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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 December 2006, 15:19 GMT
Why Warne is a great

By Martin Gough

Warne faces the cameras in Melbourne
Warne announces his retirement to a media conference in Melbourne

You only have to attend a Shane Warne media conference to realise he is part of an exclusive band.

The television lights glare and reporters fight to get a word in edgeways as Warne sits in the middle of it all, so casual that he might be ensconced in his local pizza parlour.

Only the greats, like Donald Bradman, Ian Botham and Viv Richards, transcend cricket to such a degree that they are recognised by those with little interest in the sport.

And Warne is truly one of those.

He is, after all, Test cricket's leading wicket-taker, his 699 victims a full 144 more than the third-placed player on the list.

Shane Keith Warne
Born: 13 September, 1969
Teams: Australia, Victoria, Hampshire
Tests: 143
699 wkts, ave 25.49, best 8-71
ODIs: 194
293 wkts, ave 25.73, best 5-33
First-class games: 284
1260 wkts, ave 26.02, best 8-71
And he will ride off into the sunset at the end of this Ashes series having firmly established himself as one of the finest bowlers ever seen.

Warne burst onto the world stage in 1993 with a fizzing delivery, billed as the "ball of the century", that bowled a bemused Mike Gatting.

And the Melbourne-born star quickly became the figurehead for the rebirth of attacking spin bowling in Test cricket following a decade dominated by attritional fast bowling.

He went on to play a key role in six successive Ashes series victories for Australia.

And he was named by cricket bible Wisden as one of its five cricketers of the 20th Century.

Now, at 37, he is one of the driving forces behind Australia's quest for a first Ashes whitewash in 85 years.

Yet there is more to Warne than taking wickets.

His larger-than-life on-field character and his headline-grabbing lifestyle away from cricket have ensured his public persona has grown year on year.

In 1997, scenes of an overweight Warne dancing with a stump to celebrate Ashes victory threatened television taste guidelines.

Warne dances with a stump at Trent Bridge in 1997
Warne's antics in victory in 1997 did not endear him to some
Famously fond of a smoke, he signed a sponsorship contract with a nicotine patch company only to threaten a young photographer who snapped him craftily breaching the terms of the deal.

Even his peroxide-blond hair rubbed the crustier end of the cricketing establishment up the wrong way as he earned the nickname "Hollywood" early in his career.

Of course, Warne is such a big name that bad news tends to follow him, but he has a habit of embracing it, too.

In 1998 it was revealed he had been fined, along with Mark Waugh, for providing information to an Indian bookmaker during Australia's tour of Sri Lanka four years earlier.

In 2000, during his first year of county cricket with Hampshire, he was accused of sending "disgusting" phone messages to a 22-year-old nurse he had met in a night club.

A banner reads "Bribes, nurses, drugs, what next?"
Warne's antics have regularly made tabloid headlines

Warne lost the Australian vice-captaincy as a result and was subsequently overlooked for the captaincy proper when Steve Waugh retired in 2004, with his off-field indiscretions still a factor.

Then, on the eve of the 2003 World Cup, he tested positive for a banned substance and was suspended from all forms of competitive cricket for a year.

The diuretic found in his system could have been used as a masking agent for steroids, but the spinner maintained that his mother had given him a pill to make him look slimmer on television.

After a five-year period in which he struggled with serious shoulder trouble, including a dislocation during the 2002-03 Ashes, the ban could have ended his career.

Instead, Warne came back stronger. In the 11 years before the ban, he took 491 wickets at an average of 4.59 per Test. In almost three years since, he has accumulated 208 at an average of 5.78 per match.

Conscious that his physical skills were under threat, Warne lost weight to take the stress off his shoulders at the same time as relying more heavily on his vast experience and cunning.

His pantomime lbw appeals during the current series have teetered on the brink of illegality, but they have taken him agonisingly close to his 700th wicket.

And his profile is higher than ever.

Warne tipped to end Test career
20 Dec 06 |  The Ashes
Cricket stars hail wizard Warne
20 Dec 06 |  The Ashes
Warne in photos
20 Dec 06 |  Cricket


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