered for selection. However, there was stories in our household and community that Tiffie Barnes, Hussein Ayob and uncle Kitetjie Abrahams did in fact play in a “warm-up” match against Benaud, who at the time was considered to be one of the greatest leg-spinners to ever take a cricket field. Alas, the greatest leg-spinner ever was yet to come.
Shane Warne was born on 13 September 1969 in the village of Upper Ferntree Gully, 32km east of Melbourne, Australia. On the 4 March 2022 the cricketing world said farewell to the greatest wrist-spinner ever. He passed away of a suspected heart attack.
I suspect that if you knew Warne (I didn’t know him other than meeting him a couple of times while he was doing commentary at the Wanderers) only that could have stopped him. He had a zest for life. He loved this game of cricket. He was the epitome of a true competitor. Ask Daryll Cullinan. He would give everything on the field. He would strike as much fear into a batsman as a fast bowler like Michael Holding would.
Remember, he was a spinner not a fast bowler. The fear he instilled in batters was unparalleled. Ask Mike Gatting. Who can forget the ball of the century? My mom was alive at the time and when she saw that ball she fondly said “Gatting was gedwarsboom. Hy was geverdoesel.”
You see my mom didn’t like Mike Gatting because he was the captain of the last rebel tour to South Africa three years before that 1993 Ashes test. She loved Warne. She used to say “No guts, no glory en die Shane Warne het guts”. That’s when I too began to fall in love with the cricketer Warne. I had posters of him in my room, dreaming of facing him one day. I was 19 years old at the time and I was also a cricketer. Clearly, not a good enough cricketer.
1993 was also the year Michael Jordan averaged 41 points per game in the NBA finals. The year that basically cemented him as the greatest basketball player of all time. It wasn’t necessarily his talent, but the impact made on the sport of basketball that made him the Goat.
There were many greats before him, like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson, but he changed the entire outlook of the sport. That same year, Warne did exactly the same for cricket. There were many great leg break bowlers before him, like Benaud and Abdul Qadir, but Warne was the game changer.
Other than Viv Richards, Warne was the most charismatic player in the history of cricket. He was one of those guys you would select to go to war with you if the game of cricket were a war. He inspired his team mates. Every single cricket team he ever played for was better because of his presence.
His belief in his talents was what always drove me to believe that, although I was talentless, I could play against him. He even inspired the opposition. Ask Brain Lara and Sachin Tendulkar. What made Warne so special was that his adversaries on the field were his closest friends off the field. The tributes of both Lara and Tendulkar are testament to that.
One of the most important aspects Warne brought to cricket was how the game was played. Tough and uncompromising. He only ever lost one Ashes series in 2005 and even then he was the best performer from both sides.
He bowled a ball called the flipper. He perfected it. He bowled “googlies” at will. He bowled international batsmen around their legs with his super-turner leg breaks. Ask Darren Powell. He turned down various approaches by bookmakers because winning was more important than money for him. Ask Salim Malik.
He was a colourful character, no doubt, but there can never be any doubt about the influence he had on generations of cricket lovers around the world. 1001 international wickets. He was named as one of the top five cricketers of the last century. There is a statue of him outside the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
He was also a straightforward, no-holds-barred commentator that didn’t hold back on his truths. I always looked forward to what he had to say, but, sadly, I can’t anymore. The cricketing world has lost a giant. One of my favourite players of all time — and I had the privilege to watch him live. I sure will be telling my grandkids about the legend of the spin king Shane Warne.