TV View: Shane Warne’s death leaves us all in a spin at the loss of a sporting genius

The Australian cricketing legend had moved seamlessly from player to TV pundit

It’s probably not all that often that we give much thought to those on the receiving end of sport’s most gorgeous moments, too busy are we, understandably enough, swooning over genius.

But for the likes of, say, Mike Gatting and Peter Shilton, you'd wonder how wearisome it gets to be reminded of those times they stood in bewilderment, dazed and confused by the brilliance that had just made them victims in the clips that would be replayed forever. The most unwilling of supporting actors.

Shilton in Mexico City, standing hands-on-hips, looking at the two Terrys, Butcher and Fenwick, in a ‘what-the-hell-just-happened’ kind of way. Gatting in Manchester, staring at the wicket like it had just performed the most evil of sorcery. Which it had.

It was funny, then, to read Indian writer Shamik Chakrabarty describing Shane Warne last week as cricket's Diego Maradona, Gatting and Shilton's moments colliding.

When Maradona died in 2020, Shilton struggled to be gracious, never forgiving him for the ‘Hand of God’ goal that preceded the ‘goal of the century’, but when a shattered Gatting turned up on Sky News last week after word had come through of Warne’s death, he just pined for another chance to meet the fella and be reminded of the ‘ball of the century’. Which Warne did, with the rascal-ish of grins, every time they met.

“It’s devastating,” said Gatting, the notification that popped up on the phone crushing, Warne, at just 52, had died.

Even those who had a notion that cricket was boring would have been mesmerised by the fella, his battle of wits with batsmen, the way he figured out how to bamboozle them with his spin, one of sport’s most absorbing and engrossing sights.

And one of sport's lovelier sounds was the legend that was Richie Benaud commentating on Warne. He might not have approved of the studs in his ears, his peroxide hair, his all-round rowdiness, and his ability to find trouble wherever it was on offer, but cripes, he loved his bowling. He even named him in his all-time XI, and if you got in to Richie Benaud's all-time XI, you were special.

Over on Channel 4 News, Dickie Bird, the now 88-year-old umpire who was on duty when Warne left Gatting befuddled, recalled saying to him after the ‘ball of the century’, ‘you, young man, will put your name in the record books’.

He did, too, and had also developed into the finest of pundits, one of the rare enough breed who, while sharing his expertise, knew that, ultimately, sport should be fun. And bring a smile when it could.

Smiles, need it be said, are a rare enough commodity these days, Oleksandr Zinchenko's interview with Gary Lineker for Football Focus enough to leave your heart in smithereens, his pain over what's happening in his homeland of Ukraine harrowing.

So, you take the small bits of loveliness that sport can offer where you can find them, like watching Meath play Dublin on TG4 in a packed Páirc Tailteann, on an immaculate pitch, under the bluest of skies. And seeing a growing rivalry that will be a must-watch in the months and years ahead.

And then there were the Cork hurlers seeing off Galway in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Patrick Horgan erroneously given the man-of-the-match award when it should have gone, jointly, to the young fellas who jostled Davy Fitz away from his RTÉ lectern post-match, one of them, the lad in the blue hoodie, standing on Davy's shoulder while making faces into the camera, the other, in the red tracksuit top, waving his hurley in Davy's face and living to tell the tale.

Those were the weekend's most courageous moments, until Roy Keane forecast that United "will get something" from the Manchester derby.

They did too.

A spanking