“Goodbye, Farewell and Amen [Steve Waugh special edition]”

One of the outstanding things about Steve Waugh’s long and illustrious career, is the length itself – over eighteen years.  To try and put that timeframe into context in cricketing terms, here are some things to ponder:

Steve Waugh started playing Test cricket when he was 20 years old.  For almost half his life he has been a Test cricketer.

Bruce Reid, Merv Hughes and Geoff Marsh debuted in the Test before Waugh.  Remember them?  They all enjoyed lengthy, successful careers but are long, long gone.

Waugh started playing Test cricket just two seasons after the retirements of Lillee, Chappell and Marsh and just one season after Kim Hughes’s tearful resignation.  Those events seem far more than a (cricketing) lifetime ago – and indeed they are.

Steve Waugh played in nine Ashes series, five at home and four away.  He tasted defeat in only the first of those series.  He was the last Australian Test cricketer playing to have known Ashes defeat – and had been for eight years, since McDermott and Boon played their last Tests in 1995-96.

Steve Waugh has played a staggering 168 Tests – more than any other player.  He is one of only three players to have scored over 10,000 runs.  His 32 centuries put him equal second on the all time list (for now, equal with Tendulkar) behind Gavaskar.

But while quantity is not necessarily quality, Steve Waugh’s career was of the highest quality.  Steve Waugh last summer used the term “defining moment”.  In my anthology below, I have tried to chronicle some basic milestones and some defining moments.

Some of the details include twin brother Mark, and while Mark had his own great career, it seems fitting to include Mark in a small way in Steve’s tribute.  Brothers playing in the same international team is always a special occasion and the fact that the Waughs are twins seems to have carried extra fascination.  In fact, Mark and Stephen played in more Tests together than any other pairing in test cricket.

Steve Waugh made his first class debut in 1984-85 for NSW, having played first grade cricket for the Sydney club, Bankstown

His made his Test debut in 1985-86 in the 2nd Test v India.  He scored 13 & 5 and took 2 wickets in India’s first innings.

When Steve Waugh first started playing Test cricket, the team knew only defeat, as Australian cricket was at a very low point.

Waugh averaged 6.5 with the bat for that first series against India. Bruce Reid averaged 5.00.

Waugh scored 74, his first half century, against New Zealand in his 4th Test match.  He shared a partnership of almost 200 with AB.  He averaged just 14 with the bat for the series but took 5 wickets at 16.50.  Early on, Waugh’s “variety style” medium pace was providing more encouragement than his batting.

In 1987, a career highlight occurred as Waugh was a core member of the 1987 World Cup winning team – a turning point in Australian cricket.

He made 90 & 91 in the first two tests of the 1988-89 series against the West Indies as Australia was smashed.  For the series, Waugh made 331 runs at 41.38 and took 10 wickets at 47.20.  After a gruelling series against the West Indies, perhaps England would not be so tough!

And so it proved.  Steve Waugh made his first Test century, in his 26th Test – 177 not out as Australia started its glorious Ashes campaign of 1989.  Not happy with that, he scored 152 not out in the 2nd Test.  England finally dismissed Waugh in the 3rd Test but not before he had made 372 runs.  He averaged 126.50 for the series.

His form didn’t hold and results tapered away leading up to and during the 1990-91 Ashes series, with one notable exception.

23 December, 1990 saw Mark and Steve Waugh share a world record, unbeaten 464 run partnership for NSW against a full strength Western Australia at the WACA.  Mark made 229 and Steve 216.  This was scored between the 2nd and 3rd Tests.  That performance helped Steve keep his place in the 3rd Test, but only just.  He made 48 and 14 and was dropped for the first time.  That partnership also added to the weight of the case for Mark Waugh, Test cricketer.  After an inordinate wait, Mark Waugh was chosen to play for Australia, ironically, replacing brother Stephen.

Steve was left out until the 1992-1993 home series against the West Indies (except for two Tests in the 1990-91 Caribbean tour).  The middle order didn’t settle as players such as Damien Martyn and Justin Langer struggled to hold down their places.

He played all Tests against the Windies in 1992-93, and scored his first ton against them (an even 100) but averaged a modest 25.33 for the series.

Both Mark and Steve had slim pickings in the ensuing three Test series in NZ and Mark was dropped for the final Test.

