The biggest series in Test cricket begins next week when the Ashes gets under way at Edgbaston.
But there will be one significant absentee following the tragic death last year of the greatest bowler of them all and latterly a huge personality in the commentary box in Shane Warne.
Three of the people who knew him best – former England captain Nasser Hussain, former England coach David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd and managing director of England cricket Rob Key – came together for Mail Sport to remember the great man in a moving but hugely uplifting conversation.
Cricket correspondent Paul Newman asked the questions…
Australian cricket legend Shane Warne tragically died in March last year at the age of 52
Nasser Hussain (left), David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd (centre) and Rob Key (right) came together to remember their friend Shane Warne for Mail Sport
NEWMAN: I think you went back furthest with Shane, Bumble. He had a spell very early on at your club, Accrington?
DAVID LLOYD: He did. It was 1991. You can picture this bleached blonde lad, he had an ear-ring, and he was chubby then.
We’ve had some good ‘uns at Accrington – Michael Holding, Allan Donald, Viv Richards and Shane Warne – all iconic players who came over to play league cricket in those days. Shane, in particular, terrorised the town of Accrington and the pubs around it.
He always had an eye for the girls and thankfully he was keen on my daughter’s friend rather than my daughter! But everyone there all speak very fondly of knowing him then.
NEWMAN: Did you think he’d be a great player even then?
LLOYD: Yes. I’d spoken to Bob Simpson (former Australia captain and coach) about him because he was another old Accrington pro. Bob had no doubts Shane would become a world beater.
NEWMAN: When did you first become aware of Shane, Nasser?
NASSER HUSSAIN: I was in Australia after being left out by England, one of the many times, playing for a club side in Adelaide while the Ashes were taking place during the 1990-91 winter.
Warne announces himself to English cricket fans in spectacular style, bowling Mike Gatting with the ‘ball of the century’ at Old Trafford in 1993
Bumble fondly recalled the bleach blonde Warne ‘terrorising the town of Accrington’
I turned up at England nets because Graham Gooch was there and I was trying to worm my way back into the side. There was this young lad there, just as Bumble described him, and he was bamboozling people in the nets.
Then, of course, came the ball of the century – we’ve just had the 30 year anniversary – when Shane first bowled in an Ashes series in England in 1993.
There I was watching the telly and he immediately bowled that ball to Mike Gatting. It had an impact on English cricket for years – every time you faced him you had a vision in your head of that ball. It was just box office playing against him.
NEWMAN: It’s been written, Rob, that your whole cricket philosophy and what we are seeing from England now was shaped by Warney. Is that right?
ROB KEY: Certainly a huge part of it. I was probably 21 or 22 when I first met him. I was playing for Kent against Hampshire in Portsmouth and Shane came up against our overseas, Rahul Dravid. It was one of the great battles in county cricket.
Dravid made 150 on a turning pitch – I got nought – and there were a load of us around who were at our most impressionable.
That’s when you decide who your role models are going to be and even then if you asked Warney a question he would talk to you for ages.
I got to know him really well and you didn’t always realise you were learning off him but you were. Brendon McCullum was the same.
Warne gets the wicket of Rob Key while playing for Hampshire against Kent in a one-day game in 2007
A lot of what we believe in came from him and my philosophy came from playing against and talking to him.
NEWMAN: He had such a spell over players – and England. I remember that game in Sydney early in 1999 when an England side coached by David Lloyd and featuring Nasser Hussain were strolling to victory before you came down the wicket to him and got out…
HUSSAIN: Did you have to bring that up already? Couldn’t we build up to that?
LLOYD: I’d have brought it up early too!
NEWMAN: Bumble wouldn’t talk to you afterwards, would he?
HUSSAIN: Yes, that was the bonus from it! Bumble wouldn’t speak to us for two days! Shane would target players – like he famously had a hold over Daryll Cullinan of South Africa. It was his competitiveness in the field.
He could be a genius and deliver but he also understood the game so well. Shane ticked every box.
NEWMAN: What did you make of him, Bumble, when you were in opposition to him in international cricket?
The pair would later work together on Sky’s coverage of international cricket
Warne’s famous balcony dance after Australia beat England in the fifth Ashes Test in 1997
LLOYD: Well, in 1997 we got Peter Philpott, the old Australian leg-spinner, to help us prepare for him, wonderful fella, and he told us ‘if you just sit on him, he’ll surround you. You’ve got to find a way to score against him…’ But that wasn’t easy!
Not only was he a genuine wicket-taker but he gave Australia such control they could always field a four-man attack.
The thing about that great Australia side with him in it was they always looked to score quickly to give Shane time to get the opposition out. That’s what we’re seeing from England now.
