Worcestershire v Australia: The lure of New Road still the same

David Leatherdale takes evasive action from Australian batsman Damien Martyn

Mention the words Worcestershire and Australia in the same sentence and it instantly conjures up a warmly-remembered slice of cricketing history.

Once upon a time, the Aussies would come to New Road in early May for the first game of an Ashes summer - and Don Bradman would help himself to yet another double century.

Much has changed in the game of cricket, of course.

Overseas tours no longer last a whole summer and Worcestershire count themselves fortunate to have been given the second of only two warm-up matches for the Australians prior to the Ashes series, which commences at Trent Bridge on Wednesday week.

But their return this week to New Road cannot help but stir the memories.

Former Worcestershire all-rounder David Leatherdale, for example, will never forget the day 16 years ago when he took 5-10 in just five overs to bowl out a touring Australian team - captained by Mark Taylor and containing the likes of Steve Waugh, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath - for just 121 as the county won by five wickets.

Waugh was so impressed that he made a special mention of Leatherdale's feat in his end-of-tour diary.

But he also labelled the Yorkshireman - a renowned stand-breaker, as well as a useful middle order batsman and brilliant fielder - as being the sort who "would not get a bowl in a Chinese restaurant".

Leatherdale told BBC Sport: "Gavin Haynes got four, then I got Justin Langer leg before and then cleaned up the tail, getting Brendon Julian, Michael Kasprowicz, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath.

"I then hit Greg Blewett for successive fours to win the game and walked off feeling pretty happy with life. To give the Aussies a good stuffing at home is as good as it gets."

He continued: "I did not know Steve kept a diary until months later, but it came back to haunt him.

"He came back four or five years later with Kent, when he was their pro for a few weeks.

"I got him out again and he got 'the rusty gate', as they say.

"Jamie Pipe was keeping wicket and he delivered a few appropriate words to send him on his way, telling him 'I'll have a number 57 please, with fried rice'."

As the county's chief executive, 45-year-old Leatherdale is now less concerned with takeaways and more with home takings, especially over the next three days, when Worcestershire could pull in their biggest gate receipts of the summer.

"Putting figures on it is quite difficult," he told BBC Hereford and Worcester, "although we're well into six figures as far as ticket sales, hospitality and other things that go with it.

"It's a reasonable windfall, but we've tried to budget sensibly because you never sure where you're going to be with the weather.

"With the current economic climate, the fact we've reached budget on ticket sales shows there's a fairly big appetite for Australia coming to Worcester.

"I know that Cricket Australia were quite keen to play here. They made a request about what they might want to do leading up to the Ashes series, then it was up to the England and Wales Cricket Board to try to accommodate it.

"We're lucky to get the Aussies, but there's no doubt all touring teams still love coming to play at Worcester because of the history and tradition, playing in the shadow of Worcester Cathedral, and our facilities are now 100 per cent better than they were.

Worcestershire v Australia
A packed house for the Worcestershire v Australia game at New Road in 2001

"There's always a special buzz when the Aussies are in town."

Having had Tom Moody, McGrath, Andy Bichel, Matt Mason (now the county's bowling coach), Steve Smith and Phil Jaques on the staff, Worcestershire are not short on Australian connections.

Even Doug Bollinger, who did not enjoy too many champagne moments in his time at New Road, must have learned something as, within 18 months of his summer with Worcestershire coming to an end, he had been called up to play for Australia.

The current touring squad includes Phil Hughes, who successfully spent last season at New Road and would have done so again this year had he not been recalled by his country.

Watching from the sidelines will be Michael Johnson, their Australian wicketkeeper, not to mention special guest star Nick Compton, grandson of the legendary Denis.

And, had Worcestershire been successful with a bold bid to sign him, they might even have had Ricky Ponting in their team.

But, if it's Worcestershire v Australia on the agenda, then the talk this week will, sooner or later, inevitably turn to Bradman, McGrath, Waugh . . . and Leatherdale!

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