On the 30th anniversary of one of the great Test series played in Australia, foxsports.com.au sat down with West Indies cricket legend Brian Lara for his reflections.
In the final piece of a three-part series, Lara lifts the lid on a different side to Shane Warne and the special bond the pair shared — both as rivals on the field and close friends.
Oblivious to how absurd the decision would look in the future, Shane Warne was dropped from Australia’s Test team during the 1999 tour of the Caribbean.
Leaving Warne out of Australia’s Test XI would become akin to bumping Michael Jordan from the Chicago Bulls’ starting five, or benching Maradona at the 1986 World Cup.
But nearly 14 years ago in the Caribbean, Warne was struggling post-shoulder surgery – and then-captain Steve Waugh had a gut feeling he couldn’t shake.
Waugh insists it was the right call to axe his then vice-captain. Warne, however, wrote in his book that he felt “totally let down” by Waugh, who he accused of being “jealous”.
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“I conducted myself badly, to be honest,” Warne later wrote in his autobiography. “I wasn’t that supportive of the team, which I regret.
“Looking back, this was probably a combination of the shoulder issue still eating away at me and the pure anger bubbling inside at Steve’s lack of trust.”
Instead, Brian Lara would face Collin Miller and Stuart MacGill in St John’s with Warne seething on the sidelines.
Australia won the Test to escape the four-match series with a 2-2 draw despite Lara scoring 546 runs at 91.00, including three centuries.
What sticks with Lara about that series, however, is the vulnerability a furious Warne showed to him privately.
“He wasn’t very happy during that time,” Lara recalled to foxsports.com.au.
“But can you imagine preferring a spinner to Shane Warne? I mean, that’s unheard of.
“I remember the emotions he went through during that period.”
PART ONE: The eight-hour Aussie torture that launched a cricket titan
PART TWO: Inside Warne’s arrival, the moment that made Test giant ‘panic’
Few can understand greatness outside of greatness itself – which is why it’s no surprise that Warne found a friend in Lara.
The pair could relate to each other like other cricketers couldn’t.
In Warne’s role as the best spinner to come out of Australia, and Lara’s as the Caribbean’s greatest batter, there was a special kind of pressure reserved for the pair.
More often than not, they thrived off it, but that didn’t mean that either were invincible.
“Warnie was really vulnerable as well,” said Ian Healy, who kept wicket to Warne for several years. “Even when he came off the field and had a good day he’d say,’ was that okay?’
“For the incredibly confident man he was in the middle under all the fiercest of pressure and displaying the skills of leg-spin which was the hardest in the game, he still needed some reinforcement.”
Warne would also confide in Lara with the pair forging a bond that would go well beyond their playing years.
Their friendship was strengthened by their mutual love of golf – the legendary duo hit the links together many times while reminiscing about the greatness they achieved on the cricket pitch.
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After a round, Warne would sometimes give Lara a ride in his Ferrari, which the West Indies legend couldn’t wait to end.
If Lara was to have one more ride in that Ferrari, however, he would savour it a bit more.
“I’ve always been in a rush to get out of Shane’s Ferrari after a game of golf,” Lara said during Warne’s funeral in March. “But this time I’d stop and look back and say that you’re the greatest Australian that I know.
“And I cherish our friendship. And I’ve always been honoured to be in your presence.”
Lara and Warne remained good friends until the day the latter suddenly died while on holiday in Thailand in March.
While their get-togethers involved enjoying some of life’s luxuries, there were vulnerable moments, too – and Warne always felt he could be open and honest with his fellow cricket legend.
“We had a wonderful relationship,” Lara told foxsports.com.au.
“We played a lot of golf after our cricket careers together. We spent a lot of time together.
“And he shared a lot of secrets.”
He added: “I think between myself and Shane there were a lot of intimate moments where we talked about cricket and we experienced cricket.”
‘WE BOTH WON’
On the pitch, Lara and Warne shared a terrific rivalry as arguably two of the four cricketers that defined a generation, along with Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting.
No spinner dismissed Lara more times in his 131-Test career than Warne with seven wickets, while only Andre Nel (eight) and Glenn McGrath (15) took his wicket more.
However, those seven Warne wickets came at a healthy batting average of 54.57.
So who won the rivalry?
“I think we both won,” Lara said, laughing.
He said he always felt “very, very comfortable” facing Warne, but noted how the leg-spinner’s tenacity always kept him in the fight.
“He would definitely be my No.1 spinner that I ever played against, simply from the fact that mentally I think he was stronger than anybody else,” Lara said.
“When I went out into the middle and Shane had the ball in his hand, I didn’t feel that I had to go searching, the ball was coming off the middle of the bat. But, two hours later, three hours later, Shane was always pegging away, always looking to produce that special delivery.
“And that’s what’s great … he might’ve got three or four wickets but he wasn’t giving up on the fact that he needed to get the best batsman out.
“And he showed that throughout the world, he went after your best players and if he got knocked about he came back again. And that’s the sort of qualities of a true champion. That’s the qualities you need to be a great, and I think he had it all.”
It’s fitting that in the first summer without Warne on the Fox Cricket commentary team, Lara will step-up in his honour.
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Warne’s shoes can never be filled and his presence will remain felt inside the Fox Cricket commentary box, which will aim to preserve his legacy.
Lara is proud to be a key part of that for the two-Test series between Australia and the West Indies, starting in Perth on Wednesday.
Asked about how special it is to honour Warne in commentary, Lara said: “It’s just amazing.
“I feel very privileged to have shared a cricket ground with him, and sometimes I shared a dressing room with him playing on the same team. We’ve been in a couple commentary boxes together, but not like a (whole) summer.
“It’s going to be emotional for a lot of people.”