June 4 marks the 30th anniversary of a delivery that changed the game. At Old Trafford, Shane Warne sent down his first ball in Ashes cricket. From over the wicket, it curved out of his hand, drifted outside leg stump, pitched and turned sharply past the bat of a startled Mike Gatting to take off stump. A new chapter in Ashes - and cricket - history was written that day. We spoke to a selection of legspinners from across generations about the impact of that delivery.
Can you recall when you first saw the delivery from Warne to Gatting?
Anil Kumble, former India bowler and captain I saw it later. I was possibly playing somewhere - I don't remember. That was the first time he was playing in England, and bowling at Mike Gatting, who was, by far one of the better players of spin in that English side. And ripping that from outside leg stump, drifting and taking the off stump was a perfect delivery for any legspinner - or any spinner for that matter. I think it not only had an impact on that particular game but also on the minds of English batters from there on when it came to facing Shane Warne.
Alana King, Australia bowler I first watched it at a very young age when I was getting involved in cricket, and legspin especially. Looking up to Warnie when I was a kid, I just got told by many people at my junior cricket club and everyone involved in cricket in my life, "You've got to watch this ball." Ever since, it just keeps popping up.
Mushtaq Ahmed, former Pakistan bowler: A month before this Test, Australia were playing Somerset and Ian Healy brought Warne to me after the game. We had a chat for about an hour and a half, discussing how to read the English pitches, how to work around rain, gripping the ball…
He was a great bowler, no doubt. When I saw that delivery, it felt amazing, because it's a dream ball. I was busy with Somerset and watched the ball in the highlights later in the day.
Piyush Chawla, India bowler I was 14-15 years old and I'd heard so much about that particular delivery, so I went on YouTube to see it. As a legspinner it was a dream ball, the way it drifted in the air, pitched on leg stump and then hit off stump, and Mike Gatting, one of the better players of spin bowling, he also had no clue about it. So that was something really amazing to watch. It is very difficult to get those kind of revs on the ball, like he got. His ball used to pitch somewhere around sixth, seventh stump on the leg side; mine is around fifth stump. Both our bowling actions were different, so it was very difficult to copy him.
What made the delivery so special?
Mushtaq As a legspinner, I've never seen anyone else do it. The beauty of the ball is that it fully drifted in the air, like a fast bowler bowling an inswinger. Mike's head was following the line and the moment he committed himself to play it, the ball pitched sharply. I don't think anyone other than Warne could do it.
Chawla When the legspinner pitches on or outside leg stump, the ball generally drifts in onto the legs of the batter and then it spins away. But that ball drifted a long way, pitched almost on sixth or seventh stump outside the leg stump and from there, spinning such a long way before hitting the top of off - you can say it was something like a miracle. The most important thing for any spinner is to get dip, drift and revs. We all knew Warnie had strong wrists and broad shoulders, and because of that he got such a good revs. The other important aspect of spin bowling is the hip drive: his hip drive was so high, it was almost over the stumps, which is very rare to find. The combination of all those things and the effort he put into the ball allowed him to get that kind drift, dip and spin.
King When you watch that delivery, and obviously being a legspinner, you see how many revolutions Warnie put on the ball, the drift he got - it just makes it so much more special. That's the dream of a leggie. You've put that many revs on the ball, got that nice drift, pitched outside leg stump and hit the top of off stump. That was incredible. Every legspinner dreams of that and it was just as perfect, perfect a legbreak as has ever been bowled.
Kumble I think because it was his first [Ashes] ball, it was by an Aussie against an Englishman, and it was the Ashes, it was really special. He spun the ball a big mile and he gave it a massive rip.
Does it stand the test of time 30 years later?
Chawla Hundred per cent. It is a beautiful sight to see the ball pitching on leg stump and squaring up the batter - it is a drama ball for a legspinner.
King Absolutely, hands down. Don't think anyone comes close to bowling something like that. He was a once-in-a-generation player for that reason, the amount of spin that he got. That was early on in his Test career too, so what he went on to do - over 700 Test wickets - it all started with that ball. Think that delivery will always be the pinnacle of legspin.
Kumble That ball is one which certainly stood out. There have been many similar bowled dismissals since then, but, yeah, an important Ashes series, first ball by an Aussie spinner playing in his first game in England.
