MELBOURNE: Shaken by the death of his “true friend” Shane Warne, former Australia captain Michael Clarke said while cricket will miss it’s Michael Jordan, he is mourning the loss of a man who would drop everything to be there for him through thick and thin.
Clarke and Warne shared great camaraderie both on and off the field. Clarke often said that the spin legend understood him much better than most and became his pillar of strength during difficult times in every aspect of his life.
Warne breathed his last on Saturday after suffering a heart attack in Thailand. He was 52.
“Cricket has always been a game of numbers and one simple number sums up my relationship with Shane Warne – 23,” Clarke wrote in a column for ‘the Daily Telegraph’.
“…it was not a done thing in cricket for a shirt number to be handed down. But all that changed when Warnie came up to me and told me he wanted me to take on his No. 23 that he wore in one-day cricket.
“…I am forever grateful for that and I will hang onto that honour for the rest of my life. For me, that simple act of handing me his number embodies the fact that he is the person who supported me more than anyone else,” he recalled.
Shane Warne and Michael Clarke after the third Ashes Test at the WACA on December 18, 2006 in Perth. (Photo by Hamish Blair/Getty Images)
Clarke once again said that no one understood him and allowed him to be completely himself like Warne.
“I don’t know why he was so open, kind and generous and loving towards me from day one – but he was,” he said.
“There wasn’t a time I couldn’t pick up the phone. There wasn’t a time I couldn’t cry. There wasn’t a time when, whatever it was I needed – he wouldn’t drop everything to be my friend.
“That is what makes this so difficult.”
Warne’s loss is a huge personal blow to Clarke, who lost another close friend in Phil Hughes in 2014 after he was hit on the neck by a bouncer during a domestic match.
Clarke sobbed through his gut-wrenching tribute to Hughes during his funeral and was also one of the pall-bearers.
He shared a similarly close bond with Warne even though the start of his international stint coincided with the last leg of Warne’s career.
“Everyone is rightly talking about the legend that Warnie was. If he’s not the greatest ever Australian cricketer, then he is equal to Sir Donald Bradman. He is – as his No. 23 said – the Michael Jordan of cricket,” Clarke said referring to the American basketball legend.
“But all that stuff is secondary to the friend he became to me and so many others around the game. Shane Keith Warne was loyal to the bone and would do anything for the people that he loved.
“We spoke two days before he passed away last week and he seemed as happy as ever.”
Clarke said he had planned to visit Warne and take his new car for a ride after the icon’s return from Thailand. The 40-year-old also remembered the huge influence Warne had on his captaincy.
“I was always willing to risk losing to win and that was always the way he played, and he wanted me to play the game with that aggressive approach and encouraged me to be involved in the game anywhere I could, rather than sit back,” he said.
“The people I played with for Australia saw how much Warnie had my back as a teammate. And when he commented on my matches, even I used to think he was biased towards me! I’d get a duck and play a shit shot, and he’d say it was a good ball.” —PTI