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The balls that changed it all

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6th July, 2020

There’s an old wisdom that some of the biggest events or turning points in life come down to a few seconds.

A decision to apply for a job, the first impression of a house that’s for sale or taking a chance on starting a conversation with a stranger can send you on different trajectories.

In cricket, a field change, umpire’s decision or desperate lunge at the ball can be the seconds where a game is turned. That can include a single delivery. A ball that is bowled which influences or changes a match, reputation or a series.

Imagine the first ball Harold Larwood bowled using leg theory on Australian soil. That single delivery sent out reverberations for the remainder of the 1932-33 series. And beyond.

So what other single deliveries have been bowled which made an impact that lasted well beyond the delivery of the ball? Here’s a few.

Steve Harmison to Justin Langer, first Ashes Test 2006-07 Brisbane
In the first ball of the first Test, Harmison’s delivery flew dramatically wide to second slip. Cricket writers later claimed that ball set the standard for the entire series which England lost 5-0.

In Australia, Harmison may well be known for that erratic delivery rather than 226 wickets in Tests. Harmison is quoted saying there was an over-reaction to his wide delivery and England were never going to defeat that Australian team.

Michael Clarke to Rahul Dravid; fourth Test Australia versus India in Mumbai 2004
Clarke ran in, pushing the ball through quite hard, his grunt loudly audible. Commentating, Ian Healy described it as ‘just a little flick on the outside edge’ that took Dravid’s wicket. (It in fact brushed his thumb). At the time India wee 4/182. By the time Clarke took his sixth wicket (for a paltry total of nine runs), India were all out for 205.


Despite Clarke’s heroics, India won the test. But Clarke’s performance almost overshadowed their win and demonstrated how an underestimated or part time bowler can still have dramatic impact.

Michael Clarke

Michael Clarke. (Nicky Sims/Getty Images)

Shane Warne to Mike Gatting; first Ashes test, 1993 at Old Trafford
Warne was the fourth bowler called on during England’s first innings. Astonishingly, it was Warne’s first ever Test match delivery in England. Richie Benaud’s comment said it all. “Gatting has absolutely no idea what happened to it. Still doesn’t know.”

(The latter being added in response to Gatting’s confused expression as he left the ground). The delivery was called as ‘turning about two and a half feet.’ The genius or sheer magic of that delivery stamped Warne as being on the cusp of a once in a generation bowler.

That delivery is commonly referred to as the ball of the century.

England's Mike Gatting (centre) is bowled out by Shane Warne

England’s Mike Gatting (centre) is bowled out by Shane Warne. (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)

Jasprit Bumrah to Shaun Marsh; Boxing Day Test; India versus Australia at MCG 2018
Bumrah’s delivery was brilliant on several fronts. The Indian team knew Marsh was a nervous batsman and it was nearing lunch. They’d also noticed Marsh had stumbled across earlier slower deliveries. They observed the wicket was not doing a great deal so decided a slower ball was worth trying.


Normally a 140 KPH bowler, Burmah dropped his speed to 113 KPH and sent down a yorker. Expecting a faster delivery, Marsh was bamboozled and out.

Marsh was out LBW to Burmah twice in this Test and with the loss of both his wickets, the Australian batting quickly fell away.

Ishant Sharma to Andrew Symonds; second Test Australia versus India 2008, SCG
Australia’s middle order had collapsed. On 30 Andrew Symonds was then caught behind. Umpire Steve Bucknor however inexplicably ruled not out. Symonds went on to make 162, ultimately putting Australia in a winning position that they achieved with only seven balls remaining.

An incorrect decision on that single ball led to an Australian victory and considerable ongoing acrimony towards the standard of umpiring.

Trevor Chappell to Brian McKechnie; ODI Australia versus New Zealand. MCG, 1981
Needing a six off the last ball to secure a tie, under instructions from his captain and brother Greg, and despite protests from wicketkeeper Rod Marsh, Trevor Chappell sent down an underarm delivery that was blocked by Brian McKechnie.

Benaud described it as a ‘disgraceful performance.’ New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon said it was “an act of true cowardice and I consider it appropriate that the Australian team were wearing yellow.”

I recall moving to an inner suburb in Melbourne where the side of a factory had been painted “Chappell you stink more than your underarm.” With a documentary released in recent years, this delivery continues to occupy a large place in cricket history.


Kuldeep Yadav to Babar Azam; ODI, India versus Pakistan 2019 World Cup
I only mention this as it remains comparable to Shane Warne’s ball to Mike Gatting. Like Warne’s, Kuldeep’s delivery is described as a ball of the century. (Despite the century concerned not even being a quarter over). The ball appears heading away from the stumps before hitting the pitch and jagging at an incredible angle back into the stumps.

The ball captures everything that can be said about the grace and skill to achieve the ultimate turning delivery.

I’ve barely scratched the surface in this article. And my head a fair few times as I tried to recall balls of history and impact. I remember Mark Waugh against India snagging two wickets in the final over before lunch in a Boxing Day Test and turning the match. Plus Dennis Lillee bombarding Viv Richards with short balls. Then there’s Peter Siddle’s hat-trick. Or Shane Warne’s.

You’ll have deliveries that stick in your mind. The ones you leapt up appealing with the crowd to, where you shook your head at a not out decision or even the deliveries that caused an injury.

Maybe some of those stay with you because they had an effect on the game that went beyond the single ball. I’m imaging it already for the coming summer. “Here comes Mitchell Starc now, running in to bowl to…”