Condolence: Shane Warne
I rise to speak on the condolence motion for Shane Warne. Shane Warne was a cricketing legend, and he was a Victorian. I thought, with this speech, what better place to start than a time before Warnie. He was a legend, so what was before Warnie? What was before all the kids bowling leg spin in the schoolyard? Well, before Warnie there was Deano. Dean Jones was the cricketer who everyone in the schoolyard wanted to be. His life also ended far too early almost two years ago. What so often happens when one legend’s career comes to an end far too early is it crosses over with the start of another. I thought it was fitting that Shane Warne’s first wicket in test cricket was Ravi Shastri caught Jones bowled Warne—a passing of the guard, if you will—albeit it was for 206 and Shane Warne’s figures were 1/150, but even Bradman had a tough first test.
In those very early days Shane Warne was plucked from relative obscurity. His selection for the Australian team took a lot of vision from the selectors, who are not renowned for always getting it right. When he was first picked for an Australian development team for an overseas tour it was against the wishes of the Victorian coach at the time, with Warne probably third pegging for selection as Victoria’s spinner, and they felt like the national selectors were trying to dictate who should play in the Victorian team. But the selectors certainly got it right with Shane Warne.
I do not think the Australian public quite knew what to make of this blond-haired leg spinner in the beginning. I remember being at the MCG for the now-famous Boxing Day test against the West Indies in 1992. There certainly was a bit of uncertainty about him being back in the team. But he arrived in that test match, picking up seven wickets on the final day, and from then on he was always the crowd favourite and much loved by bay 13, where the Shane Warne Stand sign now sits above them—and how fitting is that. That was just one of many incredible match-winning performances over his career when the odds were stacked against Australia. My favourite to this day is the 1996 World Cup semifinal played in India. I think I woke up in the middle of the night, wandered downstairs a bit bleary eyed, and turned on the telly. The Windies were cruising to an easy win, and enter Shane Warne, assisted by his fellow Victorian Damien Fleming, to run through the Windies for an incredible win. I remember sitting on the couch absolutely stunned from what I had just seen. It is not an overstatement to say that Shane Warne changed the game of cricket. Selector John Benaud said in his book:
Warne was a major player in a revival of legspin worldwide, a kiss of … death by slow over rates and pace. The new wave of legspin didn’t just influence Test match results—it performed a facelift on limited-overs cricket.
Watching Shane Warne bowl was something you could do all day. It was just thrilling when he would build pressure and run through teams. My grandfather, when we talked about cricket, always spoke about Bradman and being able to watch Bradman, and I suspect I will be doing the same with my children and grandchildren when they ask me about having the privilege of having watched Shane Warne play. In addition to being one of those people who is just naturally good at every sport they play, he was one of the best cricketing brains out there. He had to be to take so many wickets. So many of his wickets were out-thinking and outsmarting batsmen, setting them up in the overs and balls before, especially in his later years, when he could not necessarily rely on that big leg spinner or flipper as often. We saw that with his incredible 40 wickets in the 2005 Ashes tour just before his retirement, and we saw it in his really innovative and aggressive captaincy when he was given the chance. There is no doubt that we really missed out on something special by him not being made a permanent Australian captain at some point in his career, but we also heard it quite often in his later career as a commentator.
Over the weeks since his death we have heard a lot more about Shane Warne the person. The person you saw on the screen was the same off the screen, someone who could fit in and mix it with any crowd—celebrities or the punter on the street. He was a much-loved person, and he really did exude that energy of the love that so many Australians had for him. We heard about him as a mate, a reliable friend who kept his word, a son and a father who had such a positive influence on his kids’ lives by being there and helping them in their toughest moments, and a brother. For me the highlight of the state memorial service was the letter his brother wrote to him at the start of his career urging him to sacrifice so he would look back on his career as the best spin bowler in history. That I thought was a highlight.
Like many at the state memorial, I was very surprised by his advocacy for the environment. It was revealed that Shane had joined the UN Development Programme’s wildlife fund and that they will now present a Shane Warne conservation grant to memorialise his work to protect wildlife and catalyse more action. To be fair, he had previously called for cricket to be proactive and reactive about the dangers the sport faces due to the climate crisis, with cricket a summer sport played in some of the hottest places and certainly the sport that is the most under threat from climate change.
Shane Warne was a legend, he was an inspiration, he was a Victorian icon. To his family—Brooke, Jackson and Summer; his parents, Brigitte and Keith; his brother, Jason—our thoughts are with you. We mourn your loss. We celebrate his life. Vale, Shane Warne. I will finish by simply saying, ‘Bowling, Shane’.