Richard Benaud exclaimed
“Gatting has absolutely no idea what has happened to it. Still doesn’t know”
Bowling from over the wicket, it drifted away outside leg, spun a mile towards the batsman, took an unfathomable deviation and hit the top of off, as if there were some external forces turning the ball that far. Shane Warne’s delivery to Mike Gatting in the Ashes of 1993, or the ‘Ball of the Century’ as it is largely regarded, is arguably one of the most pleasant sites in the cricket history. And rightly so. The cricketing fraternity had not seen a delivery like that ever before. It was impossible for the batsman, the wicket-keeper, the fielders, the spectators as also the bowler himself, to believe what they had just witnessed.
Shane Keith Warne, a 23 year-old rookie leg spinner had only played 11 Test matches till then. A year into his international career, he had picked up 31 wickets at a moderate average of 30.80, with a solitary 5-wicket haul against Sri Lanka. Although he had shown some promise, such a wonder in his first ever Ashes of 1993 was highly unexpected.
The Ball of the Century:
Warne had a short four-paced run up but managed to generate some hefty reps on the ball most often. That day, on a spin friendly Manchester wicket, Warne made Gatting reach out for the delivery outside leg. But the whip, bounce and turn it took bamboozled the English No. 3 taking hitting his off-stump. The experienced Mike Gatting was considered to be one of the best players of spin bowling and to fox him, both in the air and off the wicket, stunned the entire world. Wicketkeeper Ian Healy behind the stumps had followed the movement of the ball and took half a second to realize what had happened. Warne jumped into jubilation in an ecstatic celebration by the Australian team. Needless to say, that one delivery had a terrific impact on the the match, the series and the many years thereafter.
It was perhaps the first glimpse of a bowler who went on to take 708 Test wickets. Warne created his own fanbase, explored the unexplored rough outside leg, made the batsman work hard for every run, created a terror in their minds and more importantly often helped Australia win the key phases in a Test match. His duels with Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and all the other greats of the game added a significant contribution
Warne was a phenomenon. Unsolved, unknown and full of mysteries. It was perhaps Warne who popularized the art of leg spin across the world, especially the chinaman. He inspired a generation of youth, probably those that we see do well in the international circuit these days. Fair to say “The recent ‘mystery spinners’ are evolved descendants of Warne’s style of bowling”. The legacy he left behind might remain unattainable for a long. It was this day, that year where it all began.