HUSSAIN: He would have absolutely loved the brand of cricket England are playing. Our commentary box at Lord’s is named after him now and there’s a lovely picture of him at the back of it. He would have so enjoyed what he would have seen this summer from that box.
NEWMAN: There definitely is a lot of Shane Warne in this England side, isn’t there Rob?
KEY: Yes and every time we have a win Brendon and I will clink glasses, or exchange messages if we’re not together, toast Shane and say ‘he would have enjoyed that.’
People used to call him ‘the king’ but I was never sure about that. You can’t call someone ‘king.’
Nasser Hussain wasn’t too happy to be reminded of his dismissal to Warne in 1999
Nasser Hussain is bowled by Warne during the fifth Test of the 1997 Ashes series
HUSSAIN: That’s what Shane liked about you, Rob. Wherever he went people wanted to be with him, film stars, rock stars and everyone, and fawn over him but you would take the mickey out of him on the golf course or in the comm box.
You were the same, Bumble. Shane loved that. You would both nail him about things.
LLOYD: He would fall asleep in the box so I’d give him a little kick as I passed him and then say ‘sorry!’
HUSSAIN: He loved that. That’s why he liked being in England I reckon. People treated him like a normal person.
LLOYD: He did know so many big names from all walks of life. I once had a deal with Specsavers which gave me five pairs of specs.
One of them had a little purple tint to them that Shane took a shine to. I said to him ‘they’re my Kylie Minogue’s, autographed and everything.’ So what does he do?
He rings Kylie immediately and told her to turn the telly on to the cricket and watch the geezer who’s talking because he’s got a pair of your glasses on.
Warne celebrates getting Hussain’s wicket at The Oval during the 2001 Ashes series
She then says ‘where does he live?’ and sends me a lovely hand-written letter and a bottle of pink Champagne, saying thanks very much! That was Kylie!
NEWMAN: Not only was he a great player, he also had a great influence on county cricket and all those of you who played in it when he was Hampshire captain?
KEY: He ran the show. And he was so funny. He wouldn’t do warm-ups. I would watch him go out and he’d just stand there sucking on a cigarette.
But he loved county cricket. There was one game against us he bowled about 30 overs and could barely walk afterwards. And he loved captaincy.
For everything he did with Kylie, Chris Martin of Coldplay, Ed Sheeran and all his other friends, he was the biggest cricket badger.
HUSSAIN: One of our producers was talking about that the other day. However late Shane had been out the night before, and whether he had a little nap at the back of the box or not, he was always switched on and would bring such energy to the coverage. He would be up to speed with everything that was going on.
NEWMAN: You talk about his captaincy. Famously he was never full-time captain of Australia, was he? The greatest captain they never had?
KEY: That’s what you told him, didn’t you Nasser? Tell that story.
Rob Key, now England cricket managing director, remembers his friend Warne
Warne and Kylie Minogue catch up at the 2001 British Grand Prix at Silverstone
HUSSAIN: We’re back to that 1999 one-day game again! But, to use one of your expressions Rob, Shane used to add a bit of mayonnaise when he told the story.
He was stand-in captain and we were absolutely walking that game. Shane was going at me and I was going back at him, telling him he’d never captain Australia again. Enjoy it while it lasts, I told him.
Then I’ve lost it after something he said, ran down the pitch, missed it and got stumped by a mile. He’s given me the biggest send off – then we collapse and lose by 20 runs.
He (pointing at Bumble) exploded in the dressing room and kicked Alan Mullally’s music box. Then afterwards I was in a lift with Bumble at the hotel and he just shook his head and said ‘I’m gonna drop the lot of them and pick all my Lancashire players instead. You’re out Hussain!’
NEWMAN: Did Shane take wickets with the sheer force of his personality?
KEY: Oh yeah. You would play a perfect forward defence against him and he would look at you like you were the worst player ever. So you start thinking ‘what did I do wrong there?’
He would make you think you’d done something wrong even when you hadn’t. He was the master of that. Every ball was an event, I used to think.
NEWMAN: What about Shane Warne the man? Fair to say he lived a very full life?
Warne wheels away in celebration after taking his 700th Test wicket, bowling Andrew Strauss
The spinner is applauded off the ground at the MCG after reaching the milestone in 2006
KEY: When he died I thought to myself ‘he lived a hundred lives in that one life’ because he did make the most of every single moment.
I would turn up to play golf with him and he’d say ‘shall we play tomorrow as well?’ I’d be like ‘mate, can we just get through today?’
I was playing against him and Ricky Ponting once, there’s a bit of name dropping, and Ponting is a great golfer.