It was 1993 that saw the dawning of what I call the Steve Waugh glory years.  The 1993 Ashes series saw the Waughs reunited, permanently and not coincidently, the end of Dean Jones – someone had to give way.

From and including the 1993 Ashes tour to the 2001 Ashes tour (I draw this line because his well documented and publicised decline in form (albeit somewhat overstated) began in the summer of 2001-02), Steve Waugh scored 6783 runs at an average of 61.66.  Of course, that period exactly coincided with the peaks of Mark Waugh, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath (as well as some other useful players), and not surprisingly, total domination by the Australian cricket team.

The 1993-94 summer saw the much-awaited return of South Africa to Australian soil.  Waugh missed the first two Tests and Australia dramatically lost the 2nd Test at the SCG by 3 runs.  Waugh was fit for the 3rd Test and scored 164 in Australia’s first innings and clamed 4-26 in South Africa’s first innings and played a big part in winning the match and squaring the series.

He repeated the double dose two months later in the return bout in South Africa by scoring 86 and taking 5-28 as Australia levelled the series in the 2nd Test.

My opinion is that the South Africans were in awe of Waugh at that time and the “Waugh factor” had a profound affect on meetings between those two teams over the next decade.  I think that South Africa didn’t think they could beat a team with Steve Waugh in it.  And they were proved to be correct.

Waugh scored 160 as he batted all day with Greg Blewitt in the 1996-97 clash in Johannesburg (and also took 1-4 in the 2nd innings).   In the 1999 World Cup, with Australia needing to win a super six match with South Africa to advance to the semi finals, Waugh hit 120 from 110 balls to win the match for Australia.  Quite easily his defining ODI innings.

As I return to the time line, 1994-95 saw a fairly lean Ashes series.  His average was maintained with two undefeated nineties.  Maybe not a defining moment, but noteworthy, Steve was left stranded on 99 at the WACA.  The unusual thing was that his last three partners were run out.  The really unusual thing was that McDermott was run out, batting at 11, using Mark Waugh as runner!

Waugh enjoyed an exalted tour of the West Indies in March-April 1995 as Australia won the Frank Worrell Trophy for the first time in 19 years and the West Indies suffered a series defeat for the first time in 14 years.

Steve Waugh was the outstanding batsman on either team by a very long way.  He scored 429 runs at 107.25 with one (double) century and three half centuries.  Next best was Mark Waugh with 240 at 40.00.  No other Australian batsman could top an average of 25.  Best for the Windies were Lara (308 at 44.00) and Richardson (229 at 32.71).

The highlight of the tour came in the fourth, and final Test, with the series locked at one all.  From my position, looking from afar, I would rate this as THE defining moment in Steve Waugh’s long and illustrious career.  Australia was chasing a modest 265 and Steve joined Mark with Australia battling at 3-73.  They proceeded to build a partnership of 231 with Mark scoring 126 while Steve made his highest Test score of exactly 200.  Australia went on to win the match and the series, much to the jubilation of all of Australia.

To add icing to the cake, Steve and Mark Waugh finished the series ranked one and two respectively on the Test batting rankings.  Steve also topped the bowling averages, taking five wickets at 12.40.

I should add that it was during this series that a controversial incident involving Steve Waugh occurred.  As Waugh’s career was thankfully bereft of controversy and calamity, both on and off the field, this incident is noteworthy.  In the very first innings of the series, when on 65 and looking good, Lara smashed a shot into the gully where Steve Waugh dived, clutched at the ball, spilled it and regathered as he tumbled and rolled.  Lara was given out but there did seem to be doubt in his mind that it was a clean catch.  TV replays seemed to confirm Lara’s suspicions but not conclusively.  Australia won the Test and Viv Richards publicly labelled Steve Waugh a cheat.  For his part, Waugh seemed untroubled and stuck to his guns – he thought he had caught it.

The hits kept on rolling until another truly defining moment in Manchester, 1997.  In the 3rd Test, Waugh scored twin centuries, making 108 in the first innings and 116 in the second.  Australia won the match comfortably in the end but Waugh held both innings together, with the first innings total being just 235.  The second innings knock was one of bravery as Steve broke his hand in the first innings!

