I once had a glimpse of this bulletproof image up close. It was 2006, and while his stock in England had never been higher in the wake of the previous summer’s Ashes, he still carried the notoriety of an earlier phone-sex scandal, in which he had left several lewd messages on the answering machine of a British nurse while married. Before I was due to interview him at a London brokerage, a few traders asked if he could man the switchboard for a photo op. “Sure, boys,” he grinned, that glint in his eye. “I’ve always been pretty good on the phone.” You could have heard the roar of laddish acclaim the other side of Canary Wharf.
Warne was fortified not just by his genius as a cricketer but by his irresistible charisma. While many men wanted to be just like him, his legions of female admirers were often left helplessly in his thrall. During a 2001 one-dayer in Bangalore, an insistent noise could be heard from the Ladies’ Stand at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium. “Shane Warne, Shane Warne,” the women were chanting. “You are a big flirt.” They then broke into a Hindi love song, “The Heart Is Very Indian”. At this point he spun around, flashed that roguish smile and blew them three flamboyant air kisses. Warne’s untouchable reputation was sealed.
His priceless value to his sport lay in how he even won over people who did not normally like cricket. This is a man who, despite cultivating the type of bonzer bloke image promoted by Castlemaine adverts, still managed to seduce the siren of London high society, Elizabeth Hurley. Even after the pair split after three years together and a brief engagement, Warne could not help but marvel at the incongruity of it all. “Everyone thought, ‘Who’s this knockabout Aussie with this posh English rose?” he reflected. To his critics, it was this chapter that brought an unhealthy fixation with body image. Warne, for his part, always claimed that the relationship changed him in more subtle ways, leading him away from his pursuit of instant gratification.
Right through to the devastatingly premature end, he could be confounding and complex, but always a figure of electrifying charm. For 15 years, he bestrode international cricket, and for the next 15 he only added to his mystique through a life of compelling extremes. His peers were correct: for as long as he was around, it was, in every sense, Warne’s world.