Shane Warne bowls 'Ball of the Century'
They call it the ball of the century now, which may just be hyperbole – not many of us saw all of the rest. Whatever title it is given, it was very special indeed – Shane Warne’s introduction to The Ashes .
Mike Gatting, solid (not as solid as the pies made him and indeed Warne later on), unflappable, reputed to be one of the best English players of spin is facing Ashes debutant Shane Warne, at that time a very rare bird – a leg-spinner. It is day two of the 1993 Old Trafford Ashes test, England are 80 for 1 in reply to what looks like a disappointing 289 all out by Australia, Gatting has been in for over a quarter of an hour for just four, made in one stroke on what is a tricky wicket. Enter Shane Warne.
Warne looks like some bloke off Bondi Beach, hair bleached by the sun, zinc cream on his lips to protect against the piercing heat of Lancashire in June. Having played for – and not been retained by – Accrington in the Lancashire League ignorance is not an excuse for the war-paint. We all expect a first-ball loosener; something gentle to make sure the action is working ok. He ambles up to the wicket and bowls a leg-break that drifts right a little to pitch about 9 inches outside the leg stump and then spins viciously to hit Gatting’s off peg. The batsman had moved to leg to cover the expected spin that would threaten leg stump. But the ball has veered about 18 inches left while progressing perhaps five or six feet forwards, deviating from its original trajectory by about 35 degrees.
For me the wonderful thing about that ball was what happened afterwards. Not a bunch of nasal Aussies congratulating their team-mate with manly hugs and back-slaps, but Mike Gatting walking off the pitch then pausing to look back at the stumps. Behind his helmet visor you can see the bemused look on his face; you can see him trying to work out what the hell just happened. And at the other end umpire Dickie Bird ’s eyes are as wide as Bob Willis’s feet. Gatting shakes his head in disbelief, as if saying ‘that can’t be right – did that really happen?’
But for the next 14 years England would see plenty more of the same. Not exactly the same, as they knew what Warne could do. Sadly, however, knowing what was coming all too often didn’t mean being able to do anything about it.
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