Waugh had been promoted to vice captain over Ian Healy for the 1997 tour of England.  As Mark Taylor’s form slump continued, it was clear that he might need to be dropped during that tour.  Waugh’s promotion to vice-captain also made it clear that he would be the next captain of Australia.

This proved to be true in 1999 after Mark Taylor’s retirement.  Steve Waugh started his stint as the most successful captain in cricket history in the Caribbean in March 1999.  Success was instant as Australia won its first Test with Waugh at the helm by a landslide, dismissing the West Indies for a humiliating 51 in the second innings.

Waugh scored 100 and 199 in the 2nd and 3rd Tests. Despite those contributions, Brian Lara famously won both of those encounters, scoring 213 in the 2nd Test and then 153 not out in the final innings of the 3rd Test as the West Indies successfully chased 308 with one wicket to spare.  This celebrated series resulted in a two all draw with Australia winning the final match to square the series and retain the Frank Worrell Trophy.

More testing times were to follow in Sri Lanka as Australia lost that three Test series 1-0 in a heavily rain affected series.  Steve Waugh collected a broken nose for his troubles, breaking Jason Gillespie’s leg in the process.  So after six Tests, and in the red with the win-loss count, Steve Waugh may have been hoping for a change in fortune.

And change it did.  Australia’s win in the single Test in Zimbabwe, on the way home from Sri Lanka was the start of an all time, record breaking, 16 match winning streak, easily beating the previous record of 8, set in 1925 by Warwick Armstrong’s wonderful team.

The winning streak ended incredibly in India in 2001, in the 2nd Test in Calcutta, when India won after following on.  India won a much celebrated series 2-1 after loosing the first Test.  Winning a series in India was the Holy Grail for Steve Waugh – the one he did not achieve.

Waugh had a great tour of England in 2001, scoring two centuries.  The second of those centuries was scored in the 5th Test having missed the 4th Test with a torn calf muscle.  This provided one of my favourite Steve Waugh moments.  Somewhere between 50 and 100, the injury was aggravated.  As he went into the match with the injury, and his name is not Arjuna Ranatunga, he did not request a runner.  Steve was batting with Mark (who made 120 as they shared a 197 run partnership) and simply couldn’t run.  Scoring options were pretty much reduced to boundaries for the brothers and this produced some very entertaining batting.  Once he made 90, Steve became more cautious and took an inordinate time to reach 100.  He eventually hit the ball to mid-wicket and went for what should have been an easy single.  Not so.  He hobbled down the track and a few metres out made a desperate lunge for safety, ending in a long belly slide.  He made it and I’ll always remember his embarrassed, sheepish grin as he lifted his face from the turf, still lying flat on the ground.  He then proceeded to smash his way to 157 not out.

The following summer (2001-2002) saw Steve struggle for form in the nine Tests with New Zealand and South Africa.  He scored just 311 runs at 25.91 and it was worrying that even Warne was performing appreciably better with the bat.  Mark was struggling, too and both men were dropped from the One Day team (at different times) after the VB one-day series that summer.  A hard pill to swallow for Steve Waugh.

Pressure was on both men as the team toured Sri Lanka and Sharjah for three Tests against Pakistan, in late 2002.  The series was won 3-0 but the Waughs did not perform well until the third Test.  Following consecutive ducks and under immense pressure for his place in the side, Steve hit 103 not out in the third Test.  A relieved Glenn McGrath watched from the other end as Waugh went from 83 to 103 (2 x 6, 2 x 4) in a single over.

That innings kept Steve in the side.  Mark was dropped and retired from international cricket.

Australia hosted England in the summer of 2002-2003 and the amount of focus on Steve Waugh’s form and each innings beggared belief.  He was in reasonable form, without scoring heavily but built momentum as the series progressed. His scores for the first four Tests, as Australia won each Test were: 7 & 12, 34, 53 and 77 & 14.  The stage was set for the final Test in Sydney.  There was never ending talk about whether Waugh would or should retire, would he be dropped and could he survive?  It went on and on.  The timing seemed perfect to retire – with a grand finale at the SCG, his home ground.  We all know now that Waugh scored a famous century, hitting the final ball of the 2nd day to the fence to reach 102.  The fairy tale ending was there for the taking.

Waugh had done enough to maintain his place and to choose his own terms for retirement.  Waugh chose to play on and guided the team to victories against the West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.  All matches were won except for the final Test against the West Indies, denying Australia a rare clean sweep in the Caribbean.  During this time he scored 621 runs at 124.20 with three centuries.

