Dead at 52, Shane Warne the rock 'n' roll cricket star, writes TOM RAWSTORNE

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Running up to the stumps, bleached-blond hair ruffled by the breeze, the 23-year-old delivered what is widely regarded as the greatest ball in cricket history.

Fizzing through the air, it landed, spun sharply and removed the bails.

It was utterly spectacular. It didn’t just take Mike Gatting, the England batsman, by surprise — but the whole cricketing world.

And with that one delivery on June 4, 1993, Shane Warne became a household name in every cricket-loving country across the globe. And, boy, did he love it — and live it.

Some sportsmen and women wear their fame reluctantly both on and off the pitch. Not Warne.

A genius with ball in hand, a lady-loving ‘larrikin’ off it — he was, famously, once engaged to Liz Hurley — Warne’s reputation transcended the sport he excelled at.

So the news yesterday that the Australian cricketing legend had died from a suspected heart attack at the age of just 52 was met with stunned disbelief by friends and fans around the world.

The father-of-three was found unconscious in a villa on the Thai island of Koh Samui where he had travelled the previous day for a lads’ holiday.

Police said one of the three friends he was travelling with had found Warne after he had gone for a nap but failed to turn up for dinner.

‘The friend did CPR on him and called an ambulance,’ said Chatchawin Nakmusik, an officer on Koh Samui. ‘An emergency response unit then arrived and did another CPR for ten to 20 minutes. Then an ambulance from the Thai International Hospital arrived and took him there. They did CPR for five minutes, and then he died.’

Fizzing through the air, it landed, spun sharply and removed the bails. And with that one delivery on June 4, 1993, Shane Warne became a household name in every cricket-loving country across the globe

Fizzing through the air, it landed, spun sharply and removed the bails. And with that one delivery on June 4, 1993, Shane Warne became a household name in every cricket-loving country across the globe

Some sportsmen and women wear their fame reluctantly both on and off the pitch. Not Warne. A genius with ball in hand, a lady-loving ‘larrikin’ off it — he was, famously, once engaged to Liz Hurley — Warne’s reputation transcended the sport he excelled at

Some sportsmen and women wear their fame reluctantly both on and off the pitch. Not Warne. A genius with ball in hand, a lady-loving ‘larrikin’ off it — he was, famously, once engaged to Liz Hurley — Warne’s reputation transcended the sport he excelled at

While police confirmed that an autopsy would be carried out, they are not treating his death as suspicious, adding that there were no signs of ‘foul play’.

‘Shane was found unresponsive in his villa and, despite the best efforts of medical staff, he could not be revived,’ his management company said in a statement. ‘The family requests privacy at this time and will provide further details in due course.’

It is understood that Warne had arrived in Thailand on Thursday when he was seen happily chatting with fans at the airport. He is believed to have died at the luxury Samujana Villas resort in Koh Samui. Some 24 hours ago, on his first night at the Thai resort, he shared an image of its infinity pool.

Poignantly, Warne’s last message on Twitter expressed his sadness on learning of the death of former Australian wicketkeeper Rodney Marsh at the age of 74.

Last night it was to Warne himself that the tributes flooded in.

‘I’ve lost a great friend on and off the playing field,’ wrote former England all-rounder Ian Botham. ‘One of the best . . . RIP Warnster.’

West Indies legend Viv Richards said: ‘Unbelievable. I am shocked to the core. This can’t be true . . .Rest In Peace Shane Warne. There are no words to describe what I feel right now.’

Prime Minister Boris Johnson added in a tweet: ‘Totally shocked and saddened to hear about Shane Warne — a cricketing genius and one of the nicest guys you could meet, who also did a lot to help disadvantaged kids into sport.’

Certainly, today the sport feels poorer for his loss.

The Australian team including Shane Warne celebrate with a few beers in the dressing room after winning the 4th Test match between England and Australia in July 1997

The Australian team including Shane Warne celebrate with a few beers in the dressing room after winning the 4th Test match between England and Australia in July 1997

Warne is seen on the fifth day of the second Test match between India and Australia in Madras, India, 2004

Warne is seen on the fifth day of the second Test match between India and Australia in Madras, India, 2004

Born in a suburb of Melbourne, as a child Shane Keith Warne dreamed of being a sportsman. Indeed, such was his lack of interest in all things academic, that at the age of 30 he would claim never to have finished a book.

Initially, he was intent on carving out a career as an Australian Rules football player. But having failed to land a professional contract, he turned to cricket. After making his first-class debut for Victoria, he first registered with fans in England in 1991, having been selected as an overseas player for Accrington Cricket Club in the Lancashire league. It did not go entirely to plan.

‘The first game, I got run out,’ he would recall. ‘I was thrown by this and didn’t bowl great. The opposition hammered me. Not a great start.’

Things got even worse in the young man’s second outing — he was bowled first ball against local rivals Ramsbottom.

‘I watched the stump cartwheel all the way back to the keeper, and as I walked off I heard, ‘‘Go home, Pro, you’re roobish.’’ ’

While his performances did gradually improve, at the end of the season the team’s selection committee decided the likeable Australian wasn’t quite up to the task — and he was not asked to return. Not that it dented Warne’s confidence in his own ability. Having risen rapidly through the ranks, he made his Test debut against India in January 1992.

The following year he found himself bowling his first ball in Ashes cricket — duly unleashing the so-called ‘Ball of the Century’ that dismissed Gatting.

