Shane Warne delivers the ‘ball of the century’

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04 Jun 2020 | 05:30 AM
authorAshish Pant

Shane Warne delivers the ‘ball of the century’

On this day, in 1993 Warne bowled Mike Gatting with a peach of a delivery, one that would be spoken about for years to come

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It has been 27 years since Shane Warne bowled that ball from outside leg and whizzed past Mike Gatting's outstretched defence to dislodge the off-bail leaving the batsmen, fielders and commentators in an absolute tizzy. Much has been written and spoken about the ‘ball of the century’ all these years but the visual of it right from the time it left Warne's hand to when it pegged Gating's off-stump back is vivid in everyone's mind.

Seldom has one delivery been discussed or talked about more than Warne's dismissal of Gatting. It has a Wikipedia page dedicated to it and a song (Jiiggery Pokery by the Duckworth Lewis Method) and as Wisden puts it, "never, perhaps, has one delivery cast so long a shadow over a game, or a series".

But it was exactly that. This one delivery elevated Warne from just another leg-spinner to the game's new icon. And amazingly this was the first ball he ever bowled in an Ashes series.

Warne had arrived for the 1993 Ashes in England without much of a reputation. Few outside Australia knew of the leg-spinner's talents. He had been playing international cricket for 18 months or so in which he picked up 31 wickets in 11 Tests but despite a few good outings against West Indies and New Zealand, Warne was not much of a talking point.

All of this, however, was about to change in a matter of a few minutes. England being the gracious hosts, for the first Ashes Test at Old Trafford, in Manchester laid out a surface which looked like would take turn from the outset. Australia won the toss and elected to bat first and on the back of a clinical 124 from opener Mark Taylor scored 289 in 112.3 overs.

England got off to a good start courtesy of Michael Atherton and Graham Gooch, who put on 71 runs for the opening wicket. Merv Hughes got rid of Atherton for 19 before Allan Border decided to introduce Warne into the attack in the 28th over.

That is when the story of the ball began. The blonde-haired Warne got about setting his field, taking a long-hard look at Gatting. With the Manchester pitch settling down on the second day of a warm Friday afternoon, the batsman looked composed. Surely the 72-Test old Gatting, who was one of the better players of spin in the English team, wouldn't have a problem in facing the 23-year-old rookie. Right?

With his trademark approach to the crease, one that the cricket world would familiarise itself for the next 14 years, Warne got ready to deliver his first ball in Ashes cricket with Gatting looking on. What ensued was as much theatre as cricket.

Warne released one of his leg-spinners and with the number of revolutions he imparted, the ball drifted towards leg-stump pitching well outside on the rough. Gatting stretched his left leg towards the pitch of the ball only to see it whiz past his bat and pad to clip the off-stump.

It seemed as if the entire Old Trafford paused for a moment before realising what had happened. Wicket-keeper Ian Healy jumped about in elation, Warne pumped his fist and a flabbergasted Gatting just looked at the pitch before trudging off in amazement. He looked back at the celebrating Australia once again just to confirm whether the ball had indeed hit the stumps or was it Healy's gloves that clipped the bail.

In a matter of seconds, Warne's world had changed though he did reveal later on that all he was trying to do was bowl the perfect leg-spinner.

"The ball of the century was a fluke. It really was. I never did it again in the first ball of any time. So it really was a fluke and I think it was meant to be," Warne told ICC.

"It sort of changed my whole life really back on the field and off the field. It was one of those deliveries which all leg-spinners want to bowl and I am proud that I have bowled it, especially to someone like Mike Gatting, who was a fantastic player."

Though the delivery did not garner immediate headlines, it did lift Warne's confidence no end. He finished the match with figures of 8 for 137 and was named Player of the Match as Australia took the first Test by 179 runs.

Warne was the leading wicket-taker in the series with 34 wickets in six Tests as Australia won the Ashes 4-1. More importantly though, world cricket got its new superstar, one that would bring leg-spin into the forefront once again. It also started Warne's dominance over England in Test cricket. In 36 Tests against England, the leg-spinner picked up 195 wickets, the most for any bowler to date, at a phenomenal strike-rate of 55.2. In fact, Australia lost just one of eight Ashes series - the famous 2005 Ashes - with Warne in the side.

In a career spanning 145 Tests, Warne bamboozled the best of batsmen in world cricket. He finished with 708 wickets at 25.41, only behind Muttiah Muralitharan's 800 wickets.

While Warne's ripping leg-breaks, have their own set of highlights reel on YouTube, that ball to Gatting will always define his career.

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