Mike Gatting became the victim of Shane Warne's 'ball of the century.' © Getty Images
Mike Gatting became the victim of Shane Warne’s ‘ball of the century.’ © Getty Images

Mike Gatting, born June 6, 1957, is one of England’s most prolific batsmen of all time. On his 60th birthday, Shiamak Unwalla looks at 10 interesting facts about the former England skipper.

1.  Middlesex legend: Gatting was born in Kingsbury, and played for Middlesex his entire county career. British journalist Matthew Engel once wrote about Gatting, “For two decades, it was a sight as characteristic of Lord’s as Father Time himself: Mike Gatting, with jutting beard and strutting gait, biffing the ball past extra-cover for Middlesex or England.”

2.  A unique track record: Gatting has one of the most interesting and unique records; he has played the exact same number of First-Class and List A matches: 551. Very few cricketers have retired with the same number of matches played in each format.

3.  A useful all-rounder: Though Gatting is known predominantly for his batting exploits, he was actually a handy medium-pacer as well. Though he did not bowl a lot in international cricket, he often sent down a few overs for Middlesex. His First-Class bowling average of 29.76 and List A average of 27.52 are excellent for a non-regular bowler. He also had two five-wicket hauls in First-Class cricket and one in List A cricket.

4.  A fateful reverse-sweep: Misbah-ul-Haq might hold the unwanted legacy of playing the most ill-advised shot in World T20 history, but Gatting probably holds that record in the longer version of the World Cup. It was the final of the 1987 World Cup. Australia had managed to set England 254, but at 135 for two it seemed Gatting would help England to their maiden World Cup triumph.

Australian captain Allan Border, who had done little of note in the tournament with the bat, came on to bowl his part-time medium pace. The first ball he sent down proved to be the moment that turned the match. Gatting, highly uncharacteristically, got down on one knee to play the reverse sweep. He only managed to offer wicketkeeper Greg Dyer a catch, which was duly taken. England crashed to 246 for eight, as Australia won their first World Cup final by seven runs. The next three wins would be resounding ones.

5.  Bone in the ball: One of the most horrific cricketing injuries took place when Malcolm Marshall bowled a vicious bouncer at Gatting in the first One-Day International (ODI) of the 1986 series in Sabina Park. With England huffing and puffing in the middle, skipper Viv Richards instructed the lethal Marshall to bowl the dreaded “perfume ball.” Marshall did as his captain asked, sending down a short one at Gatting, who attempted to hook. The ball missed the bat but not the face. It went on to fall onto the stumps. Not that it would have made a difference; Gatting would have had to walk off the field anyway. When Marshall picked up the ball, he found a piece of Gatting’s nasal bone embedded in the leather.

To Gatt’s credit though, he returned just a couple of matches later to try and help England come back. It was to no avail though, as the West Indians absolutely crushed the visiting team.

6.  Ball of the century: Despite his many batting accomplishments, Gatting is perhaps best remembered as being the unfortunate soul to be on the receiving end of Shane Warne’s ball of the century.

The ball, which was Warne’s first on English soil, dipped in the air, pitched outside leg, and spun across Gatting to knock over the top of off stump. Gatting himself was completely astounded, and wore a look that suggested he was unable to compute what had just happened.

7.  Ugly confrontation with umpire Shakoor Rana: Perhaps one of the low points of Gatting’s career was his infamous standoff with Pakistani umpire Shakoor Rana. Gatting and England were already put off by Rana wearing a Pakistan sweater while officiating. Rana’s questionable umpiring decisions and his reputation of being less than honourable didn’t help either. The growing friction between Gatting and Rana became a conflagration when Gatting, signalling to a fielder after having informed the batsman, was accused of cheating by Rana, who was at square leg at the time.

The ensuing argument was a heated and violent one. Rana would later say, “In Pakistan many men have been killed for the sort of insults he threw at me. He’s lucky I didn’t beat him.” Gatting had to put in a (doubtless unwilling and grudging) hand-written apology for the match to resume the next morning.

8.  A tryst that cost the captaincy: Gatting found himself in hot water with the board after it was alleged that he had invited a barmaid back to his room during a Test match, wherein Gatting was captain. It must be noted that there is no definitive proof of Gatting having actually spent the night with her; but the allegation of Gatting inviting her to his room was enough to cost him the captaincy, though Gatting has revealed that it was as much his run-in with Rana as anything that led to his axing.

9.  The ample girth and a love for food: Graham Gooch wryly quipped about Warne’s Ball of the Century, “If it had been a cheese roll, it would never have got past him [Gatting].”

Martin Johnson said of the same event, “How anyone can spin a ball the width of Gatting boggles the mind.”

And then there is Dennis Lillee’s famous barb: “Hell, Gatt, move out of the way, I can’t see the stumps.”

These jokes at Gatting’s expense were hardly the first — or last — made about the immense girth and appetite of the man. Gatting’s love of food was renowned; he would often be found munching on something or the other during breaks. To his credit though, his fitness was never compromised by either his width or his love of food.

10.  MCC president: In 2013, then-MCC President Mike Griffith passed the baton on to a deserving successor. He said, “Few people are so closely identified with Lord’s as Mike Gatting and I am delighted that he accepted my invitation to serve as President of MCC.  He made Lord’s his home for Middlesex, and made more appearances for the county than any other player.”

With inputs from Abhishek Mukherjee

(Shiamak Unwalla is a proud Whovian and all-round geek who also dabbles in cricket writing as a reporter with CricketCountry. His Twitter handle is @ShiamakUnwalla)