Warne took our breath away with Ball of the Century and kept England under spell

It’s not just Australia in mourning for a genius after the death of their leading wicket-taker at the age of 52 – Warne was the greatest showman of all, even when he was on the losing side in the unforgettable 2005 Ashes

Australian cricket legend Shane Warne dies aged 52

Shane Warne took our breath away with his first ball in Ashes cricket – and England never broke the spell.

The Ball of the Century, on Friday 4 June 1993, was not just one of cricket’s definitive ‘I was there’ moments. It was a screenshot of sporting perfection.

Completing a post-lunch lap of Old Trafford with colleague Jim Holden – often a useful way to bump into players’ families, selectors, movers and shakers – public address announcer Alan Curtis alerted us to the game show’s next contestant.

“From the Warwick Road end, Shane Warne,” said Curtis. Both of us had been waiting to see this bloke with peroxide blond hair, sun block, ear-ring and a slither of puppy fat, and we dashed up the four flights of stairs to the Press box in the nick of time to witness a genie’s release from the bottle.

Warne didn’t just announce himself in style. He made a grand entrance which made the Ritz lobby look like next door’s porch.

Take a bow: Shane Warne took 708 Test wickets


Getty Images)

Then, as now, his first delivery to an England batsman in Test cricket defied all known rules of geometry.

It appeared to be drifting down the leg side until it dipped, bounced, spun past Mike Gatting’s outside edge and trimmed the off stump’s bail.

Everyone in the Press box looked at each other in astonishment and burst out laughing. What the hell was THAT?

Cricket bard Martin Johnson, never short of a one-liner for the archives, observed: “How anyone can spin a ball the width of Gatting boggles the mind.”

From that moment, Warne had England batsmen under his spell – and he knew it.

Larger than life: Warne celebrates winning 1997 Ashes


Ted Blackbrow/Daily Mail/REX/Shutterstock)

On his return to Old Trafford four years later, Mirror Sport took him back to the spot where the unplayable contortion had landed, almost as an act of religious worship, and we marked it with an ‘X’ in masking tape.

Playfully, he would thank Gatting for launching his legend and the former England captain could only shrug: “It was too good for me – and many others.”

In truth, Warne was so good that he produced countless other deliveries worthy of his ‘Ball of the Century’ franchise.

Twelve years after the original, with England looking to build on a 100-run first innings lead at Edgbaston, he confounded Andrew Strauss by turning one miles out of the footmarks and into the startled opener’s stumps.

In that unforgettable Ashes series of 2005, the most sustained drama I’ve covered in 40 years of scribbling notes for a living, even in defeat Warne took 40 wickets at 19.92 each and added 249 runs with the bat.

He had more exotic variations than a box of chocolates – if the orthodox leg-break didn’t scramble the Poms’ minds, his googly, topspinner, zooter, flipper or slider would soon befuddle them.

At times, it was like watching blindfolded party guests trying to pin the tail on a donkey.

Former Australian wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist, said: “The highlight of my cricketing career was to keep wicket to Warnie. Best seat in the house to watch the maestro at work.”

Best of enemies: Mike Gatting (left) with Warne



As well as being a genius, Warne was also a fierce competitor who even enjoyed a chirp in charity games.

Nine years ago, it was an unspeakable privilege to umpire at a fundraising cricket day for Wellbeing of Women with Warne – now in his 40s – bowling to Brian Lara, whose Test world record 400 not out against England still stands.

The great showman was bluffing the West Indies legend about which variety was coming next and Lara, winding up for an expansive cover drive and falling for his old rival’s Cresta Run-grade sledge, was castled next ball.

One man’s leg-break is another man’s magic.

God bless you, Warnie.

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