It would form the foundation of a 15-year career that would see Warne end up with 708 Test wickets, the second most in history. But Warne the player was never just about dry statistics.

He was one of the greatest showmen the game has ever seen, his earring, blond mop of hair and love of a post-match drink and cigarette only adding to his reputation.

As the broadcaster Mark Nicholas, a friend of Warne’s, said last night: ‘This is one of the greatest cricketers there has ever been, but more than that, one of the most inspirational sporting people there has ever been.

‘He turned a whole generation around to a new rock’n’roll type of cricket. He played to a level that’s never been seen before.’

Quite simply, Warne knew he was the best there was and let the opposition know it, often mentally breaking batsmen before they had even faced a ball.

Shane Warne - 'Australia’s very own Peter Pan - the big kid who never grew up' - has died at 52

Shane Warne – ‘Australia’s very own Peter Pan – the big kid who never grew up’ – has died at 52

England players and staff led the tributes to Shane Warne as they observed a minute's silence in memory of the legendary Australian during day four of the tour match against West Indies

England players and staff led the tributes to Shane Warne as they observed a minute’s silence in memory of the legendary Australian during day four of the tour match against West Indies

One South African player was so bamboozled by Warne he had to seek therapy. When, some years later, they played against each other again, Warne told him: ‘I’m going to send you straight back to the leather couch.’ And promptly bowled him for a duck.

While Warne’s prodigious skills meant that he was rarely out of the headlines, it wasn’t always related to his performance on the pitch.

The most serious of his misdemeanours came in 1998 when he and team-mate Mark Waugh acknowledged that they had accepted money from an Indian bookmaker during a tour of Sri Lanka in 1994. Both players were fined by the Australian Cricket Board for their naivety.

Warne loved cigarettes and was photographed by a teenager smoking in New Zealand in 2000, despite signing a high-profile deal to quit.

But his most serious offence came in 2003 when he failed a doping test for a diuretic drug on the eve of the World Cup and was banned from all cricket for a year — ruling him out of Australia’s defence of the trophy.

As for his colourful love life, even he would admit: ‘When you look at it, my main issue was women.’

He also faced multiple sexting scandals, was spotted trying to flirt across social media with glamour models and celebrities such as Kate Beckinsale, and at 51 was still to be found on Tinder. In 2000, Warne lost the Australia vice-captaincy after it emerged he had been sending erotic texts to a British nurse.

On another occasion he accidentally sent his long-suffering wife, Simone Callahan — who had been his teenage sweetheart — a text message meant for his mistress, informing her that the back door would be left open for her.

The couple, who had three children together, split in 2005 after ten years of marriage. Warne would later claim it was his ‘lowest’ point, leading him to drink heavily. ‘I would go back and raid the minibar. I was on my own on the hotel room floor, crying “you d***head”,’ he recalled.

His subsequent relationship with actress Liz Hurley would rate as both his most high-profile — and most unlikely — love affair.

The pair began dating after meeting at the races in 2010, shortly after she had split from her husband Arun Nayar. When she and Warne were photographed kissing in London, she tweeted confirmation that she and Nayar had ‘separated a few months ago’.

Shane Warne with his then wife Simone pictured in 1995 just three years after he'd made his Test debut for Australia

On another occasion he accidentally sent his long-suffering wife, Simone Callahan (pictured together in 1995) — who had been his teenage sweetheart — a text message meant for his mistress, informing her that the back door would be left open for her 

His relationship with actress Liz Hurley would rate as both his most high-profile — and most unlikely — love affair

His relationship with actress Liz Hurley would rate as both his most high-profile — and most unlikely — love affair

Their relationship quickly developed and they became a regular presence together at red carpet events and in London society, leading to speculation that the English rose had truly tamed the Aussie rebel.

Warne’s shaggy mullet had been replaced with a new head of carefully-coiffed hair, his eyebrows were newly shaped, while his visage suddenly appeared suspiciously wrinkle-free and there were suggestions that he had become a convert to tinted moisturiser.

In 2011, Warne proposed ‘on impulse’ on a yacht in the Med but, sadly, in Shane’s world there was to be no happily-ever-after with Hurley.

Allegations that he’d had a fling with a porn star rocked their relationship, with Hurley posting a tweet soon after that read: ‘Happy Valentine’s Day! Remember, love is like a roller-coaster ride — sometimes it’s exhilarating but sometimes you feel sick and want to get off.’

They split for good in 2013, although remained good friends. ‘When we were together we both had a great time,’ he later said of their time together. ‘Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. It wasn’t something that she or I did wrong, it just fizzled out.’

He later said: ‘I was more in love with Elizabeth than I’d realised I could be. I miss the love we had. My years with Elizabeth were the happiest of my life.’

His bad-boy image continued. In 2019, it was reported that he had allegedly had a noisy four-way sex party with his lover and two escorts at his £2.7 million Maida Vale home in North-West London.

But his knowledge — and love — of cricket guaranteed him a successful career as a television commentator. He also played poker and raised money for an array of charities. Throughout it all, the public’s affection for Warne only grew — an affection that knew no national boundaries.

Because while, during his playing career, he might have subjected the English team to some of their most abject humiliations, he came to be loved as much by English fans as Australians. After all, if you were going to be beaten by anyone, being beaten by a genius of Warne’s stature — and nature — somehow made it seem all right.

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