I was a boy from Bayside in Melbourne, who'd had a simple upbringing. Summer was the beach, tennis and a bit of cricket now and again; winter was footy. Warne family holidays were mainly in September when we'd drive to Surfers Paradise in Queensland.
There was a place there that had these cool, thrill-a-minute water-slides. We were either on the slides or hanging out at the beach for a week or two a year, and then we drove home. Jase and me led a pretty sheltered life, and by the time of my 18th birthday I'd been down the pub a bit with mates and chased a few girls, but I'll bet I wouldn't have been to more than half-a-dozen parties.
I've talked about my dreams — the AFL one shot down and the cricket one brought to life. Almost from nowhere I'd gone from working in factories, driving trucks, flogging pizzas and delivering beds to travelling the world and playing international cricket. It had been a pretty amazing journey; little did I know what was to come.
Old Trafford in England in 1993 changed everything. I bowled the best ball that anyone had ever seen — or so they told me. 'The Ball of the Century', they said, as if it was an all-time classic song, y'know, Honky Tonk Women or Bohemian Rhapsody.
There were photographers and newsos everywhere, following me close — too close — and I was thinking, 'Hey, whoa, what's going on?' I had no idea about this stuff and it was massive. I was 23 years old and wherever I went it suddenly felt like there was a kid with zinc cream on his nose, trying to bowl leg-spin. A cult had appeared from nothing in the UK and I was it.
No-one teaches you this bit. There is no school — you just have to trust your gut, be yourself and get a bit lucky. There are plenty of sharks out there, in it for themselves. The trick I quickly learnt was to surround myself with good people.
I didn't see myself as this new global superstar who'd bowled a miracle delivery that had everyone out of their seats, but the families and kids in the streets — or at hotels, restaurants, bars and, of course, at cricket grounds — well, they did. I didn't want all the other stuff and I sure didn't see it coming. It's been an ongoing problem of mine. I don't see the big-shot sportsman, I see the guy from Bayside, cruising with his mates, happy with a pizza and a beer.
Everywhere I went, there'd be someone who wanted a piece of me. Though it was flattering at first, it soon became hard to deal with. I'd be out with mates and people would come up and say hi, then pause, just standing there, launching into a bunch of questions about cricket. I got it, and tried to stay polite, but I wanted to relax not engage.
Occasionally, I'd get ratty so they'd turn on me — 'Big head' or 'Rude bastard'. I felt on show, exposed and, at times, threatened. I was beginning to see how fame was double-edged. There were even articles about the clothes I wore. 'Warne was seen out,' didn't matter where, 'dressed in ripped denim jeans'. Really?, Who cares?
At home in Melbourne, Mum and Dad's house was the escape. In England, it was my hotel room or 'Help, guys, stick with me tonight!' to my team-mates. This took some digesting.
I'd wanted sporting success but never considered the implications and responsibilities that came with it. People stop you for an autograph or photo and they're meeting the headline, not the person. It's confusing and potentially derailing.
During the two or three years that followed, I was on a rollercoaster. I took 200 wickets in that time and broke a bunch of records. The Australian team pretty much smashed everyone and life was good.
I was in glossy mags and meeting rock stars. Guys like the Rolling Stones' tour manager would say, 'Hey, Shane, I'm a big fan — love you, mate.' I'd hang out backstage, before watching the show from the mixing desk, posing for a million pics and signing another million autographs. It was nuts and, though I didn't pick up on it immediately, I was starting to feel as if I was in a pressure cooker that was increasingly close to exploding. I felt I was getting away from who I was.
It was like it wasn't me, like I was two different people — Shane Warne the cricketer and Shane Warne the person. A lot of people spend their life trying to be in the newspaper or magazines. I've spent most of my life trying not to be in them. It might sound ridiculous, but that's the way I see it.
Anyway, let's do that ball first.
