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The Ball of the Century: Redux

Shane Warne is there at the top of his run, and I just know he’s going to bowl the ‘Gatting ball’. He’s full of purpose, ripping the cherry from hand to hand, and he’s asking his captain for another close fielder. The stands of Old Trafford are in the background, and I’m tapping my bat firmly into the pitch. A little nervous perhaps, but then Warney looks nervous too. After all, he’s about to deliver his first ever ball in an Ashes test match, and unlike me, he doesn’t know it’s going to be the ‘Gatting ball’.

He begins that famous, ambulatory approach and I resolve that I’m not going to make the same mistakes Gatting did. For starters, I’m going to use my feet. Dance down. Get to it on the full. Then I’m going to swing in a clean graceful pendulum, and watch the ball arc sweetly away into the Manchester mist. After all, if I’ve learned nothing else from various hour-long monologues from Ian Chappell, attack is the best form of defence.

Warne reaches the crease and in front of him there’s a pop and a whir as a bowling machine spits out the greatest ball in history. I begin my charge, strong and committed, the same charge that earned me a double digit average batting down the order at Froggy Hollow in the South Eastern Suburban churches. Then suddenly, with eyes closed and bat hovering somewhere above my ears, there’s the solid clunk of timber. The crowd groans and I can only assume that there is bad news in relation to my off stump. I turn around and look disbelieving behind me, as if I don’t want to go, which I don’t because apart from sharing a beer and a tomato sauce sandwich with the great man, this is about as good as it gets.

On the video screen, Warne is now screaming and sending me on my way and Ian Healy is muttering insults I assume are meant for Gatting – something about me being fat with a stupid beard and being lucky to get a game for Middlesex. In any event, I’ve had my first go at the Shane Warne Interactive Experience at the revamped Gallery of Sport, and in a few minutes, I’ll have another. Next time, I’m committing myself to nudging the ‘Gatting ball’ quietly out to cover.

According to MCC Trust Chairman John Wylie, this is the sort of experience sports fans will enjoy at a restructured and relocated Australian Gallery of Sport. The image I have is a sort of sporting Disneyland, where instead of getting a hug from Mickey Mouse, you get to a punch in the back of the head from a mechanised Micky Martyn.

Mr Wylie has also talked about the possibility for real time races on treadmills against Cathy Freeman or Betty Cuthbert. Most likely, this would involve punters running at their own pace, while watching their virtual heroes slip steadily ahead on a video screen. There has been less enthusiasm for allowing us to actually be the star. To set the treadmill to Freeman pace, display a Cathy-eye view of the track, and then see how long it takes the challenger to shoot off the back.

Swimming simulators will pose some practical dry land difficulties, so the museum may consider my idea of a 10 metre high flagpole which visitors can climb to souvenir a Japanese flag.

If the MCC thinks it can woo us into turning a blind eye to the demolition of the Members Pavilion, just by promising an interactive gallery of sport, it could be on to something. I, for one, have been completely swayed. I’ll even go so far as to say that if they need to skimp a little on the grandstand to save money for a Joe Bugner rope-a dope exhibit, fire away.

Who knows, in time the museum might even move from video and mechanical interaction to virtual reality helmets. The technology is there. Then any veteran member who is missing his old obscured view of the greatest sporting ground in Australia can simply borrow a helmet, take a seat in a spectacular 21st century stadium and program in a pillar.