ESPNcricinfo XI

The unplayables

A selection of cricket's most memorable deliveries

Steven Lynch
Steven Lynch
Mike Gatting is bowled by Shane Warne, England v Australia, 1st Test, Old Trafford, June 4, 1993

A perplexed Gatting tries to understand what just happened, Old Trafford, 1993  •  Getty Images

Warne to Gatting
The ball of the century has to take pride of place here - Shane Warne's sensational first delivery in an Ashes Test, at Old Trafford in 1993. It looked to be fading down leg, but fizzed across a nonplussed Mike Gatting after pitching and clipped his off stump. "Gatting looked understandably bewildered as he dragged himself off the field," reported Wisden; "never, perhaps, has one delivery cast so long a shadow over a game, or a series." No one could quite believe it - except perhaps Warnie, who looked as if that was exactly what he'd planned. It probably was.
Cairns to Read
New Zealander Chris Cairns pulled the ultimate cricketing three-card trick on his sometime Nottinghamshire team-mate Chris Read in the Test at Lord's in 1999. Read, who hadn't scored, misread Cairns' slower ball and, as Wisden deadpanned, "attempted to duck what turned out to be a yorker, and fell away as he was bowled". Read himself explained in a recent ESPNcricinfo interview: "It's the first and only time I didn't see the ball at any stage. Cairns realised he was on to something because the sightscreen didn't have any additional screening above it. He'd done the same thing to Aftab Habib, and he ducked like I did and it just missed the leg stump... When he ran up I assumed he hadn't let go off the ball. Then something in my subconscious thought I needed to protect myself and I ended up looking pretty stupid. The first thing I can remember is the soft thud before it hit the stumps. I was more shocked than anything."
Wasim Akram to Lamb and Lewis
Wasim Akram was no stranger to the unplayable ball, as a career total of more than 900 international wickets proves. Arguably his most important spell, though, came in Pakistan's victory in the 1992 World Cup final in Melbourne, when the wickets of the dangerous Allan Lamb and Chris Lewis fatally derailed England's chase in mid-innings. "The spirit of the batsmen was broken by successive balls from Man of the Match Wasim Akram which dismissed Lamb and Lewis," intoned Wisden, "one swinging in and then straightening again, the next cutting in sharply."
Trueman to Marner
Fred Trueman was a master fast bowler - and not exactly a shrinking violet when it came to trumpeting his success. After hearing Fred regale the Yorkshire dressing room yet again with the details of how his wicket-taking deliveries had snaked this way and that to perplex a succession of baffled batsmen, team-mate Richard Hutton piped up: "Tell me, Fred, did you ever bowl one that just went straight on?" "Aye," said the unabashed bowler. "To Peter Marner. And it went straight through him like a streak of piss and flattened all three."
Holding to Boycott
For those of a certain age, it's probably the greatest over ever bowled - certainly one of the fastest, and scariest. After West Indies had been bowled out for a modest 265, Michael Holding uncoiled his superb action in Bridgetown in 1980-81. The unfortunate batsman was Geoff Boycott - one of the greats himself, but now over 40. He somehow survived the first five balls, all screamers, but had no answer to the sixth, which plucked out his off stump. "It went like a rocket," recalled Boycs ruefully. This recent Rewind article summed up the whole over.
Lillee to Luckhurst
Dennis Lillee was at his most exciting in England in 1972, hair and moustache flowing in the wind as a new Australian team emerged. He claimed 31 wickets in the series, although the pick of them arguably came at Lord's, where he finished up with "only" four alongside the sensational debut of Bob Massie, who grabbed 16. But Lillee made his mark early in that second Test with a peach to Brian Luckhurst - it pitched on leg, but zipped back and flicked the top of off. The defeated batsman marched straight away, aware that no one could have done much about what was just about the perfect delivery.
Lock to Insole
There were a lot of mutterings about the Surrey and England slow left-armer Tony Lock's bowling action in the mid-1950s, but although he was occasionally called for throwing, the umpires back then were generally reluctant to stigmatise a bowler and perhaps ruin his career. But the Essex amateur batsman Doug Insole, playing for The Rest against champions Surrey at The Oval in 1955, had fewer qualms: after being comprehensively cleaned up by Lock's faster ball in fading light, he waggled his famously bushy eyebrows at the square-leg umpire and enquired: "Was I bowled or run out?"
Warne to Gibbs
Warne reprised That Ball, in the nail-bitingly tight 1999 World Cup semi-final at Edgbaston that ended up as a tie, putting Australia through on their Super Six win. His batsmen had managed only 213, but Warne was magnificent: his first eight overs cost just 12 runs, and included a peach to the dangerous Herschelle Gibbs. "It looped up, drifted away, landed in the rough outside leg stump, and fizzed past a dumbfounded Gibbs to clip off," wrote Jamie Alter on ESPNcricinfo. "The ball of Warne's ODI career… the batsman stood in disbelief, refusing to acknowledge that he had been bowled."
Young to Donnelly
As a batsman you're usually safe enough once the ball has passed the stumps. But the New Zealander Martin Donnelly wasn't. He was batting for Warwickshire against Middlesex at Lord's in 1948, and a ball from the slow left-armer Jack Young hit him on the foot. The ball looped over Donnelly's head, bounced about two feet behind the wicket... and spun back to break the stumps.
Panesar to Younis Khan
At the height of Montymania, at Headingley in 2006 Monty Panesar produced perhaps the ball of his life, to dismiss Pakistan's first-innings centurion Younis Khan and set England on the path to victory. ESPNcricinfo's animated commentary says it all: "It's a crackerjack rip-snorting jaffa from the Montster! Lands it on middle and leg, Younis comes forward, misses, and it turns to hit the top of his off stump, just removing the bail. A remarkable ball, turning out of the rough."
Garner to everyone
It must have been terrifying to face Joel Garner, all 6ft 8ins of him, especially at grounds where the sightscreen was inadequate to cope with an arm whirring over at high speed from about ten feet up. Garner was almost impossible to collar - in Tests he went for less than 2.5 runs per over, and little over three in ODIs - with a killer yorker which used to zero in at the toes of hapless batsmen like a guided missile. It was seen to greatest effect in the 1979 World Cup final at Lord's, when Big Bird polished England off with 5 for 4 in 11 balls, four of them bowled.
Chetan Sharma to Javed Miandad
And, just to redress the balance, here's a 12th one, where the batsman won - needing to hit the final ball of a one-day international to the boundary to win the Austral-Asia Cup final in Sharjah in 1986, Javed Miandad flipped a Chetan Sharma full toss over the boundary for six. "I still remember how Javed looked up at the sky and prayed to Allah," said India's wicketkeeper Chandrakant Pandit. "Chetan's plan was to bowl a yorker, but it was a waist-high full-toss. None of us expected Javed to hit it out of the ground."

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2014. Ask Steven is now on Facebook