Before the home series against India, Steve Waugh announced that he would retire at the end of the series.  Fittingly, he would play his first and last Tests against India, a country that he has developed deep affection for over the years and in turn is adored by its people.  The team and Waugh struggled to provide a victorious last series, with honors being shared 1-1.  India scored 7/705 in the final Test at the SCG.

Steve Waugh scored 80, passing 50 for only the second time in the 4th innings of Test match, and played a big part in saving the match.  In fact, he was dismissed with five overs to go, when the match was safe, as the crowd was working up to a frenzy as it appeared that Waugh would go for the hundred and one final defining moment.

Steve Waugh ended his career with 92 Test wickets.  It is shame that Waugh’s bowling was very limited after the 1994 tour of Pakistan, due to a back injury.  Up until that point in his career (8 years), Waugh had taken 67 wickets.  In the final 10 years, he took just 25.  Without injury, it is possible that Waugh would have gone down as one of the great all rounders.

Of course, Steve Waugh was a wonderful One Day cricketer, especially when he was a bowling force.  Waugh took 195 ODI wickets and is still 20th on the all time wicket takers list.  His great variety was difficult to dispatch and his balls of steel saw him often bowling in the final, pressure charged overs of the innings.  He was one of the pioneers of the slower delivery.  His batting results, on paper,  were modest with just 16 fifties and 2 hundreds.  However, it must be remembered that he played most innings batting in positions 5, 6 and 7, which meant that opportunities for big scoring were limited.

And he was a fine fieldsman, fielding in close or in the outfield.  There was a particular catch one night that is well remembered where Waugh caught a ball that was hit high, straight down the ground.  He took the catch looking over his shoulder, running full tilt, almost behind the sightscreen.

Finally, Steve Waugh’s record as captain was:

Captain Matches Win Lose Draw Tie Win%
Waugh 57 41 9 7 0 71.92

That represents the best win ratio (by far) and the most wins lead by any Test captain.  To put this record into context, here are the records of some illustrious others for comparison: 

Captain Matches Win Lose Draw Tie Win%
Bradman 26 15 3 6 0 57.69
Taylor      50 26 13 11 0 52.00
Lloyd        74 36 12 26 0 48.64
Border       93 32 22 38 1 34.41

Statistical Summary, highlights and quirks

168 Tests
260 innings
46 not outs
10927 runs at 51.06
HS: 200
32 x hundreds
50 x fifties
92 wickets at 37.44
Best 5/28
3 x 5wi

57 matches as captain
3714 runs at 44.74 as captain

Steve Waugh made a record ten scores in the nineties, two of them were not out.  #@#Check if Slater beat him

Of the 32 centuries, 14 were scores of 150 or better and 15 were not out.

Waugh is the only player to have scored centuries (150 plus scores, at that) against all other Test playing nations.

Waugh was dismissed in single figures 64 times, which is 29.9% of the times he was dismissed.

Steve Waugh made 22 ducks.

Steve Waugh is one of only three players to have been dismissed in Test cricket in seven different ways (bowled, lbw, caught, stumped, run out, handled ball & hit wicket).  The other two are Des Haynes (who collected the same set) and Len Hutton who is the only batsman to have been given out, obstructing play (but he never handled the ball).

All stats are courtesy of Cricinfo and Howzstat databases and “200 Seasons of Australian Cricket”.

And the lights go out

The curtain has closed on yet another action packed series between Australia and India. Unlike the 2001 series in India, the competitiveness of India has surprised. India are always difficult in India – Australia has not won a series in India since Richie Benaud was young. And India has never won a series in Australia, normally and recently being hammered on our bouncy wickets.

I wish to focus on this series and the cricket played in it, not on the retirement and career of Steve Waugh. That topic deserves, and will be given, separate coverage. That being said, I believe that the timing of the announcement of Waugh’s retirement did have some impact on the series which will be discussed later.

Before getting started, I would like to offer a big raspberry to Cricket Australia (CA) regarding the official Test series program that was available at the SCG. For a start, some of the articles were clearly written half way through the series. It is traditional and I believe expected, that series programs are written before the series and serve as a preview. The program itself was headed “The Final Campaign” and sub-titled “Steve Waugh’s Final Test”. There was nothing to indicate that the publication related to a Test series between Australia and India. I think that CA should have refrained from joining the orgy of merchandising hype surrounding that famous retirement and stuck to the bigger picture. Presumably, a different program was offered at the Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne.

