Shane Warne was everywhere at memorial, tugging at everyone’s heart-strings


No country, not even India, celebrates its cricketing greats quite like Australia.

In 1915, around 250,000 turned out in Sydney to bid farewell to Victor Trumper, the Golden Age batting great who had died at 37 from Bright’s disease. In 2001, the streets of Adelaide filled to say goodbye to Sir Don Bradman. In 2014, the death of Phillip Hughes — killed by a short-pitched delivery in a state game — prompted emotional scenes in his home town of Macksville, New South Wales.

For Shane Warne, who suffered a heart attack earlier this month at the age of 52, a state memorial service was a given.

For Shane Warne, who suffered a heart attack this month, a state memorial service was a given 

50,000 people gathered on a beautifully judged night at the Melbourne Cricket Ground

50,000 people gathered on a beautifully judged night at the Melbourne Cricket Ground

The question was how to do him justice. And the answer came on a beautifully judged night at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, where Warne once took an Ashes hat-trick — as well as his 700th Test wicket — and where the vast Southern Stand has been renamed in his honour.

After poignant, humorous, raucous and emotional turns, the evening lacked only the presence of Warne himself.

Except he wasn’t really missing at all. Warne was everywhere, tugging at everyone’s heartstrings. As his father, Keith, put it: ‘We are grateful the world loved our son as we did.’

For the cricket community, Warne’s status was assured long ago. He was the man who first saved leg-spin, then helped make Australia one of the greatest Test teams of all time.

Warne was the man who first saved leg-spin, then helped make Australia one of the greatest Test teams of all time

Warne was the man who first saved leg-spin, then helped make Australia one of the greatest Test teams of all time

But what also emerged in front of a crowd of 50,000 was a natural magnetism that sucked others, from far beyond the boundary, into his orbit.

There were musical tributes from Sir Elton John, Chris Martin, Robbie Williams and Ed Sheeran, and a well-observed insight from the Australian actor Hugh Jackman, who reckoned Warne ‘sucked the marrow out of life’. 

There was even a bit of Bradman, whose grand-daughter Greta, an operatic soprano, got things going with the national anthem. Andrea Egan, from the United Nations Development Programme, revealed Warne’s involvement with the ‘Lionshare’ conservationist scheme, and announced a new Shane Warne Conservation Grant.

Others spoke of his charitable work, and his easy engagement with those less fortunate. As well as being a friend of the stars, he had the common touch.

Warne's children - Brooke, Summer and Jackson - took turns to remember a dad who backed them all the way

Warne’s children – Brooke, Summer and Jackson – took turns to remember a dad who backed them all the way

But it was the contributions of those who knew him best that lingered longest. His younger brother, Jason, told of the time Shane, then 13, slipped while jumping off the pier at Half Moon Bay near Melbourne, and knocked himself out, falling face first into the water. 

Had it not been for a man named David Beck, who jumped in and rescued him, Test history would look very different.

Jason might also be one of the few to have successfully got under the arch-sledger Warne’s skin, forever teasing him about the fact that he wasn’t quite 6ft tall: ‘I knew his triggers.’

The Shane Warne Stand was officially unveiled at the MCG in tribute to the King of Spin

The Shane Warne Stand was officially unveiled at the MCG in tribute to the King of Spin

Ex-England captain Nasser Hussain was in attendance with Merv Hughes and Brian Lara

Ex-England captain Nasser Hussain was in attendance with Merv Hughes and Brian Lara

Earlier, Nasser Hussain — interviewed on stage alongside Allan Border, Mark Taylor, Merv Hughes and Brian Lara — had recalled the other side of the coin, remembering a one-day final at Sydney in early 1999 when England were on course for victory, only for Warne to bait Hussain to his demise. England lost by 10 runs.

Warne would have loved it all — nothing more than the courage of his children, Brooke, Jackson and Summer, who took turns to remember a dad who backed them all the way, sprinkling them with the confidence he applied to his leg-spin.

Before his first game of cricket, Jackson was told by his dad to enjoy himself, ‘because when you’re happy, good things will happen’. Jackson went out and took a hat-trick. On a memorable night, it was perhaps the least surprising anecdote of all.



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