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Sixty-six Warnes to watch over Australia

Sixty-six images of Shane Warne will watch over Australia’s cricketers in Galle as they fight to retain the trophy named in the late legspinner’s honour.

Two months after his sudden death, Australia and Sri Lanka will play for the Warne-Muralitharan Trophy that they have not won on foreign soil since 2011.

Wednesday’s first Test will also be dedicated to the Victorian, with a moment’s silence to be observed before play and Warne’s brother Jason expected to be in attendance.

Warne was loved worldwide, but in few places is that admiration greater than in Galle, a city he helped rebuild after the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami.

The Galle International Stadium itself is a product of Warne’s work, after he helped raise $1 million for it to be saved after the disaster.

Just 10 kilometres down the road also lies the village of Seenigama, which was completely destroyed before Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan offered it second life with the Foundation of Goodness.

It’s part of the reason why Warne and Muralitharan’s faces are plastered across the southern end of the stadium, with Warne shown 66 times and Muralitharan 55.

Accompanying banners read “Grand Masters of Spin”, “Undisputed Game Changers” and “Legends are Created with Time.”

Warne’s face will likely outnumber the amount of Australians in the crowd, with around 50 having flown over for the two-Test series.

It’s fitting though, given how dominant Warne was in Sri Lanka as Australia’s leading wicket-taker in the country.

“It’s really where he announced himself to himself,” Warne’s first Test captain Allan Border told AAP.

For all the replays and memories of the famous Gatting ball in 1993, arguably the most important spell in the past 40 years of Australian cricket was delivered in Colombo a year earlier.

With Sri Lanka needing 34 to win and with four wickets in hand, Warne was thrown the ball and produced his first match-winning performance for Australia.

“We always thought there was something worth sticking with, with this guy, there’s just something about him,” Border said.

“But it was about how are we going to unearth it all and blood it and use it properly. It all just happened after that spell in Sri Lanka.

“You could really just see his game go to another level once he took those three wickets.”

Untelevised back home, Warne’s spell of 3-0 wrapped up Australia’s second win in Asia in 23 years.

But more importantly, it was the catalyst for the career of the nation’s finest ever bowler.

Until that point, Warne had taken 1-346 across his first four-and-a-half innings as a Test bowler.

And given he suffered a foot injury that ruled him out of the next Test, it’s not inconceivable to think Warne may have faced a long struggle to return to the Australian team if not for his Colombo heroics.

“At tea during the second innings, I retreated to myself,” Warne wrote in his 2018 autobiography, No Spin.

“‘Jesus, I’ve done all this work, trained my arse off and I’m still getting hammered. Maybe cricket isn’t my go’.”

Warne had gone for nine runs in his last over before tea on day five, before Border made the gutsy call to bring him back on and reignite his career.

“I thought ‘oh no, no, no, no, no you can’t be serious (when Border told me to warm up)’,” Warne recalled.

“‘This could be me done and dusted in a couple of overs. You can’t do this to me, not now, not with so much at stake’.”

History shows it was anything but the end of Warne, rather the start.

Warne got one to bounce out of the rough to have Pramodya Wickramasinghe caught at cover, drew Don Anurasiri’s leading edge and wrapped the match up by claiming Ranjith Madurasinghe on the drive.

Highlights that now look like classic Warne, but in reality show the spell that was the making of him.

“He was bowling well. It wasn’t as if he was bowling rubbish deliveries,” Border said.

“I just had to trust him. It was a huge call, because he was a bit down in the dumps where it had started for him.

“He just needed to work on some variations, and what to do when guys went after him.

“That’s just game play. And that came in spades after that.

“It sounds simple, but it’s amazing how much that changed his own perception of himself, where he was at.

“Just that simple: ‘I can handle this. I landed the ball really well, I didn’t panic and bowl long-hops and cost us the game’.”

By the time Warne next returned to Sri Lanka in Test cricket in 1999 he was the world’s best bowler, on the verge of being named one of Wisden’s five cricketers of the 20th century.

He starred in the country again in 2002 with 11 wickets in a Test against Pakistan, before taking 26 wickets at 20.03 in his return series from his drug ban in 2004.

Warne’s legacy remains not only at Galle’s Stadium, but in the Warne-Muralitharan trophy the two teams have played for since 2007-08.

A trophy that now takes on added meaning for this tour.

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