Cumbrian cricket legend Paul Nixon, who knew Shane Warne on and off the field, has described the Australian icon as an irreplaceable “genius”.

Tributes have poured in from across the world after it was announced the spin-bowling great had died aged 52 after a suspected heart attack.

Former England wicketkeeper Nixon, from Langwathby, faced Warne a number of times during his career at the top of the game.

Nixon said Warne was the greatest cricketer of the modern era but also a down-to-earth person who was generous with his time.

“He had an aura about him. But he was a global superstar who had time for everybody,” said Nixon, who is head coach at Leicestershire County Cricket Club.

“Was he the fittest guy in the world as a young cricketer? No. Did he enjoy a good time? Yes. Did you want him in your team? Yes. Did he deliver under pressure? Yes.

“He turned into an Australian cult hero. People loved what he did and the way he went about his life and cricket.

“He’s loved in every continent, because he was such a good guy. He loved his fast cars and lived life to the full, but he always had time for people.

“As a player he was the difference between the Australian side and everybody else. He made them the best in the world for a decade. No question he was the difference.

“He did it when it mattered. He would change the destiny of a game in an hour and a half.

“He made leg-spin trendy again. He made quite a repetitive, dull art, as it was thought of then, exciting. He mastered it. One of the hardest things to do – he mastered it.

“He was the greatest ever. To take 708 Test wickets is unbelievable, and many of those on Australian pitches.”

Nixon told the News & Star that facing Warne in the middle was an experience like nothing else in cricket.

“It was exciting to know you were going to face him. You wanted to do it, because you wanted to see what it was like,” the Cumbrian said.

“Every ball was a massive event. You knew he was on the money and would ask questions.

“You’d think, ‘How’s he gonna try and work me out here?’ Because you knew he had so much armoury and he’d mastered every ball he bowled.

“He had it all. Whether under pressure in World Cup finals and the biggest games of your life, or on a cold, miserable Hampshire early-April game – he would do it. He was always there.

“It was so exciting.”

Nixon said that on the rare occasions you enjoyed success against Warne, he was generous in how he reacted.

“I had one really good day against him,” Nixon said. “I was playing for Kent against Hampshire at Canterbury. He’d only just got back from Australia, and testament to him, he played.

“I got runs against him. It was my day. And he was the first to congratulate me and say, ‘I was in a battle there, mate’.

“Warney always had time to say, ‘Well played’. He invited me and other guys into the dressing room because he loved the game and wanted to talk about the game.

“He was a superstar who would turn up in whatever supercar he was driving at the time, but he’d stay in the dressing room longer than anybody else, to help a young lad or give someone a bit of advice.

“Everywhere he went in the world he was like that. It’s easy for superstars to go, ‘Sorry, I’ve got no time for this, I’ve got to go’. But Warney had time for people. He did a lot for the game.”

Nixon said the Australian legend also reached out in other ways.

“Any time anybody had a benefit game, Warney would go to a dinner or help them in another way.

“He did a dinner for me in London, didn’t charge a penny, was last to leave, brought memorabilia to sell, and would always help you and your charities. Just a solid bloke.

“He earned everyone’s respect not just as a cricketer but as a bloke. We’ve lost a great man who touched a lot of people’s lives.”

Asked if Warne was the greatest ever, Nixon felt that, certainly in the modern era, he was untouchable.

“Murali [Muttiah Muralitharan] played on wickets in his home, Sri Lanka, which were spinning minefields that spat at you. Warney did it everywhere. Some of the Ashes series he won were unbelievable.

“He was the difference between the two teams. Others were world class – and he was a genius.

“Of the modern game, I think he’s been the greatest. He made cricket cool and fun again.”