This series did not run as expected. At the end of the rain affected first day, all indications were that India were in for a pounding. However, they turned it around, shot Australia out and then Ganguly preceded to hit a scintillating 144. Ganguly’s leadership as been credited with much of the improved performance of India – and that innings was a real captains knock. The Brisbane Test was interestingly poised and it is a shame that rain prevented it from being finished.

Thereafter the series became a run-fest. Many have been asking why – and there isn’t a single answer. Australia’s first innings scores were:

323 (after reaching 2/268), 556, 558 and 474

and India’s were:

409, 523, 366 (after reaching 4/350) and 7/705.

That is serious scoring in any language and it is a credit to the rate of scoring that two results were achieved.

Most of the batsmen cashed in, with Ponting (242 and 257), Dravid (233 and a couple of nineties) and Laxman (148 & 178) the real super stars. Not to be forgotten are Sehwag with a memorable 195, Langer with a brace of “modest” tons and the Little Master, Tendulkar finally plundering with unbeaten scores of 241 and 60 in the final Test. To put that turnaround into perspective, consider that Tendulkar played five Tests in 2003 and scored 178 runs at 17.80! Hayden weighed in with one century and a powerhouse 99 from as many balls.

Ponting topped the averages for Australia with 706 runs at 100.85. Australia does not play that many four Test series, but I would be surprised if that is not a record for 4 Test series. It would be in the top 10 for all series.

Dravid made 619 at 123.80 – once again, mind numbing figures.

So why all the runs? I think that there are a few factors, most of them obvious:

1. Neither attack was strong. While both attacks included some world class bowlers, Australia was deprived of its best through injury and suspension and Indian bowling lacks depth at present. Kumble, who had by far the most impact on the series was regarded by many not to be in the frame, having averaged over 90 for his five wickets on the last tour.

2. Both batting line-ups are very strong. Both sides have 3 real super stars and a very capable supporting cast. It is not surprising that they would dominate under-strength attacks.

3. What has happened to the pitches? It seems to me that pitches are becoming homogenised and too heavily weighted towards the batsmen. Perhaps the groundsmen are weary of embarrassment over short Tests and unplayable wickets. Perhaps they are under instructions from the authorities to produce pitches that will produce longer matches. Shortened matches cost money. I remember when Perth was a very bouncy and neither an lbw nor front foot drive would be seen (I know we didn’t play at Perth but the comment still stands). I love a juicy, Brisbane green top that promotes seam and swing – it’s a real test for the day one top order. And isn’t Sydney supposed to disintegrate after Day 3 making a bowler like Kumble unplayable? What we saw were pitches that resembled highways – concrete slabs.

4. The Australian fielding was well below par. This had an affect on the Indian’s ability to score. In the 4th Test, Australia took just 9 wickets for over 900 runs. They dropped 4 straight forward catches and took two wickets from no-balls. In two separate, farcical Brett Lee overs, we saw a batsman caught from a no-ball and then dropped in the slips. Australia, from the bowlers perspective, had to dismiss that batsman three times to effect the dismissal. Watching the fielding, I was thinking that if this is what we can expect from now on, someone had better be calling Bobby Simpson. Or perhaps there is another explanation. I think that Steve Waugh’s retirement announcement before the series put pressure on Steve and the team. I think there was an element of anxiety because of a desire to send Steve out on a winning note and that had an impact on catching, in particular. I think that it is possible that the players and more particularly, Waugh were affected by the emotion. I’m not sure that Waugh was as sharp and innovative in the field as he usually is.

Whatever the reasons, the series is over and honours are even. Waugh is gone and that presents opportunity for the new captain and also a middle order batsmen.

Katich had a great series and with his performance in Sydney, must have consolidated his place in the side. He has played the last six Tests and can’t be regarded as filling in. Who will get Waugh’s spot? The short list must be: Lehmann, Love and Clarke. I think that Lehmann will get the nod when fit but I would like to see Clarke come in. His youth and hunger and obvious talent would be good for what is an aging team.

