VVS Laxman bowled by Shane Warne

Nemesis nixed: Shane Warne bowls VVS Laxman for the only time in his career

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The top 20

The balls of the century, No. 10: Shane Warne to VVS Laxman

Sometimes even a stock delivery can look spectacular (and change the course of a series)

Sharda Ugra  |  

India v Australia, Bangalore, 2004

Let's start by looking at this dismissal through the eyes of everyone other than the two individuals involved. The context of the game: Australia v India, mission Final Frontier Part II after the 2001 contest became a boilover for the ages. It is the first Test of a new Border-Gavaskar series. Australia choose to bat, lose their top five around 250, a debutant called Pup scores a hundred in a 167-run partnership with Adam Gilchrist. In reply to Australia's 474, India's top order have disappeared: 98 for 4 and 124 for 5.

VVS Laxman is the only specialist batsman left. Angular and unflustered, he is totemic against Australia. To India's fans, his presence spells resurgence, miracles. To Australia, he is an omen that can only be banished by departure. He plays Glenn McGrath with circumspection and is in control against Michael Kasprowicz and Shane Warne. He has settled into a nice groove, hitting two boundaries off Warne either side of the wicket. The motor is purring along nicely, not yet in third gear but getting there.

There's half an hour of play left in the second day. Warne has had a long spell without reward. He is at the end of his 11th over and must be tiring. The competitor in him, though, doesn't. There are patches of rough on the pitch around Laxman, who has opened his shoulder a little, ready for the ripping leggie in case one lands there.

Warne's last ball instead offers something else. It is released from outside off, lands on a good length just outside leg and does its Warney thing. Slow down the YouTube clip to its maximum and you see that on landing, the ball still bites, leaps and zips across Laxman. The stumps shake, the bails jump - four seconds from the time Warne began his run-up to Laxman's head turning around to discover debris.

It is not, Laxman says himself, the best ball he's faced from Warne. He dissects the dismissal that had the Aussies leaping out of their skins in celebration, commentators hollering, and the Chinnaswamy spectators' dismay reaching its highest pitch. "It looks spectacular," Laxman says, "because of my foot movement." It was to become even more spectacular because of its consequences: Australia's most dangerous adversary was out, India were reduced 136 for 6, and at the end of the second day of the series, control had been established.

Laxman says that since the Warne-Gatting ball of the 20th century, when batsmen played Warne, they were "ready for those deliveries that drift towards leg stump, pitch and turn. So you always cover the drift." In Bangalore, he says, "I didn't cover the drift. You are opening up your shoulder for that delivery, you take a long stride… and the ball should just have come and hit my pad. For that delivery I didn't take a long stride, I didn't stretch. It gave room for the ball to turn and hit the off stump."

Even as Warne remained a formidable opponent, Laxman was bowled by him only this one time in his career, by what he says was the bowler's stock delivery.

"Warney's greatness as a bowler was about more - his understanding of batsmen's mindsets and conditions. Then his skills. From over the wicket, he could get the ball to drift and dip outside leg. He would toss it up or bowl flatter and get drift anyway, because he got such revs on the ball. On pitching with those revs, it spun sharply. Third was his control. Warney didn't bowl loose balls, he would suffocate batsmen, read their minds, set fields and play with their minds."

Maybe Warne will instead cite mind games and the match situation as the essential sources of this wicket. Regardless of how it came to be or how flashy it looked, that's what showstoppers do. They stop shows. Three weeks later, India lost a home series to Australia for the first time in 35 years.

The balls of the century

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo