Shane Warne was a human headline to the end. An end that came quickly and shockingly on the same day another cricketing superstar died. No disrespect to Rod Marsh, but while old Iron Gloves was famous for being a cricketer, Shane Warne was famous for being, well for being Shane Warne. Or Shane.
To an X-Gen Aussie such as myself, Shane was first-name-basis famous. Much like Kylie. Kylie Minogue that is. By our age and stage, we Aussies don’t care much for that other first-name-basis-only Kylie. Besides, with the dysfunction in the Jenner household, I know which one I’d prefer as my neighbour.
Shane and Kylie. Every weekend in Australia in the 80s and early 90s there was bound to be one wedding between a couple with those names. They’re ingrained into our consciousness. She because she was a moderately gifted actor and singer who found a cultural moment and clung to it. He because he changed the nature of a sport by his brilliance, self-belief and vision.
For me, movies are pre-Tarantino and post-Tarantino. He changed the nature of dialogue, went out on a limb with plot and time sequences. A boundary crosser. In the same way, cricket is pre-Shane and post-Shane. Once Shane crossed the boundary onto the oval, everything changed in cricket. Shane and Quentin. An odd pairing, but something about both of them created watershed moments in their respective fields.
I loved every upper-middle bogan moment of Shane’s career. The bling, the blonde (the blond AND the blondes) and the beers. Even the stupidity. Especially the stupidity. We would groan and ask ourselves why a man of such prodigious talent would, for the sake of vanity, use his mother’s diuretic medication to reduce bloating, without even once realising that the medication was a known masking agent for performance enhancing drugs. His suspension from cricket wasn’t ruining his life – it looked fine for the year he was out – it was ruining ours!
Once Warne came on to bowl, whether in a tight match or a torpid one, the murmur went around the ground, the TV volume was switched up, the holiday novel in the easy chair on a hot January morning was suddenly less interesting. Everyone else was a grafter in the leg-spinning department. Shane could wake up, send a lewd text, have a few crafty cigarettes behind the sheds, eat a can of baked beans and then go out and take seven wickets.
I still remember running on a gym treadmill early morning in a grim Sheffield winter in the north of England, listening to the groans of fellow trundlers as they watched the TV on the wall, their heart rate monitors going sky-high as Warne ripped through the Poms at the Adelaide Oval. There on the screen, 13 thousand miles and a summer away, he was viciously turning a probable England victory to a crushing defeat. You can switch that treadmill up to 18km per hour buddy, ain’t no running away from that trauma!
And now he is dead at a ridiculously young 52. I say that as a ridiculously young almost 55 year old. At 30, 52 seemed like a sizeable innings, albeit one that if you were dismissed on, spoke of a lapse of concentration at the crease. But 52 average? It would keep you in the side. Now I see differently. Now I see the shock. Now I feel the shock.
For it’s the shock of death isn’t it? It fizzes and pops at us like a Warnie turner on a fifth day wicket. We feel its approach and deal with it on a daily basis on social media, but it’s still the wrong ‘un we can’t pick. Just yesterday my wife visited a long time client and friend who is on her deathbed, a woman who is a cricket tragic and was a member of the WACA here in Perth. She’d sit all day at Sheffield Shield matches, for goodness sake. She’s laboured for breath all week, and suddenly two of her heroes who had plans for the weekend are gone before her.
Shane seemed so alive. And now he’s not. And I have to say that as a follower of Jesus that chills me. I mourn it. It chills me and I mourn it because I remember and constantly replay the words of Jesus that it is utter folly to gain the whole world and lose one’s soul and that there is nothing you can give in exchange for it.
And as far as I know, Shane Warne has lost his soul as someone who was not a follower of Jesus. And now he has lost the whole world too. And he didn’t realise it was coming. His last few tweets on his Twitter feed prove it: Sorrow and sympathy over Marsh’s death, then a “goodnight” from his luxury villa in Thailand.
Another sporting hero of mine was known by his first name. Cyrille. Cyrille Regis, the late great English soccer star who was one of a trio of black footballers who battled the racism of the 70s and 80s. He reigned supreme, and his disposition and attitude towards the monkey chants from the terraces, paved the way for black superstars such as Rio Ferdinand of Manchester United and England fame.
Cyrille was a party boy like his close friend and fellow black trailblazer, Laurie Cunningham. One day, partying in Spain in the off season, they flipped the car and both crawled out alive. Their careers, their adulation, their lifestyles went on. Nothing to see here folks. Then one day, partying in Spain in the off-season, Laurie flipped the car and was killed. And Cyrille got to thinking: How come Laurie had all that fame and fortune and cars and girls, yet he took none of it with him?
And Cyrille went on a search. And in that search, Cyrille met Jesus. And Cyrille decided to follow Jesus. Decided to follow the one who had warned that we should not lose our soul for the sake of the world. It transformed his life. And when he died tragically young also in 2018 (in his sleep at 59 after coming home from church one evening), it shocked me and the football world. There was only one Cyrille, like there was only one Shane.
Difference is, Cyrille took everything that mattered with him.
The death of a hero so young should sober us. It has sobered me. It gave me pause to reflect on my own nearly 55 years as I drove home with Jill from our night out with friends last night. Even writing that feels churlish with Shane not even dead 24 hours.
But as the horrors of the last week in Ukraine have shown us, any notion of comfort that we will remain untouched by death until the time of our choosing, must be put aside. We face it on our own or we face it with Jesus, the one who alone conquered death. Yes, Jesus, the truly great one who is first-name-basis-famous too.
My prayer is that even in their final moments, Shane and Rod called out for help from the one whose name is above every other name, because Jesus isn’t above saving one of two, or even both, men who in their dying breaths ask him to remember their name when he comes into his kingdom.