Beneath Shane Warne’s fittingly one-and-a-half times larger than life bronze statue, stunned fans in his native Melbourne yesterday made votive offerings of flowers, beer, cigarettes and a meat pie, remembering an imperfect hero whose outsized skill and personality transcended cricket.
When the “King of Spin” attended the unveiling of his likeness outside his beloved Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) more than a decade ago, he quipped that the “wonderful” result made the “about four hours” the sculptor had spent measuring between his nose and ears worthwhile.
Joking aside, Warne said that he relished the idea that the statue would be a future reference point — a place for ordinary Australians to come together.
“It’s a pretty amazing walk down to the MCG for whatever it is you’re doing,” he said. “So to have a place here where people can meet and say: ‘I’ll meet you at the Shane Warne statue’ will be nice.”
Now, on one damp morning a decade later, fans arranged to meet “at the Shane Warne statue” to mark his untimely death aged 52 and join in their shared grief.
“I’m not even a massive cricket person, but I’ve met him before and he’s not much different in age,” John Haddad said. “It hits home.”
For much of the past 30 years, Warne the man has been a reference point that brought Australians together — from his 1992 Test debut against India to his incisive commentary, which became as much a part of the Australian summer’s soundscape as kids laughing on the beach or the click of bat on ball.
In the time in between, he captured the imagination of countless backyard cricketers and set the sporting world on fire.
“It was pretty devastating to lose a childhood hero,” said Andy Smith, who traveled to the MCG to put down a bouquet and pay his respects. “Everyone was here as a kid, and watching the cricket shows, especially the lunch break shows, where he would come out and show his bowling technique. It was always amazing to watch.”
“He was a hero for a lot of kids I think,” said Smith, who particularly recalled witnessing Warne’s landmark 700th wicket and his retirement.
Most Australians of a certain age particularly remember where they were for Warne’s “Ball of the Century” against England’s Mike Gatting — a delivery so special, so befuddling, that it has been the subject of a scientific paper.
“I was in China at the time and watching TV and when they showed that clip,” Chris Morrow said. “Here I was in the middle of Qingdao going: ‘Whoop, whoop, whoop.’ It was the greatest moment.”
With a friend, he wanted to travel to the MCG to pay his respects to cricket’s rock star — famed for his hard-charging life off the field as much as his prowess on it.
They laid down a few items beloved by Warne — a “meat pie from a service station, and a packet of Winfield Blue [cigarettes] and half a dozen VBs [beers].”
Warne was found unresponsive in his villa hotel in Koh Samui, Thailand, on Friday night and could not be revived at a nearby hospital.
He was 52.
Plans were being made to return his body to his hometown, where his family has been offered a state funeral.
Mick Jagger, Elton John, Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe were among the celebrities mourning Warne’s death — not as if his incredible career achievements needed any exclamation points from the entertainment industry, but they were there in abundance.
Former England captain Michael Vaughan said it best for many of his fellow cricketers past and present.
“Shane was the greatest-ever cricketer but more than that his character lit up every dressing room ... bar, golf club & friendship group ... his energy & positivity was beyond anyone I have ever known .. he was loyal beyond loyal,” Vaughan wrote on Instagram. “Everyone wanted to be around him but ultimately he was just a normal guy who could do incredible things.”
For good measure, all-time greats Sachin Tendulkar — he said he was “shocked, stunned and miserable” — and legendary West Indies stars Brian Lara and Viv Richards added their praise and sent condolences to Warne’s family, including his three children with his ex-wife Simone.
Former Australia fast bowler Glenn McGrath said that Warne, his long-time teammate, “lived more in his life than most people would live in 20.”
“I thought nothing could ever happen to him,” McGrath said.
The Victorian state government, which offered Warne’s family the state funeral, announced that the Great Southern Stand at the MCG would be renamed the S.K. Warne Stand — “a permanent tribute to an amazing Victorian.”
Police in Thailand said that a friend staying at the same resort went to check on Warne when the cricket star failed to arrive for dinner and found him unconscious in a villa.
Warne was taken by ambulance to Thai International Hospital and later his body was transferred to Ko Samui Hospital for an autopsy.
Warne’s manager, James Erskine, said that Warne was only three days into a planned three-month vacation and alone, watching cricket, when he had a suspected heart attack.
Erskine told Fox Cricket that Warne’s friend Andrew Neophitou, staying in the same villa, had gone to check on the former player.
“They were going to have a drink ... or go and meet someone to go out and have a drink at 5pm,” Erskine said. “And Neo knocked on his door at 5:15pm because Warnie is always on time. He went in there ... and then realized something was wrong. And he turned him over and gave him CPR and mouth-to-mouth, which lasted about 20 minutes and then the ambulance came.”
Warne’s death came only a few hours after he expressed his sadness following the death of another Australia great, wicketkeeper Rodney Marsh, at age 74.
“He was a legend of our great game & and inspiration to so many young boys and girls,” Warne wrote on Twitter in what turned out to be his final tweet. “Rod cared deeply about cricket & gave so much - especially to Australia & England players.”
Additional reporting by AP
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