Richie Benaud, the legendary Australian captain and commentator is not easily given to hyperbole. But this was one occasion when even he could not resist unabated excitement. Shane Warne had just got rid of Mike Gatting off the very first ball he had bowled during the 1993 Ashes at Old Trafford, and so astonishing was that particular delivery -- it is widely regarded as the ball of the century — that Benaud, sitting in the commentators’ box, could not help but remark: “Gatting has absolutely no idea what happened to him. He still doesn’t know. He asked Ken Palmer (the umpire) on his way out and Palmer gave him a raised eyebrow and a little nod.”
The ball had drifted languidly onto the leg stump and spun enough to clip Gatting’s off stick. So shocked was Gatting that he could just not fathom where on earth Warne had managed to pull out such a delivery from!
Ever since, that delivery, bowled exactly 20 years to date, has been a subject of endless discussion, very much akin to the manner in which football fans just cannot tire of debating Diego Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ goal in the 1986 football World Cup.
That was one ball which also had every cricket fan sit up and take notice of Warne who until then had hardly enjoyed the kind of success which eventually would help him become the best leg-spinner of all time.
“What can I say about that ball? It was just phenomenal,” says former Indian leg spinner Sairaj Bahutule who at that time, was plying his trade in the English league. “I could not watch that game but such was the interest that Warne’s delivery generated that I could not help myself from watching the recording several times,” he added.
Bahutule feels there was much more to Warne’s magic at Old Trafford. “It was one delivery which I feel, resurrected the art of leg spin which was dying a slow death at that point in time,” he concurs.
The 40-year-old who is now into coaching, makes it a point to show visuals of Warne’s deliveries to his pupils. “Not everyone can become Warne, but I always show them videos of Warne’s bowling. They can learn a lot about leg spin from him, and every time THAT ball to Gatting is shown, they just can’t stop exclaiming.”
Just like Benaud couldn’t!