The great showman Shane Warne took his final bow as a professional cricketer on Friday, bringing down the curtain on a 20-year career that was a heady mix of sporting greatness and high farce.
The 41-year-old Australian has likened his life to a soap opera, but it would take a brave scrip writer to summon up a character who divided an audience as much as Warne has over the last two decades.
Single-handedly reviving the art of leg-spin bowling, the Victorian was a standout even in one of the most successful cricket teams of all time, bestriding the game like a bleach-blond colossus and claiming 708 Test wickets.
Set against that was the doping ban, the marital infidelities, the loss of the Australian vice-captaincy for steamy texts sent to an Englishwoman, the dangerous liaisons with a bookmaker and the frequent clashes with officialdom.
Those clashes, which his defenders cited as evidence of his willingness to speak his mind regardless of the consequences, continued right until the end and he was fined US$50,000 for criticizing an Indian Premier League official only last week.
His capacity for getting into trouble was evident from his very earliest days in the game, but so was his extraordinary ability to control a cricket ball. A year after taking one wicket at the cost of 150 runs on Test debut in 1992, he conjured up a staggering delivery — later described as the ball of the 20th century — to dismiss England captain Mike Gatting.
It was during another Ashes series that he called time on his international career in 2007 after becoming the first bowler to take 700 Test wickets as Australia wrested back the urn with a whitewash of the English tourists.
In between came the Man-of-the-Match award in the 1999 World Cup final, the accolade of being one of Wisden’s five best players of the 20th century, an astonishing 96 Test wickets in 2005, 293 one-day wickets and more than 3,000 Test runs.
However, it was as the best spin bowler — some would say the best bowler — of all time that he will be remembered and he brought words like slider, wrong’un and flipper back into the vernacular.
His loss to Australian cricket was never more evident than in England’s Ashes triumph at the turn of this year, when calls for his return from international retirement reached fever pitch before he dampened them down.
Instead he satisfied himself with one more season in the lucrative IPL with the Rajasthan Royals.
Of one thing there is no doubt, for good or bad, cricket will be a duller sport without him.