Few in the game have ever had as much bravado as Shane Warne and none has ever been able to do what he could as a wrist spinner.
With his ripping legbreaks, unerring accuracy and natural cricketing nous, Warne was the first man to ever take 700 Test wickets and for much of his career that seemed pre-written, such was his aura.
But underneath that veneer a less confident man in need of encouragement existed.
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“You almost had to pat him on the back and tell him how good he was in certain ways,” Mark Waugh said on the first edition of The Miracle of 99, a special four-part podcast series from Fox Cricket
“He liked that reassurance and knowing that he was the man.”
It was in 1999, months out from a World Cup campaign, that the two most powerful men in the Australian team fell out, with captain Steve Waugh successfully calling for the king of spin to make way for Stuart MacGill as Australia chased a series win over the West Indies.
It was Waugh’s first series as captain and while Warne’s numbers since returning from shoulder surgery – four wickets at 94.50 – suggested it was the right call, the leggie was his second in command. The axing rocked Warne to his very core, as Robert Craddock would find out one night in his hotel room.
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Reporting on the tour, Craddock was stunned by the voice at the other end when he picked up his phone.
“I didn’t have many conversations with him hotel room to hotel room during his career, even though I spent a lot of time on the road,” Craddock recalled on the podcast. “He rang up my room and said ‘I am struggling with this and am just trying to get an outside view of it. Am I a better bowler than MacGill?
“I said ‘Look, you are. I don’t envy them making the decision because your form hasn’t been great.’
“He was really struggling with it and it really hit him like a tonne of bricks. For the wonderfully confident bowler that he was, off the field Warnie could be quite insecure.
“The bottom fell out of his world when he was dropped, there is no doubt about that.”
Allan Border, a part of Australia’s selection panel at the time and on tour with the team, had put his weight behind Warne retaining his place but ultimately lost out to the captain.
Looking back on that tumultuous period in Australian cricket, Border wonders why they didn’t simply pick Warne and MacGill together more often.
“I thought we should stick with Warnie because he’s such a great bowler,” Border recalled. “He’s only ever a wicket in his first over away from really dominating. Stephen was very adamant that he wanted to make the change and McGill was bowling well. It was done.
“In today’s game, the selector would hold sway. Back in that time the captain held sway on tour.
“Why we didn’t play them both more often I can’t quite get my head around. In this day and age they’d be playing together.”
Despite Warne’s frustrations, it proved the right call, with MacGill taking five wickets as Australia beat the Windies by 176 runs to draw the series 2-2.
Two months later Waugh and Warne would be celebrating the same triumphant World Cup campaign, with the captain averaging 79.60 with the bat and the spinner 18.05 with the ball.
The Miracle of 99 is a four-part special series brought to you by Fox Cricket.
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