SHANE WARNE – Energy never dies, it can only transfer.

WORDS: Adam Hollioake PHOTOGRAPHY Brian Usher - plus Supplied

Former English cricket star, mixed martial artist and professional boxer Adam Hollioake reflects on the life of his legendary opponent turned friend – the late, great Shane Warne.

THERE’S not much that hasn’t been said about the legend, Shane Warne.

In this day and age, it is important to check the matrix for greatness before actually calling someone a legend as there’s always that person who jumps up and down and says “we use the word legend too easily these days”. Well, the definition of legend is “an extremely famous or notorious person, especially in a particular field”. The only doubt surrounding Shane Warne’s legend status is was he a legend in multiple fields?

I think anyone would safely say he qualifies in the cricket department. To be the first man to 700 Test wickets and to take more than 1000 international wickets is enough to earn him the title …. let alone the fact he made leg-spin bowling cool.

When Brian Usher (ORM’s publisher, editor in chief and photographer and a huge cricket fanatic himself) asked me to write this article, I was at first dubious. What could I add that hasn’t already been written about the man? He said he wanted me to come at the article from a different perspective – from the perspective of an opponent who became a friend. Now I’m not about to write this article and claim to be his best friend (like people often do when someone passes) as there are clearly many people who were far closer to him than I was. I was however fortunate to see both sides of Shane (most things written about him have been either from a team mate’s or family member’s perspective).

I played against him as an opponent and was also fortunate to share a changing room with him when we both played for the Rest of the World vs Asia (in a game to raise money for the Tsunami Appeal). More importantly, I got to see the human side of Shane when we attempted to organise our own Charity Game for the Tsunami (the one we played in was in the UK). To me, there were two kinds of people – those who loved Shane and those who didn’t know him.

I can see how it would be very easy to form unfounded opinions of Shane as much of his life played out in the media (people are fast becoming aware of the fact the media are often quite keen to put their spin on stories to make them sound more dramatic).

I think the thing that made Shane so loved by the public was the fact he was relatable. He never pretended to be anything he wasn’t. He loved what he loved and people’s opinions of what they thought he should love weren’t going to change him.

In my opinion, the public would prefer someone who is ultimately flawed, but honest, over the person who pretends to be an angel. I don’t know if Shane worked out very early in life that he was never going to be able to keep up a façade of being an angel, or if he was ultimately just a very honest man.

The pathway to superstardom is often one that is sought by many and is hard to achieve. Some sports people have teams of people around them telling them what their every move and the exact words that should come out of their mouth should be to become the biggest influencer that they can. I firmly believe Shane stumbled across the formula. He refused to be told what to do or how to act and this, in turn, made him incredibly authentic.

I first came across Shane in England as an opponent in the 1997 Ashes Test series and the One Day series that was played before the Test Matches. He had just come back from a career-threatening injury (I can’t remember if it was finger or shoulder). It would be fair to say he was well below his best in that series and we won the series 3-0. I hit the winning runs in all three games of that series.

This article isn’t about me and the reason for me talking about that series is to set up the next story about Shane that will give people an insight into his greatness as a cricketer. Shane was aware that he wasn’t at his best in that series and once the series was decided (as in, past the point where it was feasible that Australia could win), Shane only rolled out leg spinners and some very obvious other varieties of delivery. We were both in our mid-20s at the time and I could not have predicted that he was thinking as far ahead as he was.

I later discussed with Shane what had happened in that series and his answer was one of a man way ahead of his time. He had worked out that I would be playing in the Test Matches later in the year and could play an important part in the Ashes, so he chose to hide his other deliveries so as to not give me an insight into them and keep an advantage for later in the year. I mean, I’ve heard of people being a few moves ahead but to be thinking three months ahead was genius for a man of his age at the time. The story wouldn’t be complete without stating that he did indeed get me out with the delivery that he had been hiding.

