On this day 55 years ago, Colin Cowdrey and Peter May used their pads to frustrate and blunt the spin of Sonny Ramadhin and put on a gigantic partnership. However, spin struck back exactly 36 years later when Mike Gatting was bowled by the “Ball of the Century” from Shane Warne.
Arunabha Sengupta takes a look at the mixed day for spinners.
June 4, 1957 – 98 overs in vain
In 1950, when Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine had bowled West Indies to a 326-run victory at Lord’s, Rex Alston had summarised the resulting revelry saying, “Such a sight has never been seen before at Lord’s.”
Valentine had taken seven wickets in the match and Ramadhin 11 and half of London’s West Indian population had streamed into the ground. Leading the merry-makers was Lord Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts), a calypso star who had been in London since 1948. Kitchener, with a khaki sash over his bright blue shirt, carried a guitar which he strummed wildly, giving birth to the immortal calypso, “Those two little pals of mine, Ramadhin and Valentine.”
When the islanders returned in 1957, Valentine missed the first Test at Edgbaston, but Ramadhin’s brilliance in the first innings ominously threatened a replay of the 1950 series. Capturing seven for 49 with his mysterious flick of the wrist, Ramadhin restricted the home team to 186. Collie Smith blasted his way to 161, and half centuries by Clyde Walcott, Gary Sobers and Frank Worrell carried the visitors to 474.
Early on the fourth morning Brian Close was caught off Roy Gilchrist, and with the second innings score on 113 for three, the end seemed to be just around the corner.
However, it took them a while to go around this bend. Ramadhin bowled on and on, and the immaculate pair of Peter May and Colin Cowdrey kept thrusting their pads forward. There seemed no way to get past those barriers, as the batsmen batted through the fourth day.
On the fifth day, 4th June, the two middle-order maestros carried on in the same vein and took their partnership to a mammoth 411. When Cowdrey was finally caught by substitute Nyron Asgarali at long on off Collie Smith, he had batted 500 minutes for 154. May batted a hundred more minutes and remained unbeaten on 285 when he decided to close the English innings at 583 for four. Ramadhin, whose second wicket had come with the score on 65, bowled a backbreaking 98 overs, taking two for 179.
A tired, demoralised West Indian side stuttered to 72 for seven as the match ended in a draw.
Incidentally, this was the Test in which Test Match Special made its official debut – thus having plenty of history to describe from the box.
Although Valentine returned for the second Test, the threat of spin had been blunted for good, and England won the series 3-0.
June 4, 1993 – “Ball of the Century”
However, on the same June 4, 36 years down the line, the equalising blow for the spinners was struck in a big, big way.
On the second day of the first Ashes Test at Manchester, with the score reading 80 for one in response to 289, a young blonde, Shane Warne, was handed the ball by skipper Allan Border.
In front of them was the stocky, bearded frame of Mike Gatting, a man renowned for his ability against the turning ball. The spectators waited as bowler and captain conversed, eager to witness the much hyped leg-spinner’s first ball in an Ashes Test match.
At last, the field set with meticulous detail, Warne ambled in with his half walk, half trot action. His right arm went through the jerky circle, the ball was tossed up, with apparent harmlessness towards somewhere outside the leg stump. Gatting stretched forward, not quite getting to the pitch. The ball drifted away further down the leg side, prompting scorers to raise their pencils in marking off another dot ball, and then – it hit the turf. And with an almost electric whizz, it turned across the face of the bat, across the voluminous expanse of Mike Gatting, and travelled an enormous distance to clip the off bail.
For both Gatting and Ian Healy, the first reaction was surprise, a sense of disbelief … and then as the wicket-keeper erupted in joy, the veteran batsman made his shell-shocked way back to the pavilion.
Warne wore an expression of glee along with the scarcely believable suggestion that he had known what would happen all along.
This delivery – later dubbed the “Ball of the Century” – brought spin back into cricket in a big, big way.
(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but purifies the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two into a cleansing cocktail. The author of three novels, he currently resides in the incredibly beautiful, but sadly cricket-ignorant, country of Switzerland. You can know more about him from his author site, his cricket blogs and by following him on Twitter)