Winston Aldworth

Winston Aldworth is the Herald's Travel Editor.

Melbourne: Inside the temple of Warnie

Winston Aldworth visits a modern tribute to one of cricket's traditional folk heroes

Shane Warne attends the unveiling of his statue at the MCG. Photo / Getty Images
Shane Warne attends the unveiling of his statue at the MCG. Photo / Getty Images

Sitting on the bleachers in a small darkened room beneath the mighty Melbourne Cricket Ground, the tension is palpable. We're about to come face to face with a true Aussie legend.

Half the room in the Australian National Sports Museum is given over to a mock-up of a cricket dressing-room. A couple of dozen visitors wait for their audience with Shane Warne. Well, a hologram version of Shane Warne.

We're there for the 15-minute holograph show Cricket Found Me, in which Warne talks us through his career at the top. This is heaven for a cricket nut.

Yet when the man who was once the most feared and mesmerising spin bowler in the world makes his holographic entrance, a brief chuckle runs through the audience. That's the Warnie Factor: The man is one part top athlete, one part comedic figure. And born in Upper Ferntree Gully, on the outskirts of Melbourne, he's all-Australian.

Despite half expecting him to open with "Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope," I found the holograph show fantastic.

He plays down the "Ball of the Century" with which he removed Mike Gatting with his first Ashes delivery and makes light of his red-top, badboy image.

In the early 1990s, the Australian cricket team divided themselves into Nerds and Julios. The Nerds were the cheap-haircutted blokes who tucked their T-shirts into their jeans and, left untended, would probably tuck their jeans into their socks - men like the Waughs and Glenn McGrath. The Julios were the Flash Harrys with their gold necklaces; playboys whose antics were as likely to grace the tabloid gossip pages as the backpage sports leads. Warne was the high priest of the Julios.

Today, engaged to Hugh Grant's former paramour Elizabeth Hurley, he strides like the Julios' resurrected buff Buddha through Australia's Big Bash T20 competition.

Warnie looks good in the holographic show.

There can be few figures in history who have attended the unveiling of a statue in their honour while looking healthier and more vigorous in real life than the statue erected to commemorate them.

Warne is one. In 2011, when the covers came off his statue outside the MCG, the real Warne's chiselled, chest-out torso could have been buffed by Michelangelo as a study for David. The statue is a tad jowly and has the more endearingly human midriff Warne sported for most of his international days.

Still, knowing his way around a pie never stopped the man from getting more than 1000 wickets in ODIs and tests.

He got a heap at the MCG. On a walking tour of the ground, the guides are all members. They volunteer their time to show visitors around the stadium, of which they're justifiably proud. Cricket fans from throughout the world come here to pay honour.

One cream seat stands out in a distant block of dark grey. (Or was it a cream seat? Perhaps it was more bone, or ivory, or off-white?) It marks the biggest six ever hit at the ground, a towering 162m walloping dished up by Simon O'Donnell to hair-replacement advocate Greg Matthews in a 1993 Sheffield Shield match. It's a long way further than many of us could carry the ball without stopping for a rest at the stairs.

I ask our guide what colour seats they've used to mark the six sixes Lance Cairns smeared around the sacred ground back in 1983. The blank look I get is only topped by the one reserved for the Indian kid who joins the tour late, wearing a big smile and, seemingly, is only there so that he can keep saying to the guide: "Things are not going so well for Australia at the moment though, are they?" Which, in the hallowed aisles of the MCG, is a bit like an Aussie traveller wandering around the Taj Mahal and declaring that recent Indian architecture isn't up to much.

The Gee's biggest crowd came when American Bible thumper Billy Graham clocked 130,000 in 1959. These days the core local religions fill it well enough - about 100,000 for an AFL grand final and about 90,000 for the Boxing Day test.

But when she sits empty, the sheer scale of Melbourne's mighty Colisseum is stunning.


Melbourne Checklist

GETTING THERE: Qantas flies daily from Auckland to Melbourne.

DETAILS: Melbourne Sports Tours shows visitors around the city and to the major events. melbournesportstours.com.au. For MCG tours, go to mcg.org.au


Winston Aldworth travelled as a guest of Tourism Victoria and Qantas.

Find out more at Australia.com

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a1 at 31 Aug 2014 00:24:43 Processing Time: 903ms