Culture

An Ode To ’Shane Warne Cricket ‘99’, A Video Game That Could Have Only Existed In 1999

Shane Warne Cricket '99

On the batshit insane timeline of Australian spin king Shane Warne’s progression from cherub-faced Test match debutant to his 2016 claim on I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here that we descended from aliens, 1999 was a curious turning point.

While showing signs of the loveable rogue we know today – he was embroiled in a bookmaking scandal and had 40 cartons of spaghetti and baked beans flown to India because he didn’t like the food on tour – the superstar was still a year away from his first legit sex scandal. He’d soon top this by accosting a teen who photographed him smoking a durrie (after he’d “quit” in exchange for a lucrative nicotine gum company sponsorship), but I digress.

Arguably Warney’s greatest 1999 hit, however, was the release of Shane Warne Cricket ’99 (known elsewhere as Brian Lara Cricket) for PlayStation and PC, which must’ve softened the blow of being dropped from the test team by arch-nemesis, Steve Waugh.

The Codemasters-produced classic was the latest in a rich lineage of cricket games (including Super Nintendo’s sterling Super International Cricket) and, along with AFL 99, proved a vital bridge that year for sport-obsessed kids like me, who otherwise weren’t huge gamers. The ways in which it changed the paradigm of cricket games, and indeed sports games in general, are plentiful.

The graphics, for one, were strikingly real – like you were actually there watching a live match (admittedly while squinting and wearing glasses smeared with Vaseline) – placing the game in esteemed PS1 company. The atmosphere during gameplay, too, was much more considered than its predecessors.

Most international cricket stadiums were faithfully recreated both visually and by using sounds recorded from matches around the world, with crowd excitement escalating to suit the mood of the game. Playing in the dustbowls of India and in the West Indies made for especially fun gameplay, with screaming punters going hammer and tongs on pots, pans, drums and the boundary fence (shoutout to the guy in the Windies crowds who seems to scream “Paul!” at the top of his lungs incessantly).

…runs came as easily as Shane Warne with a Nokia 3210

The game featured eight modes, including “World Cup”, “Test series” and “Test season”, with the option to choose between nine Test playing nations and 15 World Cup nations, as well as the option to track your players’ batting and bowling averages. Perhaps the coolest mode, though, was “Classic Match”, which dropped you into crucial points of real matches from cricket history to fight your way out. Think Sri Lanka at 2/23 and chasing 241 against Australia in the 1996 World Cup final.

Codemasters did a bang-up job of recreating the patience required in the gentlemen’s (and women’s) game. You had to settle your batsman into an innings with some conservative strokes first up, lest you edge the red smudge into a slip cordon filled with blokes that somehow had four bends in their arms. But once your confidence was up, runs came as easily as Shane Warne with a Nokia 3210, until becoming harder to eke out again as you edged your way towards a ton, requiring constraint.

Pitch conditions from match to match varied, with decks, the ball and the weather deteriorating throughout tests, adding more challenges to the slower balls and googlies among the bowlers’ arsenal.

The cherry on top of all of this, though, was the commenting.

The best game commentary ever? The best game commentary ever.

Led by the caramel tones of British broadcasting legend Jonathan Agnew, with special comments from Geoffrey Boycott in his harsh Yorkshire drawl, the banter was peppered with gags (“That was so short me grandmother coulda hit it!”).

The game was also – like Warney – impeccably flawed. One of the glorious glitches you’d occasionally encounter occurred when you skied a shot straight into the air.

“It’s in the air!” Aggers would exclaim, the tension around the ground rising.

“… and dropped!” He’d say, the relief palpable on the single pixel in your batsman’s face.

Then, seconds later. “And that’s out!”

WTF?

“Caught by Matambanadzo!”

Another saw Aggers remarking, “There’s runs here,” after you’d smashed a ball out of the middle of the bat, upon which you’d inevitably tap the X key to take a run, only for him to suddenly exclaim, “There’s trouble here!” before you fell victim to a “suicidal runout”. Cheers, Aggers.

Thankfully, sometimes the bugs worked in your favour. Like when the opposition keeper would be MIA as the bowler ran in, allowing your batsmen to let the ball go past the stumps for a few cheap runs while the keeper sprinted in from square leg. Another one, according to urban legend, was that you could select a swing bowler at the start of a match and bowl the opening ball while the opposition batsman was still warming up, smashing his stumps just as the poor fella began tapping his bat on the crease.

Questionable ethics, perhaps, but it’s no sandpaper in the pocket, amirite?

The good old days

Playing Shane Warne Cricket ’99 today evokes a heady nostalgia for a golden period of Australian cricket, where losses were rare as hen’s teeth and we had an embarrassment of riches from which to select our teams. Consider the fact when you hit the auto “Select best team” option for Australia in the game, guys like Michael Di Venuto and my childhood cricket crush Michael Bevan, who were plundering whopping runs in domestic cricket, are left on the pine.

Imagine having the likes of these guys waiting in the wings during today’s shitshow, where we recently endured 113 days without an Australian men’s Test century and the stink of cheating lingers (our women cricketers, on the other hand, have been crushing it as usual).

But most importantly, Shane Warne Cricket ’99 evokes nostalgia for our youth, before sex and smartphones irreversibly altered our (and of course Warney’s) brain chemistry, and for that, I’ll forever be indebted.