The last time I saw Shane Warne was the second day of the day-night Ashes Test in Hobart, in early January.
It was a couple of overs before the end of the first session of play and he had made his way onto Bellerive Oval with fellow commentator and ex-England skipper Michael Vaughan with their production crew to host the interval segment for Fox Sports.
The sun was still high enough to bathe the section where Warne stood in the sunlight as he leant lazily against one of the pylons that the sightscreen moved along.
I was a patron at the cricket that day, seated just behind him in the stand named after Warne’s teammate, David Boon, who famously took the catch to complete Warne’s Test hat-trick against England in 1994.
A handful of self-assured kids motioned Warne for a selfie from over the rail of the stand, to which he happily obliged.
Other young fans, perhaps not as confident as the first, were obviously emboldened by what they were witnessing, and phones were prised from parents’ hands as a great wave of children and teenagers descended to the fence.
He walked up and down that line for 10 minutes flashing a genuine smile. It was the same smile that he flashed in his playing days, the one that at the top of his run-up terrified batsmen around the world for 15 years. Now it sits in all the phones they were taken on as priceless memories.
This trait of Shane Warne — his humility, transparency and openness to all — has been articulated so much in the media since his passing 27 days ago, but I wondered how did Warne captivate the everyday Australian?
‘My whole life he’s always been around’
It’s two hours before Warne’s memorial as a train pulls in to Caulfield station. As it slows, in one window an Australian cricket cap atop someone’s head flashes past, and I run to jump on that carriage.
The cap belongs to Kevin Hibbert, a Melburnian and cricket tragic who often travels to the UK for The Ashes.
“He just had the consummate skill, fierce determination, but was a lovely fella … generous, kind,” he says.
“He was loved by all the English. He was their greatest opponent and their greatest friend. A once-in-10-generations cricketer.”
Carol Howell arrives at Richmond station for the service, having come from Pakenham. Ms Howell has little interest in cricket but loves Warne.
“Even though I could’ve watched it on TV I wanted to come. We parked the car in Dandenong and we don’t care when we get home tonight,” she says.
Walking from the train station to the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the mood is hard to put a finger on. Sombre would be wrong. A universal respect permeates around the outside of the ground.
Many are drawn to Warne’s statue; homage manifesting in thousands of selfies and Instagram stories.
Warne’s reflection catches in Kane Walker’s sunglasses.
“He was just a good Victorian … My whole life he’s always been around and now he’s gone,” Mr Walker says.
The service begins and soon after, Warne’s father Keith moves to the lectern. Watching from up on high in the third tier, I witness a lone bird fighting against the wind, staying almost in one spot just above the roof.
What a beautiful moment as Warne’s dad says how much the parents will miss their son. However, on closer inspection through the lens the bird is in fact a solitary kite tied to the awning, hopefully it’s poetry not diminished by others that were watching it from afar.
Walking down to the lower levels I run into Mathew Blenkiron. He’s one of the few people that have brought some paraphernalia with them, a home-made flag with Warne’s number 23 coupled with the Australian standard.
Mr Blenkiron has spent the day travelling by train from the South Australian town of Mount Gambier. It’s his first time at the MCG,
“It’s hard being here,” he says.
“He was my favourite. When I was eight I got a Shane Warne Spin King ball for Christmas (a cricket ball that had instructions on it of where to place each finger to get it to spin like Warne).
“I couldn’t use it but my brother picked it up quickly and kept getting me out.”
Just as Noiseworks frontman Jon Stevens starts singing some of Warne’s favourite rock ballads, the wind significantly picks up, creating an added sense of theatre to the performance in the middle of this colosseum, where Warne was so often the ringmaster.
With the music comes emotion from those in attendance.
Camille Hugh closes her eyes to listen to Stevens’s rendition of INXS classic Never Tear Us Apart.
Her introduction to Warne was with his cameo on Kath and Kim.
As the service draws to its conclusion, I spot six-year-old George Miles, dressed in full Test whites including a replica baggy green. He’s probably the youngest someone could be that may still have a memory of the service tonight when they’re an adult.
I press his father Paul about why it was important to bring him along tonight.
“So it’s something he could always talk about. He’s cricket mad. It’s a good way to learn about people passing away, he probably won’t go to a more fun funeral,” Mr Miles says.
Warne’s appeal was that everyone could relate to him. He was flawed but he wore his mistakes. Matt Santos, the fictional Democratic Presidential nominee in The West Wing, explained that in the show’s penultimate season.
“We’re all broken, every single one of us, and yet we pretend that we’re not,” the character portrayed by Jimmy Smits says.
“We all live lives of imperfection and yet we cling to this fantasy that there’s this perfect life and that our leaders should embody it. But if we expect our leaders to live on some higher moral plane than the rest of us, well we’re just asking to be deceived.”
The service finishes with Warne’s three children unveiling the new naming of the Great Southern Stand in their father’s honour.
Although he will never again weave his magic on the field, his name sitting high above Bay 13 means his memory will live on.