Shane Warne Stand unveiled as MCG crowd bids their hero an emotional farewell

Shane Warne Stand unveiled as MCG crowd bids their hero an emotional farewell
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Family members, colleagues, stars from sport, music, television and film come together to say goodbye to “the greatest”

For one more time, thousands made the journey to the MCG for Shane Warne.
It was a chance to farewell one of the game’s greats at the ground he graced on so many occasions: the scene of his 7 for 52 against West Indies, the Ashes hat-trick and the 700th Test wicket among them.

It was also about more than cricket, just as Warne was. His legacy will live on far and wide across so many walks of live as shown by the galaxy of names from sport, music, television and film to make tributes either in person or via video on an emotional evening. From Greg Norman to Kylie Minogue to Robbie Williams to Chris Martin to Ed Sheeran. His charity work was also strongly featured and there will be a United Nations conservation grant put in his name after recent work he had started to undertake.

Yet, it was what Warne achieved in those 22 yards that shaped and defined him. As a symbol, there was a cricket pitch laid out in the middle of the VIP section on the ground complete with stumps at either end. Many of the public had heeded the request of Warne’s family to come decked out in cricket gear, while his other sporting passion – Aussie Rules – which had been his first dream, was also well represented.

This was an event worthy of Warne and the life he lived, tragically cut short at just 52.

His father, Keith, who gave the first address of the family, quoted the line Shane had used himself: “I smoked, I drank, and I played a little cricket.”

That last bit led to him being one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Century in 2000, produce countless match-winning performances, and to be termed “the greatest” by former England captain Nasser Hussain, who was part of the player panel that delved into his immense on-field feats [and aura of Shane Warne] plus the character behind the scenes.
Mark Taylor, Warne’s Australia captain from 1994 to 1999 – which were among Warne’s peak years – and a crucial hand in so many dismissals at first slip, said, “He made slow bowling fashionable again, he made it cool.”
Merv Hughes, a fellow Victorian, formed a close bond with Warne on both sides of the picket fence. “As good as he was on the cricket field, he was five times better off it,” he said. “One of the most loyal people you know. He did what he did because of who he is – I feel sorry for people who never met him.”
Brian Lara, who had Warne’s measure at times during their immense tussles, including the 277 at the SCG in 1992-93, remembered the first impressions after West Indies had been dismantled at the MCG the game before. “We were in a panic from Melbourne to Sydney, thinking it was all over… that’s when we knew that we had met someone very, very special,” he said.

That performance at the ‘G was also recalled in a letter Shane’s brother, Jason, had written to him a few weeks afterwards – dated February 5, 1993 – which showed the extraordinary faith in his ability to change the game.

“I can’t tell you how proud of you I was [when] I first saw it on Teletex,” Jason wrote of the haul. “Well done, keep it up. Loads of hard work at the nets now could set you up for the rest of your life. Don’t let the chance slip by enjoying the limelight and resting on your laurels. That comes in 10 years’ time when you [have] re-written all the record books.

“Now’s the time to put everything, and I mean everything, into it and make it work for you. So come on, make some more sacrifices and give people the opportunity in 20 years’ time to say, remember Shane Warne, we’ll never get another leggie like him. He was the best spinner Australia have ever had.”

Allan Border was Warne’s captain in that West Indies Test, having a few months earlier thrown him the ball in Colombo in what would lead to his first match-winning performance. When the panel was asked by Mark Howard, Warne’s friend and fellow broadcaster, what they would say to him, Border, his voice cracking, said: “Thank you for making my captaincy… it revitalised my captaincy towards the end of my time. I was lucky to have two years with Shane, and I’d just thank him for that.”

For so many, including a vast number of those in the stands at the MCG on Wednesday night, Warne was the cricketer who did wondrous things. But he was a son, a brother and a father. The final addresses of the night came from his three children – Brooke, Summer and Jackson – with heart-rending speeches.

“You lived 100 lives, Dad,” Summer said. “You never took anything for granted and you made sure you lived every day to the fullest.”

Jackson said there had never been any disappointment he did not follow his dad into cricket but recalled one successful outing. “In one of the first games of cricket I ever played, you told me, ‘Just go out there and have fun because when you’re happy, good things will happen.’ So that was the mindset I had for that game. I ended up taking a hat-trick and that’s a memory I will never forget. You were so proud of me. Although I didn’t go down the cricket path, you didn’t mind. You just wanted the best for me.”

A few moments later, the trio was on the second tier of what was previously the Great Southern Stand, for the closing moment of the memorial as it was officially renamed the Shane Warne Stand.

“He went from being a wide-eyed boy with dreams to be a citizen of the world and left no one behind. He was a champion in every way. And now, every time we look into the great southern stand we will think of Shane,” MC of the event Eddie McGuire said.

A few chants of “Warnie, Warnie” could be heard from the crowd. For one more time, the MCG rose and cheered for Shane Warne.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo

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