At the end of day two of the 5th and final Test of the Ashes series, Australia is precariously placed after two days of below par performance. Australia trails England by 125 runs on the first innings with just five wickets in hand.
However the state of the game was almost forgotten by those at the ground as feats of our beloved captain unfolded in the final session.
I count myself as being very lucky to have chosen to attend Day 2 of this Test (as I usually do) and to have been present for an exciting and historic moment. No, make that moments.
Steve Waugh entered this match with several milestones before him, and playing in front of a home crowd:
1. This was his 156th Test – which equals Allan Border and the all time record. That was the easy one – and was achieved when he walked onto the ground at 11:00 am yesterday. (Well, technically it was achieved when he was chosen in the eleven.)
2. Waugh required 69 runs to make 10,000 Test runs – just the third player in history to achieve that.
3. If Waugh could make a century, he would equal Sir Donald Bradman’s Australian record for the number of Test centuries – 29. It is interesting to note that Waugh has played exactly three times as many Tests as Bradman.
When Steve Waugh entered the arena with Australia 3-56 just before lunch, he would have had one milestone in mind: Saving the innings. Not so much recently, and not at all in this series, but over the years, this task has been presented to Waugh many, many times and it is a task that he has risen to on many celebrated occasions. And today was no exception.
Waugh finished the day at 102*, hitting a cover drive to the boundary from the final ball of the day. This act sent the emotional and excited crowd into and state of euphoria. For a sports fan, I cannot imagine and finer moment.
The final session saw Australia score 170 runs from 36 overs (run rate of 4.72), while losing two important wickets. Waugh scored 94 runs in the session and his century came from just 130 balls and included 18 fours (72 in boundaries). Those statistics indicate that this was not just a century but an innings of authority and aggression – and it was.
This was like watching a Steve Waugh who was ten years younger. There was no scratchy, nervous start. He was rarely beaten and didn’t offer anything close to a chance. He thumped the ball through the offside with the brutal backfoot drive and the front foot cut. He worked the ball of his pads with power and timing. He came down the pitch and cover drove the off-spinner. In fact, seven of the boundaries were scored in front of square on the off side. There were no straight drives or pulls or hooks but this was vintage Waugh. At times crude, but very effective.
And the man ran between the wickets like his life depended on it, taking quick singles, running a second on the throw and pushing Martyn and later Gilchrist to turn twos into threes. He survived a third umpire decision for a run out when on 63 – a few anxious moments for the crowd.
With two overs to play, Waugh was on 88. I said to my friend, Big Scott “He won’t get his hundred now”, although Waugh had (much) earlier hit 22 from two overs. He seemed to be playing for stumps. But the first ball of Hoggart’s over went for four – 92. Waugh then worked a ball to deep backward square. Waugh called Gilchrist back for an aggressive second run and slid full length to make his ground as a good throw came in – 94. The final ball of the over was worked for a single – 95. The final over of the day was to be bowled by the off-spiner, Dawson.
Waugh resolutely defended the first three balls and it seemed that Waugh, in typical bloody minded fashion wouldn’t be forced into going to go for the ton just to please the crowd. This was Test cricket and there was a match to be won and lost and his team was nowhere close to being in a winning position. Then to our surprise and delight he opened up and scythed the ball though the off side. Delight turned to disappointment as Waugh took a hard run three. He was now 98 but at the wrong end with 2 balls to go. Steve Waugh would never knock back a Test run just so that he could be on strike to score a hundred before stumps!
Gilchrist came several paces down the pitch to the second last ball and calmly flicked it into the on side for an easy single. Gilchrist is a very special player (almost as an aside, he had made 45 from 46 (7 x 4) in fairly subdued fashion). I’d doubt that a batsman scoring a single to progress to 45 has ever received such a cheer. One ball remaining and Steve Waugh needed two runs for a fairy tale end to the day. In some ways, there was much anxiety but in others it seemed inevitable.
After what seemed and eternity and several field changes, the final ball was bowled with three men around the bat. Anything hit firmly through the offside would be at least two. Waugh came down the pitch and smashed the ball through the covers. It is a moment I shall always remember. To stand with 35,000 others, with one’s arms raised, head thrown back, roaring towards the heavens to celebrate the achievement of a great sporting warrior is a soul cleansing thing. Very primal. Very tribal.
At the close of play, Australia was 5/237 – which represented somewhat of a recovery from 5/150 chasing 362. Overall, it was not a good two days work with poor catching allowing England to score many more runs than they should have. And then careless batting seeing us slump to 5-150. But even then, it didn’t seem to matter – as long as Steve Waugh was in and batting brilliantly, all seemed well with the world. Australia’s hopes are with Gilchrist and Waugh tomorrow and there is much to look forward to.
I don’t want to comment a great deal on whether Waugh will/should stay or go but will make two points:
1. I think that the Daily Telegraph “Save Steve Waugh” campaign is juvenile and childish. Of course, it is what we should expect from the “Tele”. However, I would have thought that trying to influence and bully the selectors through and emotional, public outcry is like telling a rebellious teenager not to stay out late!
2. I think that Steve Waugh will retire after this match for two reasons:
a) His comment on the eve of the Test when asked what was his defining moment in cricket was “Who knows? Perhaps it will be this Test.” This was said just after all of the potential milestones before him had been raised.
b) Waugh batted today like a man at peace. He seemed at ease – like a man playing to meet his destiny (a bit like Invanisovic at Wimbledon in 2001). His timing and footwork, which have not been great in recent times were present. He had clearly lifted and I don’t think it was just because the innings was in tatters. I cannot believe the way he ran today.
Whatever the case, I believe that he has earned the right to chose when he retires and his form warrants that he be retained. I think the fact that both Allan Border and David Boon could have offered the same arguments when they “were retired” does count against Waugh’s chances of choosing the terms.
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