Mike Gatting hailed Shane Warne as cricket’s “number one” after the death of the Australian great on Friday.
It was Gatting who faced Warne’s ball of the century at Old Trafford in the 1993 Ashes series, a delivery which catapulted the leg-spinner into stardom.
He would finish with 708 Test wickets, only second to Muttiah Muralitharan but his influence on Australia’s all-conquering side across several formats during a 15-year playing career contributed towards a legacy that inspired generations of cricketers.
“Absolutely devastating and I just feel so sad for his family. It is a huge loss to many, many people,” Gatting told Sky Sports News.
“Without a doubt, he is the number one ever. I should think there have been a lot of great cricketers, great spinners and great leg-spinners but Warnie will always be, certainly from my point of view, the number one.
“He had all the things a cricketer needed, a lot of self-confidence, a lot of ability, the discipline, passion and desire.
“Above all he had time to enjoy it. He had great fun playing cricket and resonated with a lot of youngsters. The inspirational leg-spin he bowled I am sure inspired many, many guys to take up leg-spin bowling.”
Named as one of the five Wisden Cricketers of the Century, it was Warne’s leg break that landed outside of Gatting’s leg stump which spun off the surface and hit the top of off stump almost 30 years ago that got the ball rolling for the Aussie against England.
He claimed 195 Ashes scalps but his maiden wicket against his greatest rivals with his first ever ball in the series is still widely regarded as the moment leg-spin became fashionable again.
Gatting added: “When it came down I knew it was a leg break but I didn’t expect it to spin that much. When we often spoke about it, I am not sure he expected it to spin that much.
“He said he just tried to get it down the other end the best he could. Well, it was a bit too good for me.”
Michael Vaughan captained England to victory in the 2005 Ashes, a series where Warne would take 40 wickets to once more establish his greatness in the sport.
After the leg-spinner retired two years later, he would go on to spend plenty of time in commentary boxes with Vaughan and hosted the former Yorkshire batter at Christmas time last year.
“I am absolutely gutted to have a lost a great friend. One thing is for sure Heaven will be a lively place now the King has arrived,” Vaughan said on Instagram.
“Shane was the greatest ever cricketer but more than that his character lit up every dressing room, comm box, bar, golf club and friendship group. His energy and positivity was beyond anyone I have ever known, he was loyal beyond loyal.
“At a time I needed support he was the first to pick up the phone and over (sic) advice/help and the most utmost support. I will never ever forget the warmth he and his family gave me this winter when I was down under for Xmas alone.
“To say I spent Warneys last Xmas with him and his family is so sad but one I will cherish.
“Everyone wanted to be around him but ultimately he was just a normal guy who could do incredible things.”
Broadcaster Mark Nicholas was a friend of Warne’s, he told talkSPORT: “This is one of the greatest cricketers there has ever been, but more than that, one of the most inspirational sporting people there has ever been.
“He turned a whole generation around to a new rock-and-roll type of cricket, he played to a level never been seen before.”
Numerous tributes have been paid on social media with former Australia team-mate Adam Gilchrist writing on Twitter: “Numb. The highlight of my cricketing career was to keep wicket to Warnie. Best seat in the house to watch the maestro at work.
“Have often felt a tad selfish, that Heals (Ian Healy) and I pretty much exclusively are the only ones who had that thrill and pleasure at Test level. Rip Warnie.”
Current Australia red-ball captain Pat Cummins added: “Hard to fathom. We all idolised Warnie growing up for his showmanship, will to win from any position and his incredible skill.
“Players all over the world owe him so much for what he has brought to cricket. He had a huge affect on all he met. He transcended cricket. RIP King.”
England duo Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler worked with Warne at Indian Premier League side Rajasthan Royals.
Stokes said: “Australian legend, Rajasthan Royals legend. Was an hour to know you and work with you. This man is a legend.”
Buttler added: “Such sad news, the greatest to ever do it! A true legend.”
West Indies great Brian Lara described Warne as “one of the greatest” in a post on Twitter.
He wrote: “I literally don’t know how to sum up this situation. My friend is gone!!
“We have lost one of the Greatest Sportsmen of all time!! My condolences goes out to his family. RIP Warnie!! You will be missed.”
Sachin Tendulkar, tweeting a picture of the pair together at the Lord’s bicentenary match in 2014, added: “Will miss you Warnie.
“There was never a dull moment with you around, on or off the field. Will always treasure our on field duels and off field banter. You always had a special place for India and Indians had a special place for you. Gone too young!”
Fellow India batter Virat Kohli wrote: “Life is so fickle and unpredictable. I cannot process the passing of this great of our sport and also a person I got to know off the field. RIP #goat. Greatest to turn the cricket ball.”