Like the rest of the cricketing world, I have been in shock since the news of Shane Warne’s death broke on Friday.
I was lucky enough to be one of Warney’s close friends and I haven’t figured it out yet. I always expect my phone to flash some nonsense that it sends on a whatsapp group.
There have been hundreds of tributes centered around what it was like to take on the greatest spinner of them all. It was extraordinary and an honor. Warney was a genius. But he was just as special as a character as he was a cricketer. Again, he was totally unique.
Warney was a global superstar, but those who knew him knew another big boy who made the most of every second. He’s done more in a year than I could in a century, and he’s the most generous person I’ve ever met. He wanted nothing in return except loyalty. When he had that, he returned tenfold.
For such a busy man, Warney was incredibly generous with his time. I’ve never met someone with so much enthusiasm for people, and he was a great judge of character (that, as he had on the pitch, was like a sixth sense).
He would come to dinner parties hosted by friends of mine just to help out and spend the day at schools where former Hampshire teammates now worked.
He had a level of fame – he was probably England’s most famous cricketer, even though he was Australian – that meant he would be harassed a lot, and people liked to have a crack with him too.
You were golfing and the guys were yelling “Bowled, Shane” from the next fairway and everything. I never saw him push anyone away. Everyone wanted a piece of him, but he answered every question – and asked twice as many.
And he was never, ever late. If he was two minutes late, he would call and apologize profusely. He had a lot of principles.
I first got to know him playing county cricket in the early 2000s. He had an incredible battle with Rahul Dravid at Portsmouth in 2000, but it was through poker that we became close. I think when Kent was playing in Hampshire, players expected poker more than cricket.
There was a game at the Ageas where it started to rain heavily, clearly ending the day, and players from both teams rushed to start.
We played until about 3 a.m., with Warney ordering pizza, loving the competition, and telling his amazing stories. His stories were always on another level, about legendary people in cricket and beyond, as I told him how Dave Masters knocked me out again! There was never an ounce of judgment.
At the end of the evening, the boys from Kent understood that they had to return to the hotel. As I walked out, I noticed Warney diligently cleaning up the mess we had made. We were entitled to young cricketers who expected someone else to do it, but there was the most famous player in the world taking care of it.
It was a bit of a wake-up call for me. I thought to myself, “Keysy, you must be a better guy than that”.
My mindset was that I might not be able to play the game like him, but I can at least think like him.
We had two young spinners, James Tredwell and Rob Ferley. We played at Hampshire and they were struggling to find the courage to go talk to him. I passed them.
Warney told them he had a day off the following week, so why don’t they go to Hampshire to play with him. They spent hours in the nets together and couldn’t believe it.
I remembered it when, in 2014, we played against Surrey. We were in a good position, but we had to knock them out on the last day to win. We had another young spinner, Adam Riley, and there were footprints, so I needed him to come to the party.
On the third night, I called Warney and asked him if he would talk to Riley. He told me he was busy now, but to call back in the morning “not too early”. Around 9:30 I tried it again and told Riley I had a buddy who wanted to talk spin with him. He looked confused, but when he heard Warney’s voice, his eyes lit up.
With Warney clearly still in bed, they chatted for 45 minutes before moving on. Riley was buzzing. He took five wickets and we won.
My whole philosophy on the game is based on discussions with Warney, whether 20 years ago or more recently on the golf course or around the Sky commentary box. When Peter Willey refereed, he joked, “Warney’s here again laying the groundwork.”
My mindset was that I might not be able to play the game like him, but I can at least think like him. I’m very lucky to be where I am now, commentating with the greats of the game, and I think I have him to thank for that.
He will be greatly missed at Sky, not just for his commentary, but for his company. It’s only now, watching videos of us laughing, that I realize how funny he was. He lived his whole life as a big teenager, and lived to make people smile and laugh – and succeeded.