Warne To Gatting: The Ball That Turned Cricket On Its Head

Matthew Sheldon is back with another precious memory from the nostalgia vault. This time it’s the infamous Shane Warne Gatting ball from the 1993 Ashes. Has there ever been a more perfect delivery?

It is often said that people can remember where they were during moments of particular notoriety.

Where were you when JFK was shot? Where did you watch the moon landing? Where were you when they cancelled El Dorado?

In the case of Shane Warne’s first ball to Mike Gatting at Old Trafford in 1993 the question might read ‘Where were you when Test match cricket changed your life?’

That answer for me and probably many other people is – I was watching the game with my Dad, our eyes wide open in total shock, our mouths agape as if preparing to eat a thousand Jaffa Cakes at once (other snacks are available.) This was one of the greatest cricketing moments of the 20th century. We couldn’t believe what we had seen.

I still can’t – and I love it.

Yes, there have been deliveries that have turned more prodigiously, however the dramatic timing of the delivery – and everything that happened subsequently – is what makes the Warne Gatting ball stand out as a thing of incredible beauty and notoriety.

Spin was underutilised in Ashes series for many years. Leg spin in the ashes was almost dead. At this time of my life I hadn’t seen a decent leg spinner that wasn’t from the sub-continent. I had seen Michael Atherton twirl his arm in a Lancashire 2nd XI match, but I suppose that doesn’t really count.

Tales of spin years gone by were often referenced so fondly and eloquently by the great Richie Benaud in the commentary box. Leg spin as an artform however, felt a little like it was for the old timers. It was as if this skill had developed a circus sideshow quality. Some light comedy relief from a chancer at the end of a long day in the field in Rawlpindi when the opposition were 600-2, I mean ‘Who on earth bowls a Chinaman for goodness sake?’ I thought.

After a reasonable start for England that day (in reply to just under 300 from Australia) Allan Border turned to his next bowling option. Shane Warne didn’t really look like any cricketer I had ever seen before. He must’ve been nervous, but he seemed to have an air of magic about him even before he bowled. With his flame hair and his bright white war paint Warne was going into battle using weapons seldom seen for half a century of Ashes cricket.

He casually walked to the crease, and I do mean walked. Gatting was reasonably well set. This had the early signs of a thoroughly gripping Ashes contest. As the ball drifted across the cool Manchester air, there was a little drift that suggested Warne had got some decent revolutions on the ball. Revolution being the appropriate word.

Gatting jutted out a tentative pad (he didn’t thrust out the pad to meet it where it pitched which may have been his downfall – but stretching with dexterity wasn’t really Gatting’s forte) as the ball was certainly going to pitch outside leg stump and could be nullified with the pad. Gatting was possibly thinking that if this was going to be the angle of attack then this young spinner could be milked for the afternoon. After a shapely arc the ball pitched in some light rough.

It then took off like a firecracker. It exploded. It seemed to gain considerable pace. It veered off the straight as if struck by lightning. Shooting ferociously across the perilous Gatting, the ball tore into his off stump at a rate of knots. It sumptuously removed the bails with a death rattle that conversely breathed new life into Test match cricket.

The Warne Gatting ball was nothing short of spectacular. All the Australians knew it as they sprang for joy at the site of the dislodged bails. Ian Healey almost broke the world high jump record with his gloves aloft as he celebrated wildly.

The joyous celebrations were in stark contrast to Gatting who looked profoundly confused as his face contorted. He waited. Had Healey tried to stump him? No. It dawned on him that this was the end of his innings. It was also the beginning of something very special. English supporters would have to get used to the frenzied Aussie celebrations (Warne took 9 wickets in the match, and the Man of the Match award) for the foreseeable future.

Warne’s incredible gifts were there to see from the start of his first spell in Ashes cricket. His method of bowling and his thought process meant that his fantastic cricketing brain was always whirring. Warne’s brain was his finest cricketing attribute. His understanding of when to bowl which delivery to which batsman was phenomenal. He has subsequently talked about how this delivery was one of good luck rather than precise judgement.

Gatting trudged off unaware that he had just been involved in a moment of magic that many would refer to as the ball of the century.

I turned to my Dad after a few replays who calmly said – ‘It hit a bump, fancy a brew?’

