Green takes his chants on Warne’s special day

Green channels Warne on Boxing Day as Warner starts brightly

It wasn’t so much that Shane Warne’s shadow hung heavily over the first Boxing Day Test since his premature passing.

While the zinc-plastered faces and floppy hat-encased heads that gathered in the grandstand since named in the late legend’s honor ensured his memory remained as indelible as Warne’s Test number (350) painted on his beloved MCG’s turf, today proved an occasion more celebratory than sorrowful.

Indeed, Warne’s ethereal presence seemed more akin to the gentle breeze that softened Melbourne’s summer sun as footage of his famous exploits was played on giant video screens pre-game to ensure he remained central to the day’s conversations, as he was perennially during his pomp.

A nod to Shane Warne’s Test cap number on the MCG turf

But by his own admission, Warne’s remarkable life was forever entangled with enduring myths and his central role on Boxing Day has seemingly become another.

While undoubtedly a drawcard to Australia cricket’s most auspicious day, truth be told Warne was more often rendered as much a spectator as the 64,876 who attended today’s opening of the second NRMA Insurance Test between Australia and South Africa.

The world’s most successful leg-spinner played 11 Tests at his home ground, all of which began on Boxing Day except for the 1994 Ashes encounter that kicked off Christmas Eve before resuming on December 26.

Australia players watch a video tribute to Warne prior to play on Boxing Day // Getty

Of those remaining ten, six of them saw Australia bat throughout day one which meant Warne was not required to bowl a single delivery and rarely needed to venture to the middle.

On another – the 1996 Test against West Indies – Australia were dismissed in the 75th over on Boxing Day leaving less than an hour for Warne to weave any magic behind new ball pair Glenn McGrath and Paul Reiffel, and he went to stumps wicketless.

Likewise in 2001, when Melbourne’s rain reduced the day to just 40 overs of which Warne bowled one and saw South Africa all-rounder Jacques Kallis belt him for six moments before play was abandoned.

Prior to his final MCG Test against England in 2006, Warne’s only Boxing Day wicket was in 2004 when Pakistan’s stand-in skipper Mohammad Yousuf was stumped around his legs when he missed a wide full toss having scored a memorable century, with Warne’s day one figures showing 1-100.

However, in keeping with his capacity to append fanciful punchlines to the scripts he often claimed were written in soap opera-style, he starred in his final MCG Ashes Test outing with 5-39 including his 700th scalp having dramatically announced his retirement days earlier.

And so Warne’s reputation as a star performer on Boxing Day was born

No Australia bowler had claimed a Boxing Day five-for since Warne until today, when Cameron Green announced himself as a bowler of rare quality and threat in much the same way Warne had done 30 years ago at the same venue, when he scythed through the then-mighty West Indies.

Green lights up Boxing Day with maiden Test five-for

Green was aged seven in 2006 when Warne famously rattled Andrew Strauss’s stumps to reach 700 Test wickets before knocking over the England lower-order, as did the all-rounder to South Africa this afternoon.

It’s therefore doubtful Green holds any clear memories outside of the oft-revisited video tributes it spawned.

But he understands the symbolic significance of the Melbourne Test’s opening day, and its place in the nations sporting psyche.

“Everyone’s focus is on Boxing Day,” Green said at day’s end, when asked whether producing his finest Test moment thus far on such a poignant date was the stuff of dreams.

“It’s a fixture that you point out at the start of the year, and you look forward to.”

Lyon stoked to see hard-working Green get reward

While Warne’s Boxing Day legend might be clouded in the mists of mis-remembering, his wider legacy is deservedly forged on his unrivaled capacity to deliver when the biggest moments beckoned.

It can be argued Green rose to meet one of those today, although the unassuming 23-year-old can’t quite be sure if it was fate or lack of alternatives that delivered him his latest fortune.

South Africa pair Kyle Verreynne and Marco Jansen were mounting a dogged rearguard fight that had produced more than 100 runs in a sixth-wicket stand lasting more than three hours.

Having deployed himself and fellow new-ball bowler Mitchell Starc prior to tea without breaking the pair’s stubborn union, Australia skipper Pat Cummins resumed after the break with Scott Boland who found a similar lack of success before needing to be spelled.

Nathan Lyon was operating from the Warne Stand end throughout that stanza, and when Starc damaged the middle finger on his left (bowling) hand diving to try and take a catch off Lyon’s bowling that required him to immediately leave the field, the options for Australia instantly became fewer.

So Green took the ball, not knowing if that was always the plan or whether he was simply stepping into the void created by Starc’s sudden vacancy, and immediately altered the course of the day – and his own history.

“I always have a think about what the captain’s thinking, especially being that fifth bowler,” Green said today, adding he was unsure of Starc’s injury prognosis and whether he would therefore be required to shoulder an extra load in South Africa’s second innings.

“You think ‘have the main quicks had a rest yet?’, and I was thinking potentially they’d bring back Starcy.”

Lethal Labuschagne on target to spoil Elgar’s Boxing Day

Instead, Green claimed 4-7 in a remarkable two-over spell and then raised the ball for the euphoric crowd to acknowledge his maiden Test five-for, in the same manner Warne had in his final Boxing Day outing 16 years earlier.

There was also a distant chant of ‘Greeny, Greeny’ that emerged from the sun-bathed public section at the foot of the Shane Warne Stand, although that same section of crowd had earlier in the day shown how resolutely old habits can linger.

When today’s play paused momentarily at 3.50pm to formally remember Warne – in keeping with his Test cap number – a chorus not heard since Boxing Day 2006 again filled the vast arena as Lyon later attested.

“It was unbelievable to see the reception we gave him at 3.50, and also before play,” Lyon told this evening, adding the team still finds it difficult to come to terms with Warne’s passing earlier this year.

“Words can’t really do it justice.

“It was pretty special that I was bowling there (at 3.50pm).

“In my head, I was like ‘this is pretty amazing’ hearing the crowd chant ‘Warnie’ at the top of your mark – that’s something I’d thought I’d never experience.

“It was pretty incredible – spine tingling.”

Men’s NRMA Insurance Test Series v South Africa

First Tests: Australia won by six wickets

Dec 26-30: Second Test, MCG, 10.30am AEDT

Jan 4-8: Third Test, SCG, 10.30am AEDT

Australia squad: Pat Cummins (c), Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Lance Morris, Nathan Lyon, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, David Warner

South Africa squad: Dean Elgar (c), Temba Bavuma, Gerald Coetzee, Theunis de Bruyn, Sarel Eree, Simon Harmer, Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Heinrich Klaasen, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Kagiso Rabada, Rassie van der Dussen, Kyle Verreynne, Lizaad Williams Khaya Zondo

Buy #AUSvSA Test tickets here

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