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Out of nowhere: Michael Atherton remembers Shane Warne’s ball of the century

Michael Atherton reflected on the man who “inked his name into Ashes folklore” with a single delivery, back to the day in 1993 when Shane Warne announced his arrival onto the world stage.

On 4 June 30 years ago at Old Trafford, a young Australian stepped up to bowl his first ball in Ashes cricket, and produced a delivery which clattered into Mike Gatting’s off stump despite pitching far outside leg.

Although not dubbed the ‘ball of the century’ until afterwards, there was no doubt from anyone in attendance, or watching on television that something special had occurred.

“I was out. I’d just got out; I was the first man out and Gat (Gatting) came in and the ball happened just before tea on the second day,” Sky Sports talent Atherton told The Independent.

“I just don’t remember very much chat about Shane Warne, he’d only played a dozen Test matches.”

Atherton said Shane Warne was a relative unknown before the 1993 Ashes

(Getty Images)

“It’s easy to look back at that moment and think ‘this is one of the great bowlers’ playing but at that stage he was averaging 30 I think, Graeme Hick had given him a bit of a mauling in Worcestershire.

“It was the days before there was lots of analysis and I don’t remember seeing any video footage of him before he bowled that ball.

“So there was a real surprise element, but what an entrance that was into Test cricket.

“One of the great, well the man who proved to be the greatest spinner the world has seen.

“Inked his name into the Ashes folklore there and then, and then – I don’t know how many wickets he took in Ashes cricket, 194 or something – but an incredible bowler.”

It is often easy with the benefit of hindsight to pinpoint a moment or turning point, but the impact of that delivery – which caused people watching on TV to phone their friends in amazement – was evident from the start.

Atherton credited Warne for the revival of legspin

(Getty Images)

Atherton, who never won an Ashes Test, believed the Australian can be credited for the recent rise and application of legspin, which had been termed a “dying art” by some before Warne.

“I enjoyed the challenge. He was a brilliant cricketer to play against because if you did well, he was very fair and he’d say well played,” the former England captain said.

“If you did well against him you knew you’d earned your runs because he didn’t give you any bad balls, he was an extremely tough competitor, so I enjoyed playing against him.

“I found him a very straightforward opponent and of course he revitalised and re-invented the art of legspin which had been slightly – not dying – but there hadn’t been that many legspinners, maybe (Abdul) Qadir in Pakistan, but not on the Test match scene at that time, now there are loads.”

Warne himself downplayed the event in trademark fashion, noting simply: “All I tried to do, was pitch on leg stump and spin it a fair way.”

Jonathan Agnew, who was commentating on the BBC’s Test Match Special for the delivery, and from a position behind the batter said: “And Gatting is taken on the pad!” at first, then after a moment: “He’s bowled! Well! … we’ll have to wait for a replay I’m afraid to tell you exactly what happened.”

Every match of the men’s and women’s Ashes will be shown live and exclusively on Sky Sports and NOW from 16th June.

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