They say you should never meet your idol, for the risk is too great of being disappointed. Well, I’ve never met my ultimate sporting hero, and now wish he’d disappear from public view altogether.
At least once every three or four months I venture to YouTube to reacquaint myself with the wizardly on-field feats of Shane Warne. I gasp as he Gatting’s Mike or Cullinan’s Darryl or Strauss’s Andrew.
After all these years I still strain my eyes to analyse his grip, his wrist position, his delivery points, his follow through. You see, it was Warne who made me give up bowling pace as a ten-year-old due to his mesmerising mastery of the English during the 1993 Ashes.
My coaches couldn’t understand it – I was way taller than my teammates yet I wanted to forego the new ball and bowl spin? I wasn’t the only kid, though, who had been hypnotised by Warne and woken up as a newborn leggie.
Wrist spinners started to spread throughout my underage competition and even dads could be seen practising their flippers on the sidelines.
At this age I adored watching cricket, but relished playing it even more. I would leave our lounge room door open, with the TV volume unreasonably high, so I could spin webs around my mates in the garden while keeping an eye on the Australian cricket team’s latest match.
But the minute Warne was handed the ball there was a swift break in our play which lasted as long as he bowled. Every fizzing, swerving, dipping Warne delivery offered nourishment and promised celebration.
I wouldn’t even speak to my friends or family about what we were witnessing, so intense was the moment, so locked was my gaze. Not until the end of his over, once I momentarily broke loose from Warne’s spell, did I start excitedly recounting and scrutinising his six deliveries.
Sitting on the couch, I’d flick a ball from my right hand to my left, mimicking his famous habit, until my Mum would tersely remind me of our agreement not to break the parts of the house I hadn’t already damaged.
This obsession with Warne continued all the way into the mid-2000s – even as a grown adult I still saw him as my comic book hero. For 15 years, there was no one on earth I wanted to meet more than Warne.
Then he quit international cricket but tried to retain the limelight, sometimes in unedifying ways. Warne hates the tabloid media, he says, yet you sense he also courts it and revels in the attention given to his pantsman exploits.
The stories and photographs of the timeworn Casanova with his latest nubile squeeze are evidence that he is still in ‘The Game’. That even retirement can’t stop him from chalking up stats.
While his cheating ways as a married man had disgusted me, back then I mostly was distracted by his phenomenal on-field exploits. His philandering as a single man is not of any interest to me, and is not the reason I have gone off him to such an extent.
It’s his mean-spirited, vengeful attitude I can no longer ignore. Warne was justified in criticising Marlon Samuels both during the Australian summer and in the West Indies’ semi-final win against India last week.
Samuels was awful against Australia, playing as if he did not care, while in the recent semi-final his dismissal was the result of a horrendous and lazy stroke. But Warne’s rebukes of Samuels were not the observations of a professional commentator. Instead, they were imbued with ire and malice.
Warne had an infamous run-in with Samuels in the Big Bash League a few summers ago. History shows that, even above holding a ball or a woman, Warne loves to hold a grudge. He does not easily forgive and forget.
This is evident in the vindictive comments he has made time and again about old colleagues like champion Test captain Steve Waugh and former Australia coach John Buchanan.
Waugh’s crime simply was dropping Warne from the Test team at a time when that was a rational decision. Buchanan, meanwhile, largely seemed to get Warne offside by requesting he show a respectable level of fitness.
Buchanan and Waugh both have resisted the urge to bite back viciously at Warne over the years. If anything, their responses to his public sledging have suggested puzzlement at Warne’s vitriol. Both men clearly have moved on. Warne has not.
Now it’s time for me to follow the lead of Buchanan and Waugh. I have thought about writing this article several times in the past 18 months, only to decide against it.
Was there a part of me holding out hope Warne would belatedly mature and I could still realise my boyhood dream of being best mates with him? Maybe he’d add my face to that gaudy mural in his home, teach me how to master the zooter, and let me cheer him on at poker events.
Well, this is me officially putting that giddy notion to bed. While I’m sure the cricketers I write about very rarely read my opinions, there’s something about Warne that suggests he will find this piece.
And then I’ll be on his blacklist. That chubby kid who idolised him in every way, who moulded his junior sporting career around emulating him, will be just another person Warne considers a prick.
So be it. The dream is over.