Three decades on, Warne’s Gatting ball is still the one


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Has one ball ever changed the course of sporting history as much as Shane Warne’s to Mike Gatting?

A ball that drifted, dipped, turned, took the top of Gatting’s off stump and landed the late legspinner a place in cricketing lore.

Sunday marks 30 years since the game’s most famous delivery.
The ball of the century, as it was labelled by Sunday Times journalist Robin Marlar at the time and has since become enshrined.

Warne’s ball to Gatting at Old Trafford wasn’t the best of his storied 15-year Test career.

It perhaps wasn’t even the best ball he had bowled to that point, with his flipper to Richie Richardson at the MCG in 1992 a serious contender.
But no other ball had the impact of Warne’s to Gatting.

In the space of an eight-step walk in and one second of drift and spin the dying art of leg spin had been revived.

A generation of Australian kids wanted to bleach their hair and become slow bowlers, while an era of English batsmen were left in a decade of daze.

“A cult had appeared from nothing in the UK and I was it,” Warne wrote in his 2018 autobiography No Spin.

“I was 23 years old and wherever I went it suddenly felt like there was a kid with ice cream on his nose, trying to bowl legspin.”

Warne himself was the first to admit the title of ball of the century was questionable.

“It was as if it was an all-time classic song: y’know, Honky Tonk Women’ or ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’,” Warne penned.

Hit around in his first tour match in England, Warne subsequently admitted he had begun to doubt himself ahead of the first Test.

But as was the case so often throughout the remainder of his soap opera career, the showman knew when to best choose his moment.

And no moment could be as fitting as his first ball in Test cricket in England.

“I remember letting go of the ball and it felt great. It couldn’t have come out any better,” Warne wrote.

“It happens in half a second but seems to take forever. It floats and swerves and dips. I like it, really like it.

“It pitches outside leg-stump and spins. Boy, does it spin! I like it more.
“Gatt plays half-forward, down the line of leg-stump, and misses. The ball hits the top of off.

“Momentarily the world stood still. Everyone, it seemed, was frozen in shock.”

In that moment, Warne’s career had been changed forever.

One of Wisden’s five greatest cricketers of the 20th century was on an unstoppable path to stardom, beginning with eight wickets for the match in Manchester and 34 for the series.

And in Gatting’s bemused look as he trounced off the ground, a 14-year magic spell had been cast England and batters worldwide.

Whether it was actually the best ball of the 20th century remains debatable.

But the undeniable fact is, it didn’t need to be.


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