Matthew Sheldon


Check out his blog www.englishrose.blogabet.com


  • Good piece. A substantial amount of ink and pixels have gone into remembering that ball, but here is my favourite: https://youtu.be/wa_iG_W0gvk

    It’s also one Gatt himself is fond of: see the interview he does with Duckworth Lewis method.

    Incidentally Warne’s ball to Gibbs in the legendary 1999 WC semi was a pretty good repeat.

  • Warne’s not everyone’s cup of tea as a commentator these days (for my money he needs a strong co-presence who keeps him on the cricket and off the self-indulgent others) but his criticisms of the BBL were well-made.

    Warne was critical of the length of the tournament (average crowds are down to 18k from a high of 30k in ’16/17 with just 13k turning up to the SF at the MCG) and the lack of a reserve day for the SF (which I think is always a good indication of how highly the authorities really regard what they’re putting on: no rserve day = disposable crap). CA have responded by saying they’ll look at the second and just ignored criticisms of the first.

    Obviously the matches are 3.2 overs too long….

  • If Test cricket (indeed all cricket) in 1993 had only been on Sky or another pay to view channel, would this wonderful ball have had such an impact on cricket? I don’t think so.

    • Yeah but the ECB (was it still TCCB in those days?) would have been a few quid richer in the short term, which is all that matters apparently.

    • Yes – it’s a sad case that cricket is so inaccessible to the majority of people. I wouldn’t have seen this had it been on sky 👍

  • Matthew’s ending to this article really made me laugh. i mean laugh out .loud. The brilliantly dismissive way he deals with an opponent’s genius is as hilarious as it is tongue in cheek. i can al,most here him say “No chance this bloke will ever get 100 wickets” Well written Matthew. i thoroughly enjoyed it. thank you.

    • Thank you for the feedback! I hope you enjoyed reading the article. Writing it was really fun. 👍

  • To be fair to Gatt, and it probably would have made no difference had he been, but he was hardly ‘reasonably well set’. He had scored 4 of a 9 run ‘partnership’ with Atherton.

    • As in compact, still. Not in the sense of having 30-40 runs. 😀. I hope you enjoyed the article. This delivery is certainly a moment I will never forget.

  • I was at home watching this. I used to spend as much time as I could watching the cricket before I had to get the girls from school (they loved cricket too which is just as well). I could not believe my eyes. In those days profanity was much less used and I just went Blimey. Now I would probably scream FFS!

    I like Shane. I love listening to his commentary on Sky and his masterclasses. totally fascinating

    And oh how wonderful to hear the voice of Richie Benaud again. I still miss him

  • To put this into context, I remember this series and the hype leading up to it well.

    As a young England fan, I was optimistic. After battling the pace and hostility of the West Indies in their pomp in 1991, we were blown away by the unplayable 90mph reverse swinging yorkers of Wasim and Waqar in 1992.

    All the talk was how, for all their batting strength, the Australian pace attack looked utterly pedestrian in comparison to the previous two summer’s opponents – surely some high scoring games and an easy series win was on the cards?

    I remember watching the ball at the time, still of the general opinion that England were strong favourites for the series. For all its unique brilliance, that delivery would have counted for little if Warne had then reverted to bowling pies…

    But of course, he didn’t. In 93 he had a full bag of tricks, including an almost unplayable flipper, and with the equally skillful and creative Tim May* at the other end, they totally opened my eyes to how many different ways there were to be a brilliant destructive bowler.

    Watching with optimism as England’s top order saw off the pacemen but then repeatedly crumble to the devilish cunning of these two chubby lads was a formative experience.

    *Tim May was an vastly underrated bowler – he had a decent topspinner, arm ball and undercutter of his own. I remember spending the rest of the summer trying to master not just all of Warne’s variations, but all of May’s, too.

    • I agree about Tim May. I would also say Stuart MacGill was a very good spinner. I hope you enjoyed the article 👍

    • Maybe you could help me AB, as a fellow Warwick man seeing as we’re talking leg spin, I have vague recollections of Warwick Tidy, a useful club bowler who never quite made the grade as a pro, but there was also another bespectacled youngster, afflicted by the worst nerves of any bowler I ever saw. He seemed unable to adapt to the pressures of expectation and bowled some of the worst balls I have ever seen from a spinner, many fielded in the gully and some disappearing over the keepers head. Indeed I remember on more than one occasion the ball was rolling on the ground before it got to the batsman. He as selected a few times over a couple of seasons before returning to league obscurity, but I cannot remember his name.

