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Cricket World Revisit: Warne's ball of the century to Mike Gatting

Australia's Shane Warne
©Reuters
 

Shane Warne was a newbie, playing his first Ashes Test at a time when tearaway pacers were the talk of the town. With a single delivery, Warne brought leg spin back into the public imagination. 

 Warne, one of the greatest leg-spinners to have played the game, made his debut against India in 1992 at the Sydney Cricket Ground. However, he had a forgettable debut as he returned with figures of 1 for 150. By the time he geared up to play his first Ashes game, Warne had had some success in international cricket.

In his first five Tests his 12 wickets had come at 41.91 each, but he was coming off a good series against New Zealand where he picked up 17 wickets from three matches. But, playing his first Test in England, he was still wet behind the ears.

It was the first Test of Australia's tour of England and Ireland in 1993 being played at Manchester. England were off to a decent start on the back of Australia's first innings score of 289. At 80/1, Gooch and Gatting were at the crease.

Not wanting Gatting to settle down, Alan Border, who had earlier told Warne not to show his hand too much in the tour games, turned to the young leggie. And instantly, on the very first ball that Warne bowled, the cricketing world halted to take notice.

That regulation leg-break, drifting in and dipping suddenly to pitch just outside leg, springing away to beat Gatting's forward stretch and clipping the top of off stump - pitch-perfect.

Gatting's reaction further heightened the drama. As if in a movie, he stared back at the stumps, stood agape, looking at Gooch - who wrote in his biography that the delivery should perhaps have been defended better - and then at the umpire before dragging himself off the field in disbelief.

It was wicket-keeper Ian Healy who dubbed it as the "ball of the century", saying that he had never seen anything like it.

Behind the microphone was the iconic Richie Benaud. And, all he could say - after a brief pause obviously - was "he's done it". Commentary in those times was different. Had it been this year or someone like a Tony Greig calling the game, there would surely have been a shriek.

"The ball of the century was a fluke," Warne said in 2017. "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. As a leg-spinner, you always try to bowl a perfect leg-break every ball and I managed to do it first up which was pretty, like I said was a fluke really. 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 and the best player of spin in the England team and he is a good guy too. So to do that first up here in England, it was a very special moment."

Gatting was left clueless as England went on to lose the Test match by 179 runs. Warne returned with match figures of 8/137 and was also adjudged the Man of the Match in that game.

Warne went on to pick up 708 wickets in 145 Test matches at an average of 25.41, the second highest in Test history and rule the roost along with Muttiah Muralitharan and Anil Kumble.

For two decades, cricket had been dominated by fearsome fast bowling, led by West Indies and Australia. With a single delivery, leg spin was brought back into the public imagination. 

 

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