And is the vacancy created by Waugh the only vacancy? I think not. I like Martyn but while not failing, he has not put on the big scores. This is particularly glaring at the end of a run feast. He scored 254 runs for the series at 42.33. While 42.33 is a respectable average, let’s remember that there were four individual innings that yielded about as many runs as Martyn made in the entire series. Martyn struggles against spin and where are the next two series? Sri Lanka and India. Need I say more?

Finally, I have one comment about the run chase (or lack of) on the final day at Sydney. Steve Waugh’s assessment of India’s moderately sporting declaration giving Australia a 2% chance (which he revised to 3% when pressed) was about right. I don’t think that there can be any criticism of making 6/347 at 3.85 runs per over. They had to play for safety first and then consider a late charge if practical. Let’s not forget that targets of over 400 have only ever been scored to win a test on three occasions. The highest ever, 418, made by the West Indies just last year took 128.5 overs (run rate of 3.24).

The writing’s on the wall

The commentators are trying to talk it up, and I’m sure that the Australian team is typically bullish about it’s own prospects, but there seems no realistic hope of an Australian victory and a victorious end to Steve Waugh’s career. More importantly, India will retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy, win or draw.

Australia needs a total of 443 for victory, with 433 to be made tomorrow at 4.81 runs per over. All ten wickets are in hand but it is a huge task. Not just in the size of the total but also the required rate. It is not impossible and if any team ever had the means, this Australian has them. Hayden and Ponting are super stars at the peak of their powers and with Gilchrist, who is enduring a quiet phase, anything is still possible.

I recall Gilchrist’s second Test when he and Langer scored a huge partnership, when all seemed lost, to achieve a remarkable victory. Less well remembered is his onslaught against NZ a couple of years ago in Perth. New Zealand put on 534 in the first innings and ultimately set Australia 440 for victory. Starting at 2/69 in the final day, Australia seemed to be moving steadily towards a draw. The match was in the balance mid way through the final session with five down and Gillie and Tugga at the crease. Suddenly, Gilchrist and then Waugh unleashed their fury and scored about 50 runs in about four overs. Waugh was unluckily run out at the non-strikers end, courtesy of a lightning bolt from Gillie, and the run chase was aborted and the match played out to a draw. In fact, I believe that this is the only draw that has been “played out” (ie a match the wasn’t rain affected) in the whole of Steve Waugh’s captaincy.

We will never know but I think Gilchrist could have achieved a famous victory on that day if he continued for another 8 overs, had Waugh not been dismissed.

I think the key for Australia is to play their natural game, but safely and then see how things are placed for a final dash. At least that have the players to up the ante if they choose.

Martyn and Waugh will need to contribute if Australia is to succeed in seeing the day out. Martyn is questionable against spin and needs some runs. He has not scored a Test century since the 2001 tour of England. He has had time out with injury but nonetheless, has played many games since his last ton. Tugga, in his last dig, may find the going a bit tough. He has never been a good fourth innings performer and his innings against NZ, mentioned above, is the only time has scored more than 50 in the fourth innings. These two are critical also, as the right handers will struggle against Kumble. It is no surprise that the lefties were more successful against the danger man than the right handers.

I never like juggling batting orders, but if Langer and Hayden can put on a good start, it would be worth elevating the in form left hander, Katich. And congratulations to Simon are in order for a most excellent maiden century, scored off just 116 balls.

And of course, heaps of credit to Anil Kumble for his eight wickets. In a series that has been dominated by batsman more than any I can think of in Australia, he has been the bowling superstar.

I hope the rain holds off – a rain assisted draw would not befit the final match of man who has always lived or died by the sword.

It is character building

Cricket can be a character building game. Yesterday’s day of cricket presented the opportunity to build character for over 41,000 fans and 11 Australian cricketers, in particular, Stuart MacGill (more on that later).

Exactly one year ago, I made my annual pilgrimage to the SCG and experienced “a perfect day” as Steve Waugh smashed that final delivery to the fence and celebrated a famous century. Realistically, I don’t expect to experience such an occasion again. But expectations are natural and come to everyone. And expectations can lead to disappointment, especially when they are based on events that you have absolutely no control over.

