Warne’s magic was made for TV


Shane Warne was born in 1969, the year the world gathered around televisions to watch the moon landing. The year he started primary school, color television came to Australia. These two events crowned television as the dominant cultural force in Australia for the next 30 years. These are also beautiful coincidences, as this environment shaped, and then introduced, Shane Warne as a custom sports star created for Australian television.

He was a child of television’s golden age, his own loud, flashy but still endearing populist aesthetic was exactly how television presented itself in the late 70s, 80s and 90s. from Happy Days, countdown-era pop and gross comedy movie references seemed permanently imprinted in his brain, evident through his comments and social media feeds. And while television informed the kitschy lens of pop culture through which he viewed the world, it was also the medium made for bowling that would enchant the world.

While World Series Cricket was the television revolution that transformed the game, given that it was one of Warne’s earliest cricket memories, it only reached its full potential as a television product when Warne arrived.

For all the thrill of fast-paced bowling, it’s a skill more valued in person, and in retrospect, 1980s shows didn’t offer many layers to the blur of the beat.

Warne offered something very different, his simple grip and delivery stride allowed you to watch the ball from his hand at his slower pace, follow his trajectory and then his rebound and spin. It didn’t matter if you’ve played hundreds of cricket games or you’re new to it, understanding that Warne had magic was simple because everything unfolded so clearly in front of you. There hasn’t been a pace ball of the century to rival the Gatting ball because as well as being simply stunning, it gives viewers time to savor the dive, deflection and turn. It’s a three-part act that no other type of bowler, or bowler, can match.

Within 12 months of Warne’s emergence as a bona fide superstar, the then Australian Cricket Board was trying to break out of the PBL straitjacket and afford to sell his television rights at their fair value. Just in time, he now had a beacon that would draw crowds to their TVs, and the board was handsomely rewarded when he sold the rights back to Channel 9 without a hitch.

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Nicholas says goodbye to his friend, Shane Keith Warne

Warne’s role in this and the future financial riches that would fall into cricket’s coffers over the next 25 years cannot be underestimated, as Warne was the most accessible bowler on television we have seen.

He was the magician who didn’t use a handkerchief to hide his tricks, your eyes saw it all unfold. That’s why, as many said this week and years ago, you couldn’t look away from a Warne bowling spell.

While fast bowlers can hit the ball downfield in a whirlwind that can look nearly identical to the untrained eye, every Warne ball was an ongoing event. The TV kid knew you had to have twists to keep people interested, so what would he do next? Each over was a new TV episode, and for the 90s and first half of the 2000s, it was the box’s most popular show.

While television innovations like super slow motion and revolving vision in the mid-’90s weren’t created because of Warne, they were made essential to shows by his presence. Now we could watch in greater definition, slower, visible ball revolutions and closer magic. The plot about what he could do demanded we know more, but delivering the ball was only part of it.

Dennis Lillee captured the hearts and minds of Warne’s generation with televised close-ups of his theatrical and attractive brow wiping. Whether deliberate or unconscious, Warne has turned the Lillee approach into ten. If every over was a TV episode, facial reactions and exaggerated body language were just as important as the balls themselves.

The close-ups of her oohing and aahing with the blonde hair and earrings completed the ensemble. He wanted to stand out on TV like his idols, sports and otherwise. It played a part in one of his most infamous scandals. His explanation for taking the diuretic pill which resulted in a 12 month ban was that he wanted to lose weight to “look good on TV”.

It was all indicative of a man who, although at times sensitive to the criticism that came with him, seemed more at home in the television spotlight than any Australian sports star before or after. That’s why he never left the spotlight.

After retiring from international cricket he returned to BBL where he was essentially a game commentator. From there he traveled the world as a constant on-screen commentator. He even tried to host a show tonight, which you suspect was what he ultimately would have liked to do the most; Warnie talks about all the things other than the cricket he loved.

He completed the television experience by playing the role of a Shane Warne impersonator in the Australian sitcom. Kath and Kim, a show that satirizes and celebrates the characters’ suburban tastes, most of which were based on what they saw on television. If that and the texting jokes weren’t meta enough, Warne was one of those likes. He was unabashedly a kindred spirit to Kath and Kim.

And now, amidst a veil of sadness, there is a solace to be found that will become more foreboding as the years pass.

Less than three months before his passing, Warne released a made-for-TV documentary that above all revealed to audiences the dedication and love in his relationship with his children. The man made for television had unknowingly left us with a perfectly wrapped bundle of his extraordinary life for the small screen. Like the Gatting Balloon, we’ll be watching this final episode over and over again, just as it would have liked.

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