Legends gone

A couple of days ago came the news that legendary Australian wicketkeeper had passed away, failing to recover from a heart attack a couple of days before. It was sad news. He was 74.

For Australians of my age, he was the national wicketkeeper we grew up with in the seventies and eighties. He was an iconic character, tough as teak and larger than life. He was a big-hitting batsman and great – sometimes spectacular – behind the stumps. To look at he epitomised the term ‘burly’, stocky and powerful, and with one of those big moustaches so many Australian cricketers carried in the era. His was second only to Lillee’s in repute.

Of course, that was the great cricketing partnership time. Caught Marsh, bowled Lillee became almost a slogan, and no bowler-wicketkeeper combo has effected more dismissals in history.

I was there at the MCG when he scored a century against England in the centenary test. I can recall him hitting 26 off a Lance Cairns over in an ODI. He was a true legend, a really good bloke, and a great storyteller. He’s another of my youth gone, reminding me that I too, am getting older.

Marsh seemed indestructible, his death hit hard, but it wasn’t a great shock. I never expected the death of another cricketing legend just a couple of days later. That was truly shocking.

I woke up to the news this morning. I saw on my phone that tributes were rolling in for Shane Warne. What’s he done now? I wondered.

He had died on holiday in Thailand. He was 52.

Warne had led such a lifestyle that a premature death was always possible, yet he was such an immense character, on the field and off it, that it seemed hardly possible. Everyone knew him, many had an opinion of him, whether they liked cricket or not. I read in shock, and tears came to my eyes from the sheer immensity of it.

The term GOAT is much used and abused these days, but Shane is indisputably that. He may be the greatest cricketer of all time. He’s certainly the greatest leg-spinner of all time, and possibly best bowler full stop. Yet none of that does him justice.

He was a generation after Marsh, but another we all watched as his career took off. His story is amazing. Most of us watching him were enchanted and often amazed by his feats. We were so happy he was an Aussie! To the rest of the world he inspired awe and fear.

He took over 700 test wickets, so many of them dramatic and memorable. So many times worked batsmen over psychologically, bowling spin with the attitude of a quickie. He was a match-winner and match-turner. Never beaten, he would transform matches with his guile, talent and sheer determination. As every champion is, he was a winner.

He’s famous for the ‘ball of the century’, which is very Hollywood and entirely him. Of my memories, I’ll never forget how he bowled Australia to victory against England in Adelaide when we looked done. And likewise, the 1999 World Cup when he turned the semi-final against South Africa. And when he took his 700th wicket at the MCG.

Reciting his cricketing career hardly does him justice. He was an individual who transcended his sport. There has been no bigger character in international cricket. I can’t think of bigger character in Australian sport.

Controversial, opinionated, incorrigible, he was the ordinary bloke elevated to international stardom. There was something very Australian about him, the irreverent larrikin who lived life to the full. He loved his fast-food, his smokes, the footy – the Sainters, partying hard, and women. It got him in trouble plenty of times, but it made us feel we all knew him.

For all of his antics, he was a cricketing genius. Great as a cricketer, he was also very good as a commentator. His insights when on his game were always fascinating. It’s only weeks ago I listened to him.

He was a generous, big-hearted character, which didn’t stop him from being very annoying sometimes. I grew weary of some of his recent antics in the commentary box. He was prone to petty vendetta he wouldn’t let up about, and going off on trivial, self-indulgent tangents in commentary. Yet, that was part and parcel of his childlike charm. He let it all hang out. There were no filters. He embraced everything.

It seems hardly possible. No matter your opinion of him, the world is a lesser place with Warnie gone. To think we’ll never see or hear from the maestro again – how can such a man be silenced? How can such a great personality be muted?

I’ll remember him every year – he died on my birthday.

It’s been an awful week for Australian cricket.

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