I did not watch the last ever competitive game that Shane Keith Warne played (as it appears at this stage, at least) given that the Rajasthan Royals versus Mumbai Indians game was scheduled for a 10:30 p.m. HKT start. The news of Royals' having won the match was therefore sweet. After enduring a mixed season, punctuated by comprehensible ebbs and fighting flows, the boys in sky blue gave their champion captain a fitting farewell by thrashing Mumbai by ten wickets, also in the process keeping Mumbai on tenterhooks over a semi-final berth which appeared a certainty not very long ago. Although nobody is foolish enough to delude themselves by likening IPL games with international contests, the irony that Warne had his last hurrah against fierce rival and close friend - and allegedly a bringer of nightmares to the former a decade and half ago - Tendulkar's side is not lost at least not on me.
As Robin Steen aptly writes in cricinfo, it is difficult to appraise the legacy of men like Warne; perhaps it is even an enviable task. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the leg-spinner from Victoria? Is it the blonde hair, the seductive - and in a sense preying (pun intended) - eyes an admixture of the sorcerer's mystery, his art's beauty and a gambler's deception and the loopy leg-break that stays long enough above the batsman's eye level to make him think he can hit it only to dip suddenly and have him miss it, by half an inch short of a half-volley, and get bowled (ask Gatting) or edge it to Marks Taylor or Waugh, Heals or Gilly (ask any number of Englishmen, South Africans or Pakistanis)? Or is it the, even by his 'paunchy' standards, over-fat head-shorn shadow of his who always got thrashed around by Laxman and Tendulkar and company as if the runs he gave to the Indian batsmen were reparations for his on-field philandering elsewhere? Would Warne be remembered, as Ian Chappell once said, as the best captain to have never captained Australia or would he be recalled as a dark genius, who was always game for a game and who could inspire but who, by his own admission, was rather cavalier for Australian cricket's top job which is pregnant with historical esteem? Should we even get into his personal life and talk about his indiscretions as a husband or affections as a father or should we just be content and say "SKW was born to bowl leg-breaks like SRT was born to bat"?
At the end of the day, it is, perhaps, a matter of perspective. Peter Roebuck once wrote something along the following lines: we urge and castigate our sportspersons fiercely because those moments when we are in their (virtual) company are the only ones when we are free of our own bondages, weaknesses and limitations. The adulation surrounding and the accusations levelled against the great Australian leg-spinner, too, can be read in the spirit of Roebuck's argument. Underlying every moralising take on Warne's personal life is arguably a standpoint which represents an immanent aspiration of perfection that could be elusive. Likewise aggrandising the man (or his brandname) - such as labelling the 1994 ball to Gatting as the ball of the century when an off-spinner's equivalent of the delivery from Muralidharan to Sadagopan Ramesh hardly received a murmur in the press - is a product of a cricketing culture that thrives not only on intense competitiveness but also on immense, and at times unabashed, conceit.
What must, however, be remembered is that Warne, like the other great stars of his time, has merely been a magnet, if willingly so, that has attracted songs and snipes alike. What he did for the game cannot be, should not be and will not be forgotten. Alongside Muralidharan and Anil Kumble, Warne has overseen a couple of, arguably, the most extraordinary decades of spin bowling, the likes of which I may not witness before my sunset. Like Tendulkar, albeit to a lesser extent, Warne has been an icon, a face not only to be recognised but also remembered and the man who made things happen on the field and sold things off it: Warne was one of the first sign-ins the moment IPL germinated in Lalit Modi's mind. Like his pace bowling compatriot, and very often partner in crime Glenn McGrath, Warne is a ruthless, or at best nonchalant, sadist when confronted by a(n even slightly nervous) batsman (ask Athers and Daryl Cullinan). Like Wasim Akram he is an original, each man a giant in getting the ball to talk, tease, taunt and thrill! And like Brian Charles Lara, in my opinion the greatest lone match-winner of his time, he is a flawed genius, which makes his tale all the more interesting to read. Enough said, he will be missed. Farewell Warney. We do not know if you will be the richer for poker, but it will be the richer for you, while cricket will be the poorer.