  • Before the tour Australia had played NZ, and afterwards Martin Crowe said that Warne was the best leg spinner in the world. This was dismissed by the usual English intelligentsia as excuse-making. In fairness, the English were nothing if not consistent – before the ill-fated 92/3 tour to India Keith Fletcher had observed Anil Kumble and confidently declared Kumble hadn’t turned a single ball and was nothing to worry about.

  • I was playing with a few mates in my back garden way before this happened, trying to learn how to pitch a wristy and this with a tennis ball on concrete. We had already lost a handful into various gardens up and down the road and were down to our last ball, so the batsman was being more cautious in order to prolong the game. He played what he thought was a productive sweep to a ball pitching a yard outside leg stump, indeed so convincing was the shot that 1st slip was already en route to the shed at backward square, when our beer crate stumps hit the ground. He swears to this day he missed it completely and though we examined the pitching area we could find no crack or obstacle to deflect the ball. Unfortunately I no longer have the cherry as it went the way of the others soon after.

      • It’s a pretty sad affair that both batsman and bowler still remember the incident like it was yesterday, indeed probably more clearly than that Warne ball and there were no interminable replays in our back garden, blink and you miss it.

  • The player I always felt sorry for in that squad is Tim May. He was a top class spinner who, understandably, was completely overshadowed by Warne.

    • Completely agree. There was just something about Warne that drew all the headlines . I hope you enjoyed the article 😀

  • I was at work and listening to this on TMS. Just as you say, everything changed.

    Some time later Warne bowled Gooch behind his legs from a ball miles outside leg stump that looked as if it turned 90 degrees. Gooch was near his peak, perhaps the best batter in the world, and was expecting it – but that made no difference.

    During that series it was Warne’s flipper that really terrorised the English team. I esepcially recall Alec Stewart squared up and pinned LB.

    • I remember watching it at home – as an 18 year old leg spinner, it was inspirational stuff. Despite all his faults off the pitch, Warne remains my cricket hero – as he made spin bowling cool. He was still a bit unproven – at least in England – up to this moment, but this Ashes series was undoubtedly the making of him.

  • Where was I ?

    I was there. At Old Trafford.

    Of course though the Pavilion where I was seated was side on then so I didn’t get the full effect.

    But I was there.

  • I have always loved spinners, wily, cunning, mysteriously arcane. I grew up being fascinated by Bishan Bedi (Northants, I think?), Embury and Underwood. I still have fond memories of watching Graeme Swann torturing various batsmen. Warne was a big, fat pantomime dame of a cricketer, whose ridiculous character belied his astonishing skill. This article’s a nice reminder that the need for speed isn’t everything, not by a long chalk.

      • Bedi, Chandra and Prasanna and Venkat. Now there’s a quartet of the first order. Proper slow bowlers, who didn’t know the meaning of containment. They bowled to get wickets and would probably have been slaughtered by today’s flat track bullies. They bowled in the right era me thinks.

  • This was a tremendous advert for leg spin bowling but there were others before Warne. I recall seeing an advert where Richie Benaud said he wished he could bowl like Shane; well, I don’t know the statistics but Richie was pretty damn good.
    Plus, don’t forget the little chubby Abdul Qadir who almost single-handed brought leggies back into fashion.

    I can also recall the delivery where Warne bowled Strauss (a lefty) when he left a ball which must have pitched about 2 feet outside his off stump.

    Thanks for the memories, James

  • End of 1st yr at Manchester Uni. Mate lived in halls next to the Student Union so that was our base camp. Lectures were over (they never really began) and we gathered to make plans and watch some Ashes.

    We’d heard of him but never seen Warne bowl. Quite liked the sound of a genius leggie. Chuckled at the sight of this parody of a peroxide aussie. Then… it happened.

    We looked at each other: “Shi…” “Fu…” ” Wha…” As others arrived we told them what we’d just seen: “Yeah, right” “Bullshi…” [replay shown] “Shitting hell”.

    Lovely article Matthew. Like you said, I’ll never forget it.

  • Lovely article. I went to the loo between overs, having heard how this beach bum had been milked by Hick in the Tour game and expecting to be about to see more of the same. Made it back just in time to see Gatt trudging off shaking his head!


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