The Gatting Ball
1993 Ashes. I remember sitting on the plane to England next to Merv [Hughes]. I said I'd watched a lot of the '89 series when the Aussies, as underdogs, hammered the Poms. He said, 'Mate, these are great tours: no flights, you travel round the place in a bus together drinking free beer from XXXX, the sponsors. The county games are no sweat and the test matches have rest days on Sunday! Best of all, England are crap.' He said it was the best tour, full stop.
I thought that sounded pretty good. We landed in England and basically went straight to Lord's, did a press conference, had a jog, and over the next few days got rid of the cobwebs — bat, bowl, catch, throw, and then repeat it. The facilities were great and before we knew it we were off — three one-day warm-ups before the first county game at Worcestershire.
New Road, Worcester is a beautiful ground but with very short boundaries. On the outfield before the start of play, Allan Border pulled me aside and said, 'Mate, these guys over here haven't seen much of you, so there's a surprise element we can exploit. I want you to bowl leg-breaks and nothing else — no top-spinners, no flippers, no wrong 'uns, just leggies.'
AB added that Graeme Hick — who played for Worcestershire — had the ability to play a major part in the test series. 'Now is not the moment to show him your box of tricks.
Switch over and round the wicket a bit if you want — not too much — and just bowl leggies to him, nothing else for now. Keep the magic up your sleeve.'
In the second innings, Hick made 187. He hit me for eight sixes. There were so many times I wanted to bowl a flipper or a wrong 'un, to show him something, but, well, AB was the boss. Geez, Hicky played well. I was bowling the leg-breaks properly, trying to fizz them, but he just kept smashing me. (Warne 23-6-122-1 in that innings!)
To be honest, I'd thought the leg-break might have been good enough for the Poms anyway, but now I was thinking this bloke Hick wasn't a bad player, and I already knew about guys like Gooch and Gatting, so a few doubts suddenly crept in.
I was very low key through the other county matches — actually quite down in the dumps 'These are only county games, Warney, she'll be right on the night,' said the other bowlers, but it sounded hollow. I felt vulnerable.
By the time we got to Old Trafford for the first test, I was like a caged animal, ripping them in the nets — leggies, wrong 'uns, flippers — and bowling for hours on end just to get back on track mentally as much as anything. As the hours and minutes ticked by to the test, I started to overthink it. I was wondering if they'd pick Tim May instead of me because I'd been smashed by Hick at Worcester.
But AB came up to me the day before the test and said, 'Mate, you're going great. They're coming out well — you're fizzing them.'
I said, 'Yeah, I feel good.'
'Great,' AB replied, 'because we're unleashing you tomorrow and we are going to hammer them.'
'Phew, okay, I'm ready to go, mate,' I told him. 'I'm ready.'
I really needed that. I was learning that confidence was at the heart of performance and that you couldn't take it for granted. I had a spring in my step.
When AB walked out to toss the coin, it was like, 'How awesome is this! The huge crowd and the legend of the Ashes — love it!' Yes, I was nervous but part of that was just wanting to get on with it, to burst out of the blocks and rip some massive leggies and show Hick and company there was more than a leg-break in this bag of tricks.
England won the toss, put us in and bowled us out on a damp pitch for 289. Mark Taylor made a fantastic hundred (he got 124) and then it was our turn to bowl.
Craig McDermott was having a horror tour, he'd hardly taken a wicket, and Mike Atherton and Gooch got off to a great start — 0/70. Just before one of the breaks, Merv knocked over Atherton, which opened the door. Gatting came in and started well. Then AB signalled for me to bowl, saying he didn't want Gatt to settle.
I was fighting off those demons in my head. 'To hell with it,' I thought. 'Get a grip, go for it, fizz these things out like you've never fizzed them before.' Peter Such had taken six for England in the first innings so we knew there was plenty of spin in the pitch. All I had to do was make use of it.
I clearly remember standing at the top of my mark and taking in deep breaths. It was chilly, which seemed to add to my nerves, and I kind of shivered in anticipation of this first Ashes moment. Gatt was on strike with Goochie at the non-striker's end.
