HIS Test career spanned 15 years, encompassing 145 appearances and 708 wickets. He also played in 194 One-Day internationals, claiming 293 victims, and was a World Cup winner in 1999. After retiring from playing, he was a regular and much-loved presence in commentary boxes around the world. Yet when it comes to remembering Shane Warne, who died of a suspected heart attack at the age of 52 yesterday, most cricket fans will distill everything the Australian achieved into just one ball.

What a ball though. The Ball of the Century, a delivery that still has the ability to take the breath away some 29 years on. The footage that has been replayed endlessly since the news of Warne’s death was announced yesterday afternoon begins with the leg-spinner ambling up towards the wicket at Old Trafford, with his peroxide-tinged hair making him look more like a singer in a boyband than a Test bowler.

As he reaches the crease, his body twists in a whirling motion that would become reassuringly familiar over the course of the next decade-and-a-half, and his right arm rips through in an arc before the ball is released.

Even now, as it pitches at least half-a-foot outside Mike Gatting’s leg stump, there appears to be no chance at all of it troubling the wickets, yet as Gatting casually tucks his bat behind his pads, so the ball careers almost at right angles, fizzing past the batsman before cannoning into the middle and off stumps.

What happens next is almost as instructive as the quality of the delivery itself. Gatting looks down at the pitch, his face betraying a mixture of fury and shock. The camera pans to umpire Dickie Bird, resplendent in white, who appears even more uncertain of what has just gone on. Then suddenly, centre screen, there is Warne, being hugged by his jubilant team-mates and wearing an expression that betrays not surprise, but satisfaction. Yes, that was his first Test delivery in England. So, Warne being Warne, he was always going to make sure it was a good one.

“We often spoken about it, and I’m not sure he expected it to spin that much,” said Gatting, who was one of a host of greats to pay tribute to Warne yesterday. “He said he just tried to get it down the other end the best he could. Well, it was a bit too good for me.

“The nice thing, I suppose, is that he always said, ‘Thanks for that mate – it started my career off’. All I could say was that it was a bit too good for me, like many others who would suffer the same fate.

“A lot of the time, I would say that I don’t mind him doing that having got 700 Test wickets. I would have been upset with it if he’d only got 37! He was just hugely inspirational and loved the game.”

That love of cricket, and love of life, was what made Warne such an endearing and popular character. He should have been a sworn enemy of English cricket fans given that he was involved in six successive Australian Ashes series victories, but with his swashbuckling style and larger-than-life approach to the sport, he was impossible to dislike.

He transformed the art of spin bowling at a time when it was going out fashion, paving the way for a generation of spinners whose first thought was to attack rather than defend. It is largely down to Warne’s attacking outlook as a leg spinner that spin bowling has become such a pivotal part of T20 cricket, and while his career might not have overlapped with international T20s, it is no coincidence that he was one of the early stars of the Indian Premier League, captaining Rajasthan Royals to the title in 2008.

While in many ways he was your archetypal Australian - beer-swilling, hell-raising and party-loving – Warne always loved England and English cricket’s traditions. He played five seasons of county cricket with Hampshire – losing a Friends Provident Trophy final to Durham at Lord’s – and forged deep, lifelong friendships with many of the English players he had once tortured on the field.

“Shane was the greatest ever cricketer, but more than that, his character lit up every dressing room, commentary box, bar, golf club and friendship group,” said former England captain Michael Vaughan. “His energy and positivity was beyond anyone I have ever known. He was loyal beyond loyal.

“I will never ever forget the warmth he and his family gave me this winter when I was Down Under for Christmas alone. To say I spent Warney’s last Christmas with him and his family is so sad, but one (memory) I will cherish.”

Warne’s final moments as an international cricketer came in the 2006-07 Ashes, a series that fittingly ended in a 5-0 Australian whitewash, and he retired from all formats of the game in 2013, although he donned his whites for a final time in the summer of 2014 when he captained the Rest of the World in the Bicentenary Celebration match at Lord’s.

His post-playing commentary days won him the admiration of a new generation of fans, entranced by his maverick, mischievous but always incisive personality.

“He literally was the greatest showman,” said another former England skipper, Sir Andrew Strauss. “There were other great cricketers, who when you look at their record would potentially equal Shane’s or maybe even better them, but there was no greater star in cricket than Shane Warne.”