Almost 70,000 fans poured into the MCG on Monday to see Australia host South Africa and pay tribute to the late great Shane Warne.
It’s the first Boxing Day Test since Warne’s death stunned the cricket world back in March and the punters turned out in droves to pay their respects.
Thousands of Australian fans were wearing wide brim hats in a nod to the leg-spin legend who often wore one instead of his baggy green.
Bruce Williamson has been living in New York for the past five years but is back home for the Christmas break with his American partner Ally Coll.
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The couple stood with the rest of the heaving crowd at 3:50pm as play was stopped for a minute for fans to cheer and wave their hats in a nod to Warne, who was Australia’s 350th Test cricketer.
Williamson told Coll that attending the Boxing Day Test was a must on her first visit to Australia, especially in the wake of Warne’s death.
“Warnie’s 700th wicket, Ashes 2007, he bowled Andrew Strauss and took off, they couldn’t catch him that day. That’s definitely my favourite Warnie moment,” Williamson said.
“It’s just really special for me to be here today because he’s like the Babe Ruth of baseball. This is my first time at a cricket match and it’s exciting to be able to honour his legacy,” Coll added.
Zac Bampton, 29, said Warne inspired him to bowl leg spin and 20 years later he’s still rolling the arm over for the Flemington Colts Cricket Club.
“My favourite memories that will stick with me forever is Warnie bowling blokes around their legs, it doesn’t get better,” Bampton said.
“He’s the reason I’m a leg-spinner and that ball is the reason I bowl leggies, it was a game-changer.
“That and his wrong’uns. I had my own Shane Warne King of spin ball and I’d just sit in the backyard and practice and I just practice the way he held the ball, it made my childhood.
“Also just as a batsman having a laugh, him and Glenn McGrath seeing who’d have more ducks and then coming out and making the 99 and thinking he could get down on one knee and slog weep it, he was just a character that made the game so much better and so much more enjoyable.”
Aussies touching tribute to Shane Warne | 00:45
Jack Lind, 22, plays for West Bairnsdale Cricket Club and was wearing his wide brim on Monday in tribute to Warne.
“He was a character and we all miss him as a cricketer and off the field as well,” Lind said.
“The hats are a nod to him, got to pay your respects to an absolute champion of the game and he was perfect for Australian cricket.
“His 700th wicket and the hat-trick as well, big Mervyn taking that catch at bat pad, were both pretty special.
“Look at Scotty Boland now, look how much he loves it out there. I’m sure Warnie with 95,000 here against England playing against Kevin Pietersen and that, he would have loved it.
“We love sport in Australia and he’s the definition of it.”
Fellow West Bairnsdale cricketer Bradley Daniel, 22, added: “He was an icon. He was just one of the boys, everyone felt like they knew him.”
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Daniel Fraser, 31, said the ‘Gatting Ball’ was his favourite Warne delivery but added witnessing the 700th wicket at the MCG was a close second.
“I was 12 or 13 and I was here, I remember it,” Fraser said.
“Even when he was playing T20, anything he did, people watched and it was the best. He could spin it that far.”
James Murphy, 29, declared “Warnie is Australia cricket” and was also donning a floppy hat.
“We heard about it, got a couple of my mates to grab me one because Warnie was everything,” Murphy said.
“Whenever the ball got put in his hand, anything could happen. We loved the man.”
South African Youtuber Neil Buckenham, 28, was interviewing people for his channel Unbuckled Discussions, and said Warne was loved across the globe.
Warner reflects on 100th Test milestone | 02:51
“What I liked about Shane is he was always very inclusive with the whole cricketing world, whether it was India or South Africa,” he said.
“I know he loved to play in SA, he had a great record there as well. He was also good for a bit of banter, he was always giving it to the South Africans and the Indians but he would also take a joke.
“It was good to see someone who was such a successful spinner on all parts of the world and could compete with the Indians in the subcontinent.
“It was hard to hate him, I never really liked the Australian team because you guys always beat us but Shane Warne I always loved.
“Especially in his later years, I loved him as a commentator.”
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