MUMBAI (May 20 – Australian spin legend Shane Warne brings the curtain down on his stellar cricket career stretching over two decades, bowing out with a final appearance in the Indian Premier League.
The last chapter in the career of one of the game’s finest ever players has been typical of Warne, with the Australian charming and shocking the Indian public during a frustrating final season in charge of the Rajasthan Royals.
On the field, the 41-year-old has struggled for rhythm with his bowling and has suffered the indignity of being repeatedly hit over the ropes by youngsters looking to make their mark in the money-spinning tournament.
And as with so much of his turbulent career, attention has often focused on his off-field exploits, including a bitter row with Rajasthan Cricket Association secretary Sanjay Dixit over a choice of wicket, which led to a fine this week of $50,000.
"I think it was a bit silly and immature from both of our parts," said the father of three, whose rumoured face-lift and romantic entanglement with British model Liz Hurley kept him constantly in the Indian headlines.
He also had a tiff with superstar Sachin Tendulkar and caused embarrassment in conservative India with his public kissing of Hurley — which could have landed him in trouble under India’s strict anti-obscenity laws.
"He (Warne) caused quite a sensation with his long lip-lock in full public view," Dixit wrote in a column.
"I had to quieten things down to make sure that the matter did not reach the courts," he added.
The bleach-blond bowler will take to the field for the last time Friday in an away game against the Mumbai Indians that will pit him against another icon of the modern cricket era — 38-year-old Tendulkar.
"It’s appropriate that my last game is versus Sachin," Warne told the NDTV news channel on Thursday. "Sachin is the greatest player I have played against… I hope he doesn’t smash me around."
The two players appeared to clash earlier in the season after the Indian batsman complained about the Rajasthan pitch, but the tension was laughed off by Warne, who insisted they were "mates".
With his zip and much of his prodigious spin gone, Warne’s returns from the fourth season of the IPL have been unimpressive — 12 wickets from as many games while giving away 267 runs for an average of 22.25.
After scripting a title triumph with a rag-tag team in the first edition of the Twenty20 competition in 2008, his final season as captain has offered few rewards, with the team failing to make the playoffs.
Despite the fizzle at the end of an explosive, world-beating career, he will be remembered as one of the greatest players of all time — and in the eyes of many second only to legendary batsman Don Bradman in Australian cricket.
On his Test debut in 1992 he posted inauspicious figures of 1-150 but he then knuckled down under his mentor Terry Jenner and 18 months later caught the cricketing world’s attention with the "ball of the century" against England.
The delivery, Warne’s first in an Ashes Test, turned dramatically to bamboozle England’s Mike Gatting and herald the arrival of a cricketing superstar.
Warne retired from international cricket in 2007 after resurrecting the art of leg-spin and becoming the first player to take 700 Test wickets.
Along the way, the cigarette-puffing, beer-swilling "Warney" survived drug and bookmaking scandals and pursued an energetic love life which is widely thought to have cost him the Australian captaincy.
Retirement is expected to include more sports commentating for television, commercial work, charity, and possibly coaching.
Among other things, he has an advertising deal with McDonald’s in Australia, promotes a poker website and also finds time to design a range of men’s underwear.
"My decision to retire has got nothing to do with my bowling. I think I’m still bowling pretty well, it’s more about all the other stuff and time," he told NDTV.
"I want to do some other stuff in my life."