‘Ball of the century’ is what they called the beauty Shane Warne bowled to Mike Gatting, his first ball of Ashes debut on June 4, 1993. The ball did not just spin a long way but it drifted from outside the leg-stump line of the right-hand batsman and ended up hitting the off stump that too on a Day 1 pitch. Even Richie Benaud, who was doing the television commentary, during the match said, “Gatting has absolutely no idea what has happened to him and he still doesn’t know.” That was the prowess of the legendary Australian leg-spinner who turns 49 today.
Warne would not be labelled as one of the fittest cricketers to ever play the game. Had yo-yo fitness test been a compulsion for a spot in the team, Warne would not have taken 1,001 international wickets. All he needed was to walk up to bowl and hurriedly take three steps towards the crease before releasing the ball from his hand to work his magic.
He is one of his kind, there is no doubt about that. The delivery to Gatting was not the only contender for ‘ball of the century’ tag. Every time he pitched the ball into the rough from around the wicket it turned square.
Whether it was the delivery he bowled to Andrew Strauss who tried to pad it out, or the sharp turner to Saeed Anwar, or the one he bowled to Graham Gooch around his legs to send him back to the dressing room, they were all worthy of ‘ball of the century’ tag.
He set a benchmark for the next generation of bowlers to follow. The 49-year-old’s name may have been synonym with controversies throughout his career but he was a wizard with the ball in his hand.