People have also alluded to the fact he was in fact a master of the mind. If it wasn’t enough that he was, without doubt, the greatest leg-spin bowler that has ever lived, he was also blessed with a number of other attributes that I believe are up there with the best. Shane grew up in the harsh environment of grade cricket in Melbourne and I believe was one of the greatest sledgers the game has ever had. I mean that in a positive way as I believe his sledging was never personal or discriminatory (from what I heard with my own ears and what I’ve heard from other players) but was more out of the mental disintegration school of mind games).

I was also raised in Melbourne and was also known to take part in mind games myself. As a person who played for England, I often used to watch on with interest as our media would get preoccupied with the Australian sledging and make out that was the only thing that the great team of the 1990s did. I often liked to point out that while Shane Warne was a great sledger, he was also a more than handy bowler, for the media would often like to make out that we were all weak and that it was as easy as toughening up a bit to be able to deal with Shane.

Another insight into his genius was when I made my Test debut against Australia (in the 5th Test Match of the 1997 Ashes in England), Shane politely reminded me that my family back in Australia were watching on TV and wishing I was playing for Australia. He then reeled off some of their names …Uncle Rex, Aunty Jan and a couple of others. I was facing Glen McGrath, which is a hard enough task in itself, and needed all my energy and focus to cope with that – let alone all the thoughts that were whirring through my head such as “how does Warney know Uncle Rex and Aunty Jan”. Suffice to say, he succeeded in getting in my head.

A lot has been made of Shane Warne’s generosity. I’d like to back this up. I once asked him if he would sign a bunch of Australian cricket shirts that would be auctioned and sold to raise money for the PCA (Professional Cricketers Association) – an association that raises money for professional cricketers in the UK. It would have been a very easy request for him to turn down. He was commentating at the time and was between stints on camera. As always, he welcomed me and Ed Giddins (former England cricketer) and took his time.

It wasn’t just time for fellow professionals that impressed me. On a number of occasions when I’ve been with him socially, he was approached by members of the public (I always felt a lot more people than you’d expect came up and talked to him … partly due to his obvious fame but more importantly the lovable-rogue demeanour that made him more approachable than most famous people).

Anyway, he always had time for people, whether it be the young kid wanting an autograph or the avid cricket fan who wanted to get Shane’s validation by telling him their tales of success at their amateur cricket. As long as you were polite and a good person, then I never saw him blow anybody off. He always had time.

The main thing I liked about Shane was his honesty. I believe this was the thing that endeared him to the public. I once heard him say: “I’m a terrible husband but I am a good Dad.” I don’t know of many people who would be brave enough to own that statement in the media, but he didn’t stutter and said it with the same confidence with which he used to bowl his deliveries.

While some celebrities never appear to be real people, Shane always had that down to earth realness about him. If we think of other famous people, they almost always try to paint the picture of perfection. Just think of some of the modern social media influencers for a second. They would rather make you believe they had never heard of a meat pie (if that was the fashionable answer at the time) let alone admit to loving them. Shane just called it as it was.

You know an Aussie is doing something right when he’s loved and revered by the British public. The Barmy Army (the English cricket fanatics’ group) recently sang the song “We Only Wished you were English”. That in itself tells you how much Shane Warne transcended the sport.

There is always something heart-warming about a man who plays as ferociously as Shane played, yet has a kind and generous nature away from the battlefield. Shane had the unique ability to polarise opinion. There were people who loved him and people who loved to hate him. But I believe everyone had to admit (even his most ardent critic) that he was always someone who demanded an opinion. No one ever said “I don’t really have an opinion on Shane Warne” and that’s what makes him so fascinating.

Lots of people tell you that you need to live every day as if it is your last for you never know when your number could be up. For all of us who are devastated that we have lost Shane, we must keep in mind that he indeed led every day of his life as if it were the last. When he’s at the pearly gates, I think even God would have to say “you gave it a crack Shane and lived five lifetimes”. He can have no regrets and I think this can serve as a message to all of us who sometimes play safe. I like to think that Shane has completed this level and has moved on to the next level due to living his life to the full and making the most of it.

Energy never dies, it can only transfer.