Like all childhood heros, its hard to quantify what exactly it was that attracted me towards Warne. Maybe it was his bowling style - he just seemed to casually walk to the crease and effortllessly send down balls which even the finest of batsmen would find hard to handle. Or maybe it was his on field demeanour - he was always full of energy and couldn't be kept out of the game for long. It could even be his looks, or his success, but for some reason, I was well and truly hooked. Warne was my hero. I started bowling leg spin and even imitated his action. I tried to read about him as much as possible. I even had his poster in my room; no Sachin, no Azhar, only Warne. Years later, my family shifted to a new house and I had to leave the poster behind. That was probably one of my life's biggest tragedies.
In 1996, I was a smart little kid who knew all his Cricket statistics and freely shared my Cricketing knowledge with whoever I could find. Today, I might have grown up and forgotten some of the stats, but I still talk a lot about Cricket. In '96, Warne was a prodigious turner of the ball, was amazingly accurate and had a sharp Cricketing brain which was the biggest reason for his success. Today, he might have lost a lot of his turn and some of his accuracy, but he still is one of the best thinkers in the game and this is what makes him him truly great. Nobody expected Warne to be such a major force after his surgery, not many thought of him as good captaincy material and nobody expected his team to succeed in the first IPL. And yet he did. That's what made him special - he was a conjurer. He did not bother with the mundane, he only dealt with the special.
Which is why when I first heard about his retirement, I knew that I had to be there. I had never seem him play, and the thought of not watching my hero play even once was simply unbearable. So I went to the Royals' last game against Mumbai. The Royals were already out of the tournament, they were, to use a cliche, playing for pride. But all that did not matter to me, I was there just to see him play. And I was not disappointed. My eyes were always on him, right from the moment he stepped out for warm up. I saw him bowl, and I saw him take a wicket. I saw him on the field, always busy, talking to his bowlers and fielders all the time. And I saw him celebrating a victory with his team, for one last time.
I stayed back till the end since I wanted to listen to him speak. I tried to get as close to the post match ceremony as possible. But as it turned out, the audio coverage was for TV viewers only, so I never could find out what he said in his last post match speech. Yet, I stayed back, hoping that he would probably take a farewell lap. But that was not to happen. Soon after the ceremony, he started walking across the ground, away from where I was, and towards the opposite end. And as I saw him slowly walk away, it finally started to sink in. I would never see him on a Cricket ground again. All those hours spent happily watching him play tricks on the opposition batsmen, they had come to an end. This was it. I started to walk out of the ground, trying to come to terms with a Warne-less world. And by the time I turned around catch a final glimpse of him, he was already gone.
To borrow from Sir Arthur C Clarke, I stand now at the turning point between two eras. Behind me is a past to which I can never return. The childhood of my Cricketing life has come to an end. Goodbye Warnie, the last of my childhood heroes, you will be sorely missed.