People would always say ‘Ricky could have been a golf pro’ and that would wind Warney up a bit. Every time Ricky hit it well Shane would say ‘yeah, he might be a scratch golfer but he can’t putt…’
Then we’d tell Ricky, saying ‘geez, he was hammering your putting,’ and Shane would say ‘no I wasn’t!’ If he was two minutes late for anything he’d ring you to apologise.
He would host us on expensive golf courses and never ask for a penny. All he cared about was whether everyone with him was having a good time.
HUSSAIN: You did know how to pull his strings Rob.
KEY: But do you remember that time when you stuffed me and him on air, Nasser? It was my favourite ever third man slot.
Delight for Warne as he gets the wicket of Kevin Pietersen in the final Test of the 2005 Ashes
Warne dismisses England opener Marcus Trescothick but they couldn’t rescue the series
We were off camera and Shane was standing there doing his hair and he was saying to me ‘what do you think, do I look all right?’ and made me take pictures of him.
You and Athers (Michael Atherton) got them to film us doing it and nailed us about it!
NEWMAN: Could you be friends with him when you played against him?
HUSSAIN: There was a real love-hate thing in those days. We were very different characters. He was a genius and I wasn’t!
But he would always be generous if you scored runs against him. I only got to know him well when he joined us in the comm box. That thing about only judging people when you really get to know them?
If you were in trouble Shane Warne would do anything for you. He was that sort of bloke. His memorial service summed him up.
He would mix with the great and good of the world but he was just as happy with his AFL mates he grew up with in Melbourne.
LLOYD: He seemed to think I was some sort of social animal. I was way older than him but he would keep asking me to go out. He’d say ‘meet me in reception at midnight I’ve got some interesting people for us to see.’
Warne with the London Spirit players he coached during the inaugural Hundred season
Warne paid out of his own pocket for former team-mate Andrew Symonds (second right) to work with the Spirit as a fielding coach
I’d say to him ‘I’ll be in bed by 9.30pm!’ But however late he was out he’d still spark up when he got in the comm box the next day.
KEY: He was a kind and generous man, and as you say Nasser, he always looked after his mates. When he got the coaching gig with London Spirit in the Hundred the first thing he wanted to do was give jobs to friends who might have been out of work at the time.
Right at the end he was going to pay out of his own pocket for Andrew Symonds to be their fielding coach. His first thought was always for other people.
We had a young spinner at Kent called Rob Ferley and there was this one time he asked Shane if they could talk about spin.
Shane said ‘come down to the Rose Bowl and we’ll have a session.’ And he did just that, one to one spin clinics with Rob and James Tredwell. They said it was unbelievable.
Another time we were playing Surrey and we needed to bowl them out on the last day. I had a young spinner called Adam Riley and as we were warming up I handed him the phone and said ‘speak to a friend of mine.’
It was Warney on the line. I’d lined it up. Riley’s face lit up and they spoke for about 45 minutes. He then went out and won us the game….
HUSSAIN: He cared so much about cricket. He hated slow over-rates and other things that the punter sitting in the crowd would hate. He absolutely loved the game.
Warne happily responds to the ‘who ate all the pies’ jibes of the England fans back in 1997
You would leave a ground with him and if any young kid wanted a picture or an autograph he would always give them his time. Even if there were Barmy Army all around giving him stick!
LLOYD: He was nice to everybody. All the people that worked on the coverage. Runners. Car park attendants. Always polite.
KEY: He was incredibly principled too. There was one time Steve Waugh had all the Australian players wearing their baggy green caps on a day out in the crowd at Wimbledon. Shane wouldn’t do it. He thought that was disrespectful.
LLOYD: He’ll be sorely missed this summer, that’s for sure.
KEY: Not only a great player and man but I thought he was a great commentator too. I loved listening to him.
You can make technical points but great commentary is about calling the moments and getting your voice just right because those big moments are played back over and over again These two are masters at it and Shane was the same.
NEWMAN: Would he have secretly wanted England to do well this summer, the way you’re playing?
KEY: I don’t know about that, but he hated negative cricket. Alastair Cook used to think Shane was really hard on him but he would be hard on Ricky Ponting too if he didn’t think he was being positive enough.
Warne may have been on the other side of the Ashes rivalry but he would have loved England’s ‘Bazball’ style at the moment
He even got Russell Crowe in the commentary box once to have a go at the way Ponting’s Australia were playing!
HUSSAIN: As you do…
KEY: But he just wanted to see entertaining, attacking cricket and it didn’t matter if you were Australia or England.
NEWMAN: Let’s hope there will be plenty of that in this Ashes. It’s been a pleasure. Thank you all.