Memories of the horrific on-field collision between Steve Waugh and Jason Gillespie
Jason Gillespie is carried off the field after a collision with Steve Waugh attempting a catch at Kandy. @Getty
Memories of the horrific on-field collision between Steve Waugh and Jason Gillespie

Jason Gillespie (left) is carried off the field after a collision with Steve Waugh (right) attempting a catch, during Day Two of the 1st Test between Sri Lanka and Australia at Asgiriya Stadium, Kandy, on September 10, 1999. Waugh was back on the field 12 days later against medical advice, while Gillespie almost the rest of the season  © Getty Images

Kyle Mills and Brendon McCullum collided while attempting to catch Yuvraj Singh, but got away without serious injury. Arunabha Sengupta recalls a similar collision with far more damaging impact that took place almost exactly 13 years ago.

The ball was short – and the man of the moment, Yuvraj Singh, went for the pull. It was just the seventh delivery he had faced after coming back from his battle with cancer. The top edge soared high and fine. As it hung in the air, time stopped for the spectators. There was the hero who had come back victorious from the toughest battle of his life. Would his stay at the wicket be so ironically short-lived?

And then fate winked. Like in his recent struggle, Yuvraj was given a new lease of life. As Brendon McCullum rushed for the catch from behind the stumps and Kyle Mills ran in from the outfield, they collided. And in the tangle of limbs, bodies and caps, the ball slipped out. The crowd heaved a sigh of relief, Yuvraj and Virat Kohli ran two, and Mills, having copped McCullum’s elbow in the head, looked down and dazed. Luckily, the injury was not serious, and with the help of some assistance, he was soon walking off the ground.

The outcome was definitely better than when a similar collision had taken place 13 years ago, almost to the day, a little to the south.

September 10, 1999

Nothing had gone right for the Australian side from the moment Steve Waugh had won his 13th toss in a row. At Kandy’s Asgiriya Stadium, Australia had batted and crumbled to 61 for 7 by lunch. A fighting 96 by Ricky Ponting and a stubborn 41 by Jason Gillespie had helped them to reach 188.

On the second day, September 10, steady batting by Aravinda de Silva and Mahela Jayawardene had taken the score to 139 for 3 when the latter skied Colin Miller to the square-leg. Waugh ran back from square-leg, and Gillespie charged in from the leg boundary – both focused on the ball. And then they ran into each other.

As the two sprawled on the field, writhing in pain, the ball trickled along the outfield. Jayawardene and de Silva ran two, and decided against the third as none of the Australian fielders seemed concerned about the ball. They had had rushed along and huddled beside their injured mates who lay in obvious agony.

Play was held up for six minutes as treatment was administered on the field. But the damages were too intensive for quick repair. Waugh, bleeding from the nose, walked to an ambulance but Gillespie had to be carried off the field by team-mates.

Cricket now witnessed a rare drama. Almost like the remake of a scene from Apocalypse Now, a helicopter appeared from over the adjoining hill, dirty green and menacingly military, emerging out of tropical trees. Play was suspended as it swept low over the back of the ground, and touched down. The two indisposed men were whisked away by four Sri Lankan commandos and the ominous craft left towards Colombo, with the last of the Australian hopes of making a match of it.

Bad news

Surgeon Ashoka Jayasena, who examined Waugh, did not have encouraging news: “His nose is disfigured and there are serious lacerations. Waugh wants to get back to play by tomorrow, but I told him it was out of question and he would have to wait for at least two weeks.”

Gillespie, on his part, had snapped the tibia in his right leg.

The pictures of Waugh lying on the hospital bed, face heavily bandaged like a war veteran, have become almost as famous as the man himself.

As for the match, Shane Warne picked up five and Miller four to restrict Sri Lanka to 234; but, batting with nine men, the second Australian innings folded for 140. They did fight hard till the last ball, but Sri Lanka overhauled the 95 run target with little difficulty, losing four wickets.

Twelve days later, the Australian captain was back for the second Test, defying medical advice and the four broken bones in his nose. Gillespie, however, had to miss most of the season.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)