waugh-leather
As Steve Waugh returns, bowled by David Leatherdale, Jamie Pipe keeps quipping… © Getty Images

Steve Waugh was up against some Chinese torture when Kent played Worcestershire at New Road on September 1, 2002. Abhishek Mukherjee writes in details.

Steve Waugh had already played his last Test in England a year ago. That series had ended in a 4-1 triumph. It remains, till date, the last time Australia had won an Ashes series on English soil.

He was now touring New Road for Kent, for whom he was playing his only season. Captain Matthew Fleming and Robert Key added 101 for the opening stand before three quick wickets fell. Waugh walked out to find a medium-pacer called David Leatherdale at the thick of things.

Leatherdale was not a specialist bowler. He took 132 wickets in a career that spanned 17 seasons, and sent down only 5.3 overs a match. His limited-overs numbers (183 wickets at 23.43) would have been impressive had he averaged more than 2.4 overs a match. He was not a great batsman, either, but a combination of both skills had kept him in the side.

This seemingly harmless man had a score to settle with Steve Waugh, already an all-time great. It was the outcome of an incident from five summers ago.

Worcestershire had shocked Mark Taylor’s men in a 50-over match back in 1997. The Australians had somewhat recovered from an initial burst from Gavin Haynes, whose 4 for 40 included Taylor, Waugh, Greg Blewett, and Michael Bevan. At 104 for 4 things had not looked too bad.

And that was when Leatherdale had struck — and struck five times. The Australians, who would lift the World Cup in the three subsequent editions, had been skittled out for 121 in 35 overs. Leatherdale had fantastic figures of 5-1-10-5. Captain Tom Moody and Graeme Hick had finished things with 67 balls to spare.

Waugh was not happy at a medium-pacer dishing out such humiliation to the side. His 1997 Ashes diary mentioned that Leatherdale “wouldn’t even get a bowl in a Chinese restaurant.”

The pair had met in 1999 and 2001. In the first, Waugh fell for 2. In the second, Leatherdale received a pasting (his 5 overs went for 46).

True, Waugh had failed in 1999, but Leatherdale had never got his wicket. He wanted that wicket, and found support in his slip fielders, who sledged Waugh in Chinese restaurant jargon, on the lines of “how about some sweet and sour?” There were several more, all of them revolving around the topic.

Waugh was not at his best on this day. By the time Leatherdale clean bowled him, he had scratched his way to a 16-ball 3 to end this brief period of Chinese torture.

There was no way the Worcestershire fielders would remain quiet after that. Wicketkeeper Jamie Pipe congratulated Leatherdale before quipping at Waugh: “I’ll have a number 57, with fried rice.”

Worcestershire won the match by 3 wickets. That should have been the end of the story, but how could I not mention what happened half an hour before the winning stroke? Leatherdale walked out to bat at No. 7 and survived the first ball before perishing off the next.

Yes, you have guessed the bowler correctly.

Brief scores:

Kent 213 for 8 in 45 overs (Matthew Fleming 68) lost to Worcestershire 217 for 7 in 44.1 overs (Graeme Hick 77; Martin Saggers 4 for 37) by 3 wickets with 5 balls to spare.