David Blackburn

The more Shane Warne practised, the more magical he got

It was a placid start. A tubby kid with peroxide blond hair approached the crease in 6 easy steps. He skipped into the air and pulled his arms backwards to build forward momentum. His left leg hit the ground and he began to rotate his shoulders from right to left. This motion brought his right arm up through the air in a wide arc. He had to hold his left arm out in front of him for balance as the shoulder-turn accelerated. His hips began to follow in the direction of his shoulders, bringing his right flank around to the left. His right arm extended above his head and neared the top of its ascent. At that moment, Shane Warne snapped his right wrist anti-clockwise and released what would become known as the ‘Ball of the Century’.

TV two’s dimensions do not do justice to Mike Gatting’s attempt to play this legendary delivery. The camera behind the bowler mocks him. The grainy image (20-22) shows a leaden-footed man take a half-step forward and then stumble backwards soon after the ball has passed him. The stumble was involuntary, a cricketing death throe.

The stump camera behind Gatting is kinder (36-42). To begin with it shows cricket as a dialogue between ball and bat. Warne bowls. Gatting, a renowned player of spin bowling, picks callow Warne’s ploy immediately. He sees that the ball is a good length leg-break (ie, it will land close to Gatting and then turn sharply away to his right, causing him difficulties unless he takes precautions). Gatting knows that he must smother the spin by playing forward and straight, because it was a cricketing sin in those days for a batsman to allow a ball to turn or to play against the spin. Gatting presses forward in anticipation.

So far so safe from Gatting; but the Ball of the Century has not yet begun.

A nanosecond has passed since Warne delivered the ball.

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