Sportsnight #5: 1993, Cricket, The Ball of the Century

by George_East on April 24, 2013

Good evening and welcome to Sportsnight.  The action tonight comes form a sunny Old Trafford on the second day of the First Test of the Ashes

He was considered to be good, but not great. Promising, but nothing special.  His average was kind of average.  In his first 11 tests, the 23 years old Shane Warne had averaged 30.8 for the 31 wickets he had taken.  A perfectly respectable record as a test bowler, but nothing spectacular.

But then again he was a spin bowler and unless you were playing in the sub-continent,  he was expected to  be there to make up the numbers.  Ever since the early-1970s, it had all been about pace.   Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson had, for Australia, shown terrifying pace.  The answer to this, after a particularly (and actually) bruising test series against the West Indies in 1975-76, was the development of the most terrifying pace attack cricket had ever seen – as Clive Lloyd toured the Islands of the Caribbean to find cricketers who would ensure that the West Indies would never be humiliated like that again.

That initial attack – Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Andy Roberts and Colin Croft, would usher in a tradition, which would include the great Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh.   It was a bowling style so intimidating that it would change the rules of cricket, with the bouncer rule and would lead to helmets becoming a routine part of the professional cricketer’s attire.    That is how teams won test matches – pace, seam, line and sheer unadulterated terror. Spin bowling was for fat blokes at the end of a long day, when the wicket wasn’t doing very much.

Australia came to England in the summer of 1993 as the holders of the Ashes.  At home in 1991 they had won comfortably, 3-0, under the steady and confident captaincy of Allan Border.   Despite this England under Graham Gooch believed that they had what it took to reclaim the Ashes for the first time since 1986 in the following home series.   He couldn’t have been more wrong.  The series would be a humiliating shambles for England.  Gooch would not even see out the Ashes as captain, being replaced by Mike Atherton for the final two tests.

However, as the first test of the Ashes series of 1993 started  at Old Trafford the mood was optimistic.  Gooch won the toss and put the Australians into bat.   England bowled well, managing to dismiss the tourists for a relatively modest 289, despite opener Mark Taylor’s magisterial 124.    Peter Such took an impressive 6 wicket haul for the home country.

England were nicely poised.  England’s openers, Gooch and Mike Atherton started well, until handle-bar tached Merv Hughes took Atherton’s wicket with a nicely taken catch by wicket keeper, the superb Ian Healey.   England were 71-1.  There was no reason to panic.

Portly but experienced Mike Gatting was next up.  He strolled out to the crease confidently.   He started scoring relatively freely, when Border signaled a change as England hit 80-1.   Border threw the ball to Ashes debutant Warne.  This only added to Gatting’s confidence as Allan Border decided to break up his pace attack, which had got Atherton’s wicket, with the inexperienced Warne’s leg spin.  Gatting was probably England’s best player of spin and Warne on his debut on English soil and his debut against the old enemy, well, who on earth was he?   It was hardly Lillee and Thomo.

Warne barely moved in the run up for the delivery of his first ball.  Afterwards he would confess that he was very nervous. The ball, perhaps a little quicker than many spin deliveries, went straight and bounced right in front of Gatting’s leg-stump.   Gatting has this covered, he has seen hundreds, if not thousands of balls like this in his career.  He pushed his left foot forward, keeping his bat next to his pad.  This works as a wall.  Either the ball hits the bat and harmlessly bounces off or it hits the pad, which positioned outside of leg stump involves no danger of LBW.   This is the safety first batting  of an experienced international class batsman.  Nothing to worry about here.

Except it did not quite work out like that, because no one appeared to have told the ball about the laws of geometry.    Instead of bouncing and then angling towards the bat and pad of England’s number 3, the ball did something which ought to have been impossible, at least according to Euclid.

It turned on the bounce so radically that it changed trajectory by almost 90 degrees, sailing past Gatting’s bat, taking with it his off-stump.   Gatting was out and England were 80-2.   Gatting turned and looked utterly bewildered at the bails, now on the grass, and then stared down  the wicket towards Warne as if he had been bewitched. Healey raised his arms in celebration and then ran around the wicket in total joy.  Gatting  looked behind him as if he had been cheated.   Dickie Bird, umpiring, looked completely confused.  He knew he had  to give Gatting out, but from the expression on his face he hadn’t got the first clue how it happened.   As Gatting took his gloves off and walked towards the pavilion, he couldn’t help himself but to look back again at the wicket – he knew that what had just happened is impossible.  Therefore it cannot have been real.  Why is he walking.

Watching it at home, I will always remember the immortal words of Richie Benaud:  ‘Gatting has absolutely no idea what has happened to him. He still doesn’t know’.   It was the moment that a sporting great announced his arrival.  He did so by bowling the greatest delivery ever seen.   Even as an England fan, it was magnificent, almost comical, to behold.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Eddie Kaye April 25, 2013 at 8:24 am

True great – the ultimate master of his art. An art all but lost to the game outside the subcontinent, now a fixture in most county teams (and much aped by Fast Showesque ‘Small Boys in the Park).

A trip down memory lane for a cricket fan like myself. I was at Headingley a month or so ago celebrating the afforementioned Dickie Bird’s 80th birthday – is there another sporting official in the world who has permated the imaginations of so many, even non-cricket people (or Muggles) know who he is?

Odd you mention Peter Such – along with the recently departed Mike Denness and the unfortunate Gavin Hamilton (whose Test record of 1 match, 0 runs, 0 for loads with the ball and no catches did no justice to the exciting all-rounder I followed with eager for Yorkshire) one of the few Scotsmen to play Test cricket for England – can anyone name any others?


Charlie_East_West April 25, 2013 at 9:31 am

George. – that is a great choice, and a brilliantly written commentary of a hugely significant moment in cricket.
Shane Warne is the ultimate loveable rogue.


George_East April 25, 2013 at 11:42 am

Eddie – your point about Dickie Bird is well made. Collina maybe?


Eddie Kaye April 25, 2013 at 11:58 am

Collina certainly is a candidate. I don’t know if he enjoys the minor celeb status in his particular corner of Italy that Dickie enjoys in Yorkshire. It always makes me laugh that people coming to Headingley who know nothing about cricket see the Dickie Bird clock and know who he is.

Both Collina and Bird were at the top of their games – at Dickie’s dinner the speaker Geoff Miller (who if you ever get chance to see take it) said Dickie is revered and remembered first and foremost in the game because he got decisions right. Collina falls into the same bracket – he was considered the best ref in the world, and for good reason.

Outside their respective sport, both have become recognisable faces – Dickie for being a character, author and professional Yorkshireman, Collina for looking a bit like Uncle Fester.

Other referees/ umpires have been as good, been characters and loved in their field, 99% could walk down any given High Street pretty much anonimously.


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