Tom Hall, CEO and one of the owners of Sporting News, knew Shane Warne like few others.
Friday began completely normally. Breakfast with my family and helping my youngest with her online schooling. With that done, I wandered up the hill in the late-morning sunshine to catch up with Warney, Neo, Gaz and Fred who had arrived at the resort the night before.
Anybody that knew Shane knew his warmth, his caring, his incredible sense of humour, his laugh, the twinkle in his eye and that glare from those glowing, unnaturally white teeth. After a big hug and a “G’day”, we settle in around the outdoor dining table and the banter begins.
A photo taken of Shane Warne in Koh Samui, Thailand before his tragic passing
The first question is “How can we watch Australia v Pakistan test here in Thailand; the game’s about to start?” Cricket, AFL, golf and his family were the main passions in his life and Warney and cricket were never far apart. He was laughing and was himself.
Events were to unfold – literally in front of our eyes – that would change the face of cricket – and our lives – forever.
I met Shane some 15 years ago at a charity poker tournament and I don’t know exactly why, but we bonded and became firm friends and travelled all over the world together. Our families met and would spend some great times together. The Whatsapp bi-directional piss-taking never stopped. It’s probably a very different friendship to ones that he had with his cricketing team mates and people around cricket and sport generally, that Shane interacted with, in the way only Shane could.
If you have played any form of team sport for a long time, you will know and understand the bond that forms between teammates who have experienced the ups and downs of a shared journey and how when you get together years later, you re-live over and over the stories of those days. My heart goes out to his former teammates in Australia, the UK, India and wherever else his skills blessed the game and where he made cricket just that bit better and definitely more fun.I can’t remember who said “The older I got the better I was”, but in Warney’s case, we all know he really was that good; the very, very best at what he did. I will leave those eminently better qualified than I am to talk about his cricket skills and what he brought to the game. I know it is immense.
A few balls into the Test, Warney jumps up and says “Mate, I bought you a present” and rushes off excitedly to his room.
You’re never quite sure what that means with Shane; it could be a bottle of his 708 gin, his fragrance, some book he thought I would enjoy or a random T shirt. He came back with an armful of clothes looking like he had been at a yard sale. Neo and Gaz were obviously aware of what was going on as Neo pulled out his camera.
Shane had been working with me at The Sporting News for the past year or so and he presented me with his jumper from the 2005 Ashes Test, his 2008 IPL shirt and a one-day international shirt and cap to place in the TSN offices in Australia and the UK. Amazing gifts I knew the teams would love and cherish.
As we went through the shirts and jumpers, more stories came out about the first IPL season and how he had inherited a team which had several unknown players in it. They lost their opening game, but Shane told Manoj Badale, “Don’t worry mate, we’ll be OK”. They promptly won the rest of their games and the inaugural IPL title.
My father went to Sydney Grammar and Sydney Uni from Hong Kong after WW2 and always told me with pride about the time Don Bradman had visited Sydney and he had got to meet him and be in a photo with some of his university mates.
Though Dad has lived most of his life in the UK, he was very firmly on Australia’s side when it came to an Ashes contest and in later years watched with glee as the Shane Warne era sides, generally thumped the Poms.
My uncle, Peter Hall, is the cricket nut in the family, a former Hong Kong international cricket player, he wrote the history of Hong Kong cricket and was never happier than at his 80th, when he was presented with a personally dedicated video message from Shane for him and his family.
Shane would always make time for fans around the world.
After joking around with the various cricket gear and Rob and a few others getting pictures with Shane, we decide on a quick bite to eat. The conversation ran from poker, to a planned trip to Tulum in Mexico, the upcoming IPL season and the usual assortment of golfing stories.
I have dined with Shane in many fine establishments, but rather than sample some of the local Thai fare, we tuck into a plate of Vegemite on toast. Shane chomping away: “Geez, you can’t beat Vegemite with some butter, always great wherever you are in the world”.
An Australian through and through – this was to turn out to be his last meal. Ever the caring father, as I was leaving, he headed up to his bedroom to call his kids.
What a player. What a man. The word legend is used too lightly these days, but he is and always will be a legend. He was simply the best.
None of us here are aware of Shane having visited a doctor, though he had complained to a friend of some chest pains and shortness of breath. He knew he was a bit overweight and was getting back into training harder. His travel companions from Australia did everything they could, the local ambulance crews got there fast. There were no unusual circumstances. The Australian embassy in the form of various consuls general and Australian Ambassador, Allan McKinnon have pulled out all the stops and are down here themselves helping us get Shane back to his family as fast as we can. Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne has also actively provided support and help throughout.
Keith, Brooke, Jacko, Summer, I am so sorry for your loss and will see you soon.
I will miss my friend, but I will always smile and laugh when I think of him.