Mushtaq It will always be an unplayable one. There was a delivery Adil Rashid bowled in an ODI to Virat Kohli in England, and Yasir Shah bowled one to Kusal Mendis - these are balls us legspinners dream of. I used to bowl my googly way outside off, making the batsman leave it, and it suddenly comes in between the legs to dismantle the stumps. That can't be matched. Shane's ball will be enjoyable to watch even 60 years later.
How important an influence was that delivery on the rise of legspin?
Kumble We all sort of looked up to someone like Warnie. I had various conversations with him and Muthiah Muralidaran in that era, and we had conversations with Mushtaq Ahmed as well. India has always had a focus on spin right from the golden era, before I played. But I don't think teams like Australia or England have had that kind of spin dominance, and Warne brought that about. He had a major influence, and for me as a fellow legspinner, it was a learning as well. I watched Warnie bowl whenever I had the opportunity.
Mushtaq That ball changed the way people thought about legspinners in Tests and one-day cricket. Teams started looking for legspinners. When I was coaching in England, we used to talk about getting a legspinner from grassroots or county, that even a half-good legspinner had a chance.
King Don't think it was just legspin, it was spin bowling in general. Everyone wanted to become Warnie, or pick up some form of spin because of how much fun it was. When you can do stuff like that, be so crafty with the ball - he made it fun again. Legspin was kind of losing its value in the game and all of a sudden Warnie comes into the game and you were like, "Yeah, I want to be like him, that looks fun" and it's exactly the reason I picked up the art of legspin. And I think lots of leggies around the world have drawn inspiration from him.
Chawla Legspin is one of the most difficult arts in cricket. Getting that rhythm right daily, bowling at the same spot. The way Shane Warne used to bowl, it was magical. Every legspinner wanted to be like him. But Warnie was really special: the kind of art he had in his hands, I don't think many bowlers are gifted with that.
Is there another Warne moment or delivery that stands out for you?
King There was a Big Bash game, he was playing for [Melbourne] Stars and bowling to Brendon McCullum, and he was mic-ed up. McCullum was sweeping him quite a bit and [Warne] literally said it live on TV, "I'm going to bowl it a bit quicker, a bit flatter, and I want him to play the same shot and hopefully get a wicket." And believe it or not, he talked through how he got the wicket, and that's just an incredible mindset. He just knew the game so well. That sticks in my mind because he knew exactly what the batter was doing and wanting to do.
Chawla Andrew Strauss at Edgbaston in 2005. The ball pitched in the rough and Strauss tried to get his pad in the way but it went through and hit the wicket. People say if you bowl in the rough, it will spin, but getting that kind of spin even from the rough is very difficult. I must have watched that ball around 100 times. The most important thing for a legspinner is the pace, because if you don't have that pace behind that ball, it's very difficult to beat the batter - then he can adjust. Here, Strauss was trying to put his pad in the way to defend, but he had no clue how it spun. It was no fault of Strauss. That ball was so special that I think anyone would have got out on that particular delivery.
Mushtaq I know of big-name batsmen who used to say that they knew his delivery was drifting and knew that they wanted to block it, but he still got their wicket. The ball to Andrew Strauss at Edgbaston in 2005 spun from miles to get his leg stump, but that one used the rough to gain spin. The ball he bowled to Gatting was special because the pitch was flat. When you don't get support from the pitch, and need to use your natural variation and power to make it drift - that makes it special.
Kumble I am sure there have been many memorable deliveries, and he bamboozled many batsmen in taking 700-plus wickets. The amazing thing about Shane Warne was how he bowled batters around the legs. I don't think we had seen that happen often. Yes, people have misjudged sweep shots, but here was someone who could literally go behind your back and get you out. That, to me, was the true sort of image of someone like Shane Warne.
As a legspinner, is there a better feeling than sending down the perfect legbreak?
Mushtaq There is no bigger joy for a legspinner than when the ball is turning hugely and you beat the batsman over and over. Pitching the ball on the fifth or sixth stump and the batsman thinks it's going away, but it comes in and cuts through your pads to dismantle the stumps - that gives you immense satisfaction. Warne was a bowler who never relied on pitches. He used his skills to take wickets and that is why we used to call him Sher Khan.
King It's all about rhythm. You want to be as smooth as possible in every delivery. When you release the ball, you know it's got so many revs on it and everything is smooth. When I release a good legbreak, I'm like, I'm in with a chance here. Natural variation can happen, but I know when I'm bowling at my best, everything is smooth, it's not forced.
Chawla No. Because it doesn't come that easy. Legspin is an attacking option. The joy of getting a wicket by defeating the batter with drift, dip, guile is something else.