The former captain of one of the rivals of Australia, Nasser Hussain described legendary leg-spinner, Shane Warne, as the greatest cricketer who ever lived. The former England captain, whom Warne had troubled during his 145-test career, was all praise for the one-time nemesis of his batting. Former Australian teammates and rivals paid tribute to Warne at the MCG in a star-studded state memorial service today.
Warne finished his career in 2007 with 708 Test wickets and was named as one of Wisden’s five cricketers of the 20th century alongside Don Bradman, Garfield Sobers, Jack Hobbs and Viv Richards. “The greatest cricketer who has ever played the game,” Hussain told Fox Sports before the service began. “Unbelievable cricketer and bloke.”
In a panel discussion in the middle of the Melbourne Cricket Ground with former Australian stars Allan Border, Mark Taylor and Merv Hughes, and West Indies legend Brian Lara, Hussain told a story about Warne getting him out in a tri-series final in 1999. “I sledged him for some apparent reason and I’ve said something ‘like enjoy your last game as captain’,” Hussain said during the service, “I’ll be surprised if you haven’t got the footage of me running down the pitch, (the) very next delivery after that slog sweep and getting stumped. It was a privilege to be on a cricket field with you — you were the greatest bowler I ever saw.”
Border believed Warne’s arrival on the international scene helped prolong his own career. “It revitalised my captaincy towards the end of my time,” he said. “I was lucky to have two years with Shane and I just thank him for that,” Border said.
Lara called Warne the “greatest Australian that I know”.
Hughes recounted a story of Warne memorably honouring a promise for a kindergarten auction and praised his generosity: “A very loyal friend, and as good as he was in the cricket field, he was five times better off it. Very loyal, and if he said he was going to do something, he would deliver.”
Brett Lee, who played with Warne during a golden era for Australia, said there would never be anyone like him. The greatest Australian cricketers of the last 40 years, including Glenn McGrath and Michael Clarke, were among those in the crowd. Current Australian stars watched the service from home and abroad with the white-ball squad in Pakistan for ODIs and a Twenty20.
But Warne’s sporting interests were not just confined to cricket, with AFL club St Kilda one of his great passions. Retired Saints champion Nick Riewoldt was one of Warne’s all-time favourite AFL players. Riewoldt could not believe one of the greatest cricketers used to worship him. “He was just a massive fan and enormous mentor to all St Kilda people,” the former Saints champion said.
A trumpeter played St Kilda’s theme song, ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ near the conclusion of the service.
A number of former AFL stars who did not even play for St Kilda, including Gary Ablett Jnr and Brendan Fevola, were in the audience.
The Great Southern Stand at the MCG was formally unveiled as the Shane Warne Stand by his children – Brooke, Summer and Jackson – to close an epic ceremony.