Genius doesn't arrive by accident: Townsend
It is the most remarkable coincidence that the two most influential Australian cricketers of the modern era both pulled stumps on the same day.
Apart from television mogul Kerry Packer, whose rebel circus in 1977 changed cricket forever, no one has matched Rod Marsh and Shane Warne for their impact on the game.
Marsh was a great player for a decade and a half but wielded even greater influence in his development roles in this country and abroad.
Warne was the greatest bowler the game has ever seen and an equally electrifying figure off the field.
He was a true rock’n roll cricketer; one destined to live fast and die young. As the world comes to terms with their sudden deaths last Friday, I have been reflecting on my own personal contact with the pair.
Rod Marsh was my first sporting hero and provided my first autograph when I approached him as he walked off the WACA Ground after a day of Sheffield Shield cricket. His athleticism and acrobatics behind the stumps, his willingness to take on the bowling with the most bruising onslaughts and his larger-than-life persona made him an irresistible figure for an impressionable young cricket fan.
A year or two later, I again approached Rod for another autograph but was rebuffed with the briefest and briskest instruction to depart the scene immediately. As loyal and passionate as he was to his mates and members of the cricket family, Rod had an irascible side that became familiar to me and other cricket journalists over the years.
I recall clearly being caught in the same carriage during a train trip from Manchester to Old Trafford when our conversation became extraordinarily tense.
It was quite humorous, in hindsight, but a tough gig at the time.
Yet, as I discovered in his final days as a formal member of the Australian cricket family – as chairman of selectors – he could be the most convivial company and a master story-teller eager to pass on his insights.
Warnie was an even more engaging figure and one who lived every atom of his existence. Although 52 years might appear a short life-span, he crammed more into his five decades than many people would experience in a century.
By another coincidence, I covered 52 of his Tests – as well as his marvellous 1999 World Cup campaign when his 4-29 at Edgbaston in the tied semi-final was the best spell I ever saw him bowl. Warne came on at 0-43, promptly bowled Herschelle Gibbs with a replica of his famous Gatting ball and soon suffocated South Africa.
Warne was the greatest exponent of the most difficult art in the most complex sport ever played; he was at his absolute peak in this match.
But he was far more than just an excellent bowler.
Warne had a four-dimensional understanding of his game. He had an innate ability to assess a batsman or pitch in an instant, a filing cabinet of memories to sharpen his weapons and the demeanour to intimidate or unsettle all but the most robust opponents.
And he worked umpires like no bowler in the game’s history.
I recall waiting alongside Warne at a cab rank outside the team hotel in Brisbane when umpire Steve Bucknor got out of an arriving taxi just as the bowler’s car drove off. It stopped after travelling only a few metres, Warne jumped out and ran back to shake Bucknor’s hand and said a few words that revealed the depth of his strategic thinking.
“Gday Steve,” he started. “Well umpired today. I know I gave you a hard time with a couple of appeals but I have since had a look at the replays and they showed you were 100 percent right. That is why you are the best umpire in world cricket. Anyway, have a good night and I’ll see you on the park tomorrow.”
Well, you can guess what happened the next day.
Warne came on to bowl to Mark Richardson and it didn’t take too long before he hit the New Zealand opener’s pad. “How’s that, Steve,” he asked the umpire who responded in absolutely predictable fashion: “Yes, that’s out Shane.”
Genius doesn’t just arrive by accident but it often departs when least expected.
So it is with Shane Warne.