It helps that he knew what was coming, but 30 years after facing the “ball of the century” from Shane Warne, former England captain Mike Gatting was mightily relieved to survive this time around.
Standing in front of a simulator on Friday at Old Trafford, Gatting was given another chance to deal with the delivery that had bamboozled him at the time.
What is regarded as the greatest delivery in cricketing history took place in June 1993, as a young Warne, off his very first Ashes ball, claimed the helpless Englishman’s wicket.
With a delivery that started well outside leg stump, before ripping off the surface and taking the bails off, Gatting departed on day two of the first Ashes test in 1993, shellshocked as to what he had just faced.
Facing it once was bad enough, but thanks to the wonders of modern technology, Gatting had another go in the lunch break on Friday as modern-day England took the attack to Australia in the Ashes, and this time clipped it through the covers.
“I have to say I only watched it again recently,” Gatting said. “It seemed like a pretty decent ball. I just remember this guy coming on just before lunch and Graham Gooch saying ‘let’s just make sure we are still here at lunch’.
“We had never seen Warney before. We often talked about it, myself, Warney and (former Australia wicket keeper) Ian Healey, who had just as difficult a job behind the stumps trying to deal with it. I didn’t hear the ball hit the stumps, so the first I was aware of it was Healey asking me to leave, like he does.
“I was interested to see if I could actually get a bat on it this time, because it still spins so much. I was sure it wouldn’t bowl me this time. I did think about charging down the wicket before it bounces.”
Gatting faced one over on the simulator, with the “ball of the century” mixed in there at an unknown moment.
When Warne’s delivery came down, Gatting this time set up for it, before attacking three further balls and scoring nine runs in total.
It gave Gatting time to reflect on a moment he is asked about regularly, even given everything Warne, who died in 2022, went on to achieve in his glittering cricketing career.
“With it being his first ball in Ashes history, he might have been nervous, but he certainly didn’t look it,” Gatting added.
“It really came fizzing out of his hand. It was really the last two or three yards, because it was spinning so much and it dipped quite quickly.
“From me, I had to go from thinking about defending the slip area, to then go ‘he might bowl it around my legs’. Instead of doing it the way I was going to do it, I was then trying to defend my leg stump. Nobody could have seen it coming.”
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