So while the Royalists amongst you will be celebrating the 60th anniversary of the glorious coronation of Queen Elisabeth II, and the limitless opportunities for commemorative pottery that seem to accompany such milestones, few of you will have noticed the anniversary of a much more seismic event from the high octane world of leg spin bowling; yes, today is the 20th anniversary of “The Ball of the Century.”
For those of you who don’t know what I am talking about (but have persevered read this far, having realised that this is a post about cricket) it was the first ball delivered by Australia’s Shane Warne in his first Ashes Test in England. England had won the toss and put the tourists into bat… they amassed a modest 289, before it was our turn to have a waft of the willow. Atherton scored 71 before falling to Merv Hughes’s moustache, heralding the arrival of Mike Gatting to the crease. Gatting was never a ‘lightweight player,’ and was regarded as one of the finest players of spin in the world. He probably still is for that matter… but the delivery he received first ball was quite simply the best ball ever bowled in Test Match cricket. You can see it here.
The inexperienced Warne lolloped in (he was also ‘built for comfort, rather than speed’) and rolled a leg break delivery to the right hander… it seemed strait enough at first and the batsman prepares his stroke, the ball then drifted towards Gatting’s leg stump, pitching several inches outside the line… Gatting deploys the time honoured ‘Bat and Pad’ defence, but the ball rips out of the hallowed turf of Old Trafford and clears the outside edge of Gats’s bat by a country mile clipping off his off stump
bail. It’s hard to describe to a non-cricketer (and especially as a bad cricketer) but it was the turn achieved by Warne that befuddled commentators, Gatting, and frankly, English batting sides to come for almost a generation. The look on Gatting’s face is priceless (as is the Queen’s for that matter):
The ball became a source of myth, and also prompted some of the best loved cricketing commentary.
The much missed Brian (thanks NM!) Johnson (whom the eagle eyes of you might have spotted in a recent ‘Guess Who Friday’) said “how anyone can spin a ball the width of Gatting boggles the mind.”
The England captain at the time Graham Gooch added, “If it had been a cheese roll, it would never have got past him.” Harsh, but fair.