Ode to Sluggo

How did the world come to know the giant jailer from Bermuda?

Trinidad, 2007. Minnows Bermuda were up against the might of India, who were to bat first. The kid Malachi Jones raced in to bowl to talented opener Robin Uthappa, and the batsman pushed at a ball best left to its own devices. The ball glanced the edge of Uthappa’s bat and skidded to Leverock’s right. Flying through the air, belying his 280lbs, Leverock snatched the ball, cat-like, from the sky and tumbled to the ground victorious. He decided to do a victory sprint in celebration of the greatest moment in Bermudan cricket. “Then Irving Romaine tried to lift me up – I thought I was going to crack my back.”

The Men’s Cricket World Cup has always been the worst of the world cups. It’s known mainly for its torturous meander to the important matches, its boycotts, its predictability, and its inevitable submission to the elements. But, such is the nature of this wonderful game that despite all this, it still produces sublime sky’s-edge drama that is the very essence of sport itself. Of course, you can get all that (and quicker) at the World T20 (Carlos Brathwaite v Ben Stokes still sends shivers). But there used to be something wonderful and unique to the Men’s CWC that would break the doldrums of those month-long group stages.

The Associates – the smaller, lower-ranked, unlikely cricketing nations.

And the greatest associate player of them all was Kevin O’Brien Dwayne Leverock. And yes, it’s because of his size. You see, “Sluggo”, as he is affectionately known, is both an absolute unit and an all-round sportsman.

“He’s big and because of that he attracts a lot of attention, but it does not deter him.” – 2007 Bermuda coach Gus Logie.

Back home, Russell Dwayne Mark Leverock worked in a jail and lived above a curry house. But in St Vincent, 2007, he shot to fame in a World Cup warm-up match against England. Ball in hand, Sluggo strode to the crease, all 20 stone of him, looking the very model of an amateur associate. And facing him down, grasping firm the heavy bat that was the scourge of bowlers everywhere, was Kevin Pietersen, the template of the 21st century batsman – a mercenary that would travel the world playing cricket as if he were a rock star.

Cricket favours the batsman, and all the odds were stacked against Sluggo. Dwayne recalled that Pietersen “was chuckling at certain deliveries”, but the joy of Leverock’s appearance is entirely in its deception. The magic of spin bowling lives within the combination of control and wit to steal a batsman’s wicket, and often render them foolish. Pietersen, aloof, chased Leverock’s delivery up the pitch, seeking to dismiss this associate turner back to the bleachers, where he belonged. But, like the great wizard Murali, Dwayne read his mind.

Leverock celebrates. Source: CricketEurope

“I was always a spin bowler,” Leverock told the BBC after the match. “I watched Abdul Qadir, he was a main influence – then Shane Warne early in his career and Muttiah Muralitharan.”

He’d learned well. Guiding the ball higher and wider than usual, he evaded Pietersen’s violent, vain attempt to clobber the ball. Stumped, Pietersen was done. Like a judoka, Leverock had turned the England giant’s strength against him. The harder they come…

Pietersen’s delivery. I saw he was trying to come down the wicket an I thought I would toss it up higher and wider. He came down the track, tried to drive, missed and Dean took off the bails.”

It was because of his size that Sluggo went viral – but he was most certainly not the side show suggested by the still shots that accompanied the headlines. “I heard it was on the back page of every paper in England.” Watching him in action, you could see his ability. An amateur, yes – but one who had studied his art with the graft of a professional and had, at the age of 35, been granted the opportunity to prove himself at the highest stage. But what he did next left no doubts.

Back page of the Daily Star. Source: PressReader

“I’m not going to do anything extravagant,” he said, prior to the start of the competition proper. “I’ll just do it to the best of my ability.”

The thing about Leverock is that, no matter his size, the man is a fine athlete. Before his 2007 heroics he was a striker for Bermuda’s PHC Zebras football team, and he once visited Humberside to play Hull City. He’s also a fierce competitor. After he made his first international 50 with the bat against the Netherlands in 2006, he was so frustrated with his dismissal that he argued with the umpire and then whacked his bat in the dressing room in frustration. Over his career he took 34 wickets in 32 Internationals – batsmen found it tough to score off his miserly spin, a mark of his discipline and guile.

Then to Trinidad, for the World Cup. The biggest stage of all. It is testament to Leverock’s finest hour that absolutely nobody talks about how in Bermuda’s first match, against a Sri Lanka at the height of their powers, he dismissed a batsman even more prestigious than Pietersen – one of the greatest to ever grace a sporting arena, Kumar Sangakkara. The Bermudans, unfortunately, were ripped to shreds by Sri Lanka’s sublime roster of bowlers. Leverock, out last, was fittingly outfoxed by his hero, Murali.

Next up was India, who batted first. Bermuda were obliterated once again, but who remembers that! This time, the stills of Sluggo’s diving catch could not mask the talent on display. In that moment, Leverock’s legacy was secured.

The World Cup itself was a torrid affair, even for men’s cricket. The ICC had strangled the joy out of that most joyous of cricketing regions – the West Indies – with high ticket prices and embargoes on all the pitchside fun that was intrinsic to the festival of Caribbean cricket. Worse was to come. After their shock defeat to Ireland, Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer was found dead in his Jamaica hotel room. The rest of the tournament was surrounded in grief and intrigue. The final ended in farce in Barbados darkness, with yet another Australia win. What sparks there were came from the (then) associates Ireland and Bangladesh, who performed brilliantly and disposed of Pakistan and India respectively, and, of course, by Dwayne Leverock – the man who showed the world that the talented and athletic can come in many shapes and sizes.

Bermuda, unfortunately, quickly fell from grace, overtaken by teams with better resources and strength-in-depth. Sluggo retired in 2009 – Bermuda’s great servant bowing out after the team failed to qualify for the next world cup. “It is time to take a backseat especially with the youngsters coming through,” said a tearful Leverock. “I want to try to give them an opportunity to play and maybe I can spend some more time with my daughter.”

For this 2019 World Cup, the number of participating teams has been slashed to 10. All those who qualified are from highly trained and well-resourced cricketing nations. Yet the tournament is still horrifically long – every team will play at least nine matches, in the ICC’s never-ending quest to extract every penny they can out of sub-continental television rights – is that not, after all, the true spirit of cricket? In a world of pay-walled coverage and the hacksawed chimera of “The Hundred,” it’s hard to think otherwise.

And so we have to endure a six-week slumber to the semi-finals without the joys of the Associate Nations, who always surprised their doubters with their undeniable talents. Against that backdrop, we might have to look at Leverock as a relic of a time gone by, a time when cricket was for everybody.

“It has meant so much to me to have people recognise me for who I am as an athlete,” he once told the Bermuda Sun. “I always have time for youngsters. It’s a nice feeling to sign autographs and give them advice on their cricket.”

Here’s to you, Sluggo.