Goochie just stared at me the whole time, watching everything I did, trying to unsettle me. I was almost too pumped now, so I turned away from him and tried to rein back the emotion and find that — how can I say — fired-up sense of calm that served me best.
It sounds daft, I know, but it's a state that is in there somewhere, a perfect state of concentration. I can only find it if I blank out everything else. It's hard when you're that nervous, so I took the deep breaths and slowed everything down, which settled the shivering.
Then the perfect state kicked in, like I was in a trance.
'Right, mate, just rip this leg-break and send the England dressing-room a message that I can spin it big!'
I sensed the crowd's excitement. More deep breaths.
Then something inside me said, 'You gotta go. Come on, go, mate, pull the trigger, let's rip this.'
I remember letting go of the ball and it felt great. It couldn't have come out any better.
Now, of course, what it does after that I can never be sure. A lot depends on how the batsman wants to play the ball and his thought process/mindset.
It happens in half a second but seems to take forever. It floats and swerves and dips. I like it, really like it.
It pitches outside leg-stump and spins. Boy, does it spin! I like it more.
Gatt plays half-forward, down the line of leg-stump, and misses.
The ball hits the top of off.
Momentarily the world stood still. Everyone, it seemed, was frozen in shock.
Gatt looked at the pitch in suspicion, like it had conned him. Then he turned for the pavilion with a bemused look and a shake of the head.
We all went berserk. I was thinking, 'You beauty — what a cherry!' Not a bad way to start.
It was the first time that those huge Citroen replay screens (I even remember the sponsor!) were at test grounds and we all looked up together. Heals said, 'Mate, that is as good a ball as you will ever bowl. That is an unbelievable delivery.'
In the change-rooms at the close of play, the BBC were televising a wrap of the day and we sat there watching. Heals was still all over it: 'Hey, boys, have a look at this, watch this ...' They replayed it 10 times from every different angle and it wasn't until then that we realised — I realised — that it was out there, something way beyond even my expectation.
As time went on, I figured that to have done that with my first ball, with the nerves and the cold — well, I'd call it a fluke. I guess it was meant to be. I never, ever did it again in my career.
(On reflection, I did take a wicket with the first ball of a spell one other time — Marcus Trescothick, Trent Bridge 2005, caught at bat-pad. I strongly felt Punter should have opened the bowling with me that day. It was the fourth innings of the pivotal fourth test.
England had made us follow on and then left themselves just 129 to win.
Trescothick got off to a flyer against the new nut but I should have been landing into the rough outside his off-stump straight away.)
Back to the middle, where we were buzzing in a way that doesn't happen often. It was like the ante had been upped. We dispersed and got ready for the next bloke.
Robin Smith came out. I spun a couple past his outside edge before he played a beautiful drive down the ground for four off the last ball of the over. No worries. I was feeling real good, I'd got a wicket with my first ball in England, broken the partnership, and was champing for Merv to bowl his half-dozen quickly so I could have another go.
Next over, Smith was still on strike and I thought, 'If he fancies driving me, I'll get it full around leg-stump, the Gatting line, and might nick him off.' I did. I bowled another one, first ball, bang, he tried to drive, nicked it to Tubby, gone, out! Almost as good as the Gatting ball. This time it was Smith on his bike.
I had 2/4 from seven balls and I just kept going. It was overcast, cold, and as good as I ever bowled in a test match. I loved the pitch because the ball gathered pace and turned quickly.
Merv knocked Hick over for 34 and 22 and then, in the next test match, took it upon himself to barrage him — verbally and physically. After a couple of games, Hick was dropped; Gatting too. Gooch lost the captaincy.
It turned square again in the fifth test at Edgbaston, where me and Maysey picked up five each. The pitches played into our hands. We swarmed all over the Poms.
'No Spin' by Shane Warne with Mark Nicholas, RRP $55, Published by Penguin Viking.