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This Day That Year || The ball of the century and Shane Warne

“It was a fluke”

Unabashed, open and outspoken as always, this is how Shane Warne talked of arguably the greatest moment on the field by a non-batsman. That Ashes 1993 leg-break is etched into the very fabric of cricket as an unforgettable cricketing moment. Mike Gatting was bamboozled, the umpire and fielders looked on in disbelief. Warne himself, a seven-Test old rookie, became a cult hero overnight. 

The Robinson brothers, Garry and Ian, Australian physicists and cricket fans gives a fair bit of insight into Warne’s ball of the century in their research paper in Physica Scripta – a mathematical model for the action of gravity, drag, and lift with regards to cricket and golf balls.

“What happens when you’re bowling a ball is you throw it up a bit, so in the early stages of the trajectory there’s a small component of the airflow past the ball, where the ball is rising and that vertical motion against the spin will give it a small side force, which will move it to the right a little bit.

“But then once the ball hits the top of the trajectory then that side force goes away and then as the ball starts to come back down due to gravity you now have a vertical flow past the ball coming from below and that changes the direction of the side force.

“So initially the batsman would be watching the ball coming towards them, and all of a sudden at the top of the trajectory it starts to come down and it’s suddenly moving away from them.”

All of this is pure physics. Yet, there’s a magical element to Warne’s ball of the century that science cannot explain. 

“It was a fluke,” Warne said on The 7.30 Report in 2018. “I never did it again. I never bowled anything like that ever, first ball to take a wicket.”

If science indeed was the major factor behind the ball of the century, it would have been replicated, at least by Warne himself. He didn’t. Like he said, he never did it again. Everything from the stride to the landing to Gatting’s prod and the ball whizzing past his bat to hit off-stump was plain and pure magic. Unadulterated,  simple, gorgeous magic! 

About Rohit Sankar

Rohit Sankar is a freelance cricket journalist stuck in a love-hate live-in relationship with the game. To rile him up, mention the 1999 World Cup semi-final. Rohit has been writing about cricket for well over 10 years now, and has written for a variety of news and sports outlets over this time.

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