The Life of Warnie

We revisit cricket legend Shane Warne’s Letter to My Younger Self, in which he revealed the importance of good manners, good friends and good scents.

I was like every other 16-year-old boy in Victoria, wanting to play AFL football. I tried all sports. I loved my cricket, loved my tennis, I loved the beach in the summer. Me and my mates used to kick the footy around all the time. I wanted to be an AFL footballer, but wasn’t quite good enough. I was lucky that cricket found me. School got in the way of sport to be honest.

Year 12 has always been tough, but I think sometimes the schools put too much pressure on the kids. Some of the kids doing Year 12 now are under so much pressure. There’s not a lot of schooling you use in the real world, but having said that, you still need to go through it and work out what you like, what you don’t like. It’s very important to get an education the best way you possibly can.

When I went to school and mucked around you got sent to the principal’s office, Keith Jones at Mentone Grammar, and you got six of the best and it hurt. So if you chose to fool around in class, be a disruptive influence, be an idiot, you copped it. Some of it seems a bit barbaric – “What, he used to practise his golf swing on your behind?” – but it worked – it gave you discipline. It’s tough for teachers these days. If you have a kid that is disruptive in the classroom, there’s really no power or fear to hold over them. There’s just detention. Whoopy-do.

Discipline’s a really important part of life. I mean, everyone needs discipline. You can’t just do what you like. Teenagers have so many more choices now, so many distractions. Things are so easy to get, whatever they might be into – alcohol, drugs. Back in my day, you know, we played sports. I never got caught with the wrong crowd. I was always just sport, sport, sport. We loved a beer, but that was as far as it went by way of experimenting. I saw the other side, too, though. What drugs can do. Unfortunately some of my closest friends I grew up with got involved in the wrong crowd and they got off the rails and led down a path that, uh, you know, I wish they never had. It’s affected them and their families big time later in life. That’s why I’ve never touched drugs.

My parents were my heroes, and my biggest influences. When I think what my dad had to go through in life and what he did for us – providing us with a home and sending us to the best schools, [giving us] the opportunity to play sport, driving me and my brother around to all our sporting things, being there and supporting us – that was really so good. And they never interfered; they weren’t pushy. I really respect that and I’m grateful for what my parents did for me growing up. They were strict, created a great environment and brought me up knowing the difference between right and wrong.

The biggest lessons I learnt from my dad are that nothing comes easy, hard work will pay off and manners are free.

My mum is a really good reader of people. I’ve watched Mum, and she can sum up a person within five minutes. So I learnt my social skills, people skills, from Mum. I learnt respect from my mum. Manners were huge with Mum too, like respecting your elders. And the little things, like making sure your room is clean. When I was captain of Rajasthan Royals and Victoria and Hampshire, I wanted us to have the cleanest rooms of all the teams. That may sound small or insignificant, but it’s really important. I also wanted us to be the most liked team off the field. For instance at Hampshire when we finished in the dressing room, we wouldn’t just leave the room a mess with tape or drinks and bottles and everything, but put it all in the bin, clean up after ourselves. After tea you’d take your plate off the table, give it back to the ladies and say thank you. My mum taught me that. She taught me to respect people. I pride myself on those little things. And that’s something I’ve instilled in my children. They’re very respectful and very well-mannered, although they’re not really kids anymore. They’re very grateful for their opportunities and what they have. People never forget good manners – or if you smell good. Always smell nice and have good manners.

It’s not easy, dealing with disappointment. My dream was to play AFL football and I was shattered when I got the letter from St Kilda telling me my services were no longer required [Warne played under-19s and reserves with St Kilda]. That was heartbreaking for me. It can go two ways when your dream is shattered – you can blame the world and say it’s someone else’s fault, or you can be more inspired and try harder at the next thing. So when I got the chance at cricket I made sure I wasn’t going to fail at that. I trained my absolute ring off, and it paid off in the end.

In sport we all have coaches but sometimes they can’t do everything; they can’t satisfy every single need you have. So I had a mentor, Terry Jenner, and I connected with him big time straight away, learning from his life lessons, some of the things that he didn’t do well enough. He didn’t want me to make the same mistakes he did. [Jenner played Test cricket and later served jail time for embezzlement to pay gambling debts.]

When you’re younger you think you know better, and there’s too many people out there that think they know everything. But I was lucky that I was inquisitive. I had a mind that wanted to learn. I didn’t know everything, but I wanted to learn as much as I could. And I think like anything – you hear the information, then it’s up to you what you do with it. Now it might not work for you. For me, it’s little things like having a notepad and pen next to the bed. It’s for those little thoughts, whatever they might be, that come to you – family, fathering, things I want to do, and I just stop whenever they come into my head. So put a pen and paper next to the bed – it’ll help you.

I was – I am – very lucky to have good people around me. There’s so many sharks and hangers-on. If you’ve got three or four friends that would do anything for you – and you’d drop everything and do the same for them, be there for them when they needed you – that’s really important. It’s not about having 100 friends; it’s about having a few good friends that you would do anything for, and vice-versa. I’m lucky to have two or three friends like that. Sure, I have a lot of friends and acquaintances and people I know, but it’s those three or four close friends that count. I think that’s important.

We all make mistakes, always. I’m gonna make plenty more and I’m 50. So it’s about how you deal with them. It’s about taking responsibility for your actions. You can always blame someone else and have an excuse. But I’ve never pretended to be anything I’m not, and I think that’s why people still like me, and they miss me playing. I think they think “What you see is what you get with him”. It’s always been “If I make a mistake, I’m sorry”. People respect you for taking ownership of your mistakes and responsibility for your actions. Simple as that.

There’s no point pretending. Like, I don’t like fancy restaurants – you have to go through the drive-in at McDonald’s on the way home – the serves are so small. Give me a red-and-white tablecloth, a spag bol, some garlic bread, a beer and I’m happy.

There’s a time and place for everything. Perception doesn’t always equal reality. People think I go out every night and all this other stuff – it’s just not true. I like being at home with my kids and my friends and playing Galaga on the old Space Invaders machine. We watch movies and just hang. I love that stuff.

I’m so grateful. I’ve achieved so much I never thought I would. To set up my own foundation and give away millions of dollars to sick and underprivileged children… We saved lives. There are people still on this planet because of what the Shane Warne Foundation did. We helped them. We mentored them. We did so many great things. It’s a shame in the end that it stopped – the kids were the biggest losers out of it. I’m proud of that, to have been able to give back and help. And I’ll continue to do that. I don’t need big accolades for it. Like donating the baggy green [which fetched more than $1 million for bushfire aid]. It’s raising more now as it travels around the country, and it’s got a couple of months to go, so hopefully it’ll top two million bucks. Extraordinary really.

If there was one day in my life I could go back to? Oh wow. Geez. Never been asked that. Umm. I would love to be there for the birth of all of my children. I was only there for one of them. Unfortunately cricket then, you didn’t miss games. Once I was on an Ashes tour, the other time a World Cup. I missed the birth of my eldest, Brooke – but flew home for two days – and my son, Jackson. I saw my youngest daughter’s birth, Summer. That’s the way it was then. Yeah, I’d go back there.

By Michael Epis Contributing Editor.

First Published in The Big Issue, Ed#605, February 2020.