Melbourne: The huge poster of Shane Warne at St Kilda Cricket Club's cafeteria here is too big to ignore. But then that's the impression this club's most famous ward had on world cricket.
The life size poster of Shane Warne in his Australia colours flanked by other famous Victorians, Bill Ponsford (left), the greatest Australian batsman before Don Bradman, and former Australian Test batsman Ross Gregory, who went on to be a soldier and died in World War II (right) in the cafetaria of the Junction Oval at St Kilda yesterday. Pics/Ashwin Ferro
Stephen Wain, the Junction Oval's venue manager in the Local Organising Committee (LOC) for this World Cup, is a rather unassuming character despite having a wealth of information about the history of the iconic venue that dates back to over 150 years.
"One of our ground staff, Adam Thorne works at Lord's, so obviously our ground conditions are comparable to the best in the world," Wain told mid-day yesterday. More importantly, Wain is the Administrative Manager of the St Kilda Cricket Club for whom the Junction Oval is home ground.
And he's been around long enough to know more than a thing or two about Warne too. "I've been around a bit… 33 seasons to be precise," he said with a smile, knowing fairly well what the next question will be.
"I saw Shane Warne when he came here for the first time as a 16 or 17-year-old from Mentone Grammar in suburban Melbourne. He lived in suburban Blackrock and was recommended to us by his schoolmaster there, Andrew Lynch. At first glance, I remember him to be a chubby fella — I hope he doesn't mind me calling him that — who was primarily a batsman.
He was a cheeky character back then too," Wain said. Warne, however, didn't get a direct entry into the club. He had to work his way up here. "He first had to play Grade Three and Grade Four matches at the nearby Ross Gregory Oval. Only after doing well there did he get admission into this club," said Wain (56).
Warne honed his leg spin skills in England after his father sent him there later, but it was his St Kilda captain-coach Shaun Graf, who first felt that Warne had a better chance with the ball rather than the bat.
Warne had an almost mercurial rise from St Kilda CC. "He was first spotted by the Victorian selectors, from there he went on to play for Australia and the rest as they say is history," said Wain, adding that the legendary leg-spinner is so proud of his club that he even made an unscheduled stopover recently.
St Kilda CC administration manager Stephen Wain at the Junction Oval in St Kilda yesterday
"Around two weeks ago, Warne was in Melbourne for a Sky Sports documentary and told his crew that he would show them his club ground. He brought them here, met me and showed them around the place quite proudly."
Wain is planning another Warne visit here next year. "The club celebrates its 160th anniversary in October 2016. Warne was here for the 150th anniversary, so I'm pretty sure he'd want to be here next October too," said Wain as he rushed away to carry out his venue manager duties for the Indian and South African teams, who were scheduled to practice at the venue here yesterday.
Warne, who claimed 708 and 293 wickets in 145 Tests and 194 ODIs respectively, has always been very vocal about his love for St Kilda CC. In the club's publication Down at the Junction there's a Cricket Ground to mark its 150th year a decade back, he wrote: "There is a fraternity among cricketers and especially at St Kilda which I've always loved.
It's one of the reasons why I rate the Junction right up there among my favourite grounds. It's where it all started for me. It's amazing to think that I've been there 18 years, on and off. I thank everyone at St Kilda for helping to give me the chance."
Warne sure has done more than expected both on and off the cricket field to make that chance count. In December 2013, when the Victorian government was closing down the cricket venue due to a shortage of funds for maintenance, Warne threw his weight behind the club and pleaded with the authorities to ensure the club was not just protected, but eventually upgraded to a world-class facility.
The number of wickets Shane Warne claimed in 145 Tests for Australia from 1992 to 2007