India started the day very well placed at 3/284 with Tendulkar on 73 and Laxman on 29. I was looking forward to seeing “The Little Master” in action, having never seen him before. But to be honest, I was hoping not to see him for too long. I, along with most other people were hoping to see Steve Waugh bat some time on Day 2. Of course, this was a long shot with only three wickets down and Steve Waugh coming in at number five. Still, India’s dramatic collapses in Melbourne gave some hope.

Tendulkar, Australia’s long time nemesis, has had a quiet series and not performed until Day one of the final Test. His very patient and risk free 73 was ominous. With Australia’s other nemesis (or should that be “one of Australia’s other nemesis’s” – with Dravid Australia does have at least three batsmen to truly fear in the India line-up), VVS Laxman – at the other end, India would have been hoping for big things.

And big things were delivered. Australia did not strike for almost five hours, and only after the scoreboard displayed the one and only previous time that a pair of batsmen had batted through a day of Test cricket in Australia. So, many thanks to the scoreboard management for applying the kiss of death to the partnership.

Laxman started on fire, probably because he was facing Brett Lee. The ball was just 10 overs old at the start of play, and although it did offer some assistance, it sure came onto the bat well. Lee and Gillespie each started with a maiden. Gillespie’s first over to Tendulkar was a beauty, beating the inside edge of the little master on two occasions (which would be half the times the bat was beaten all day). Lee’s next two overs conceded five boundaries as Laxman opened his shoulders to numerous half volleys, while Gillespie bowled another three maidens. It’s hard to imagine in a score of 5/650 that one bowler could have been magnificent but Dizzy was. He has bowled over 40 overs in the innings already, had conceded just over 2 runs per over and has been treated with great respect by the Indians.

Laxman and Tendulkar went on to conduct a batting clinic. I think that they were determined not to repeat the mistake of Melbourne, where they let a position of extreme supremacy, and ultimately the match, slip away. The heads were down and the ball never left the deck. The spinners were lofted not once. I was amazed at the amount of balls that were left. I don’t have the stats but I wouldn’t be surprised if close to half the balls faced were allowed to pass through to Gilchrist. I can’t remember the ball being fielded in the slips, and two slips were employed for a long time – probably too long.

And the Indians were murderous on any bad balls, and they were numerous. Laxman’s majestic 178 came from 218 balls and contained 30 boundaries. That is 150 in boundaries – a ratio of 84% – which is quite incredible! Aside from the obvious things that impress about Laxman – he is all style, superb timing, outstanding use of the wrists, I think it is his placement that really sets him apart. And once you hit the gaps in the field at the SCG, it is all over – the outfield is like glass.

Australia did have one chance in the first session, in the second last over before lunch. It came in the unexpected chance of a run out. Laxman carved the ball into the covers, and seeing that the fieldsman to beat was MacGill, must have decided that it was safe to start running. MacGill made a magnificent diving safe, and took the ball cleanly. Laxman, more than half way down the pitch, then found that Tendulkar, rightly, was not running and had to stand on his heels and return to his own end. It was a huge chance but MacGill, lying down was unable to generate sufficient pace or accuracy, the ball bouncing several time before reaching Gilchrist, who had to gather smartly and throw the stumps down. Even then, Laxman only made his ground by about 30 cm.

The second session offered no opportunities and the crowd became restless. Langer, the bastard teased the crowd with a “crowd catch” and sucked many in. Which I though was rather cruel under the circumstances. Still, it was good to see the players maintaining a sense of humour. I couldn’t tell if Steve Waugh was laughing.

In the first over after tea, Tendulkar, on 149, chipped a ball to MacGill at mid-wicket. MacGill had to dive forwards and to the right and spilled the catch, much to the dismay of the crowd. The catch was not simple, but on account of the slowness of the ball, could not be classed as difficult. Stuey got a real razzing from the crowd. We had to wait another 45 minutes or so, and the third new ball for another opportunity. This time it was VVS Laxman, absolutely smashing a pull shot form Gillespie. It went straight to MacGill – he didn’t have to move (nor did he have time to) – it went straight into the hands at about face height. And straight out.

I think I would have to describe the crowd as irate. I have never experienced such anger and venom in a crowd reaction. The jeering, booing and abuse was lengthy, to say the least. I felt greatly for MacGill, reportedly a proud man, as it must have been incredible humiliation (as he hadn’t redeemed himself in any way with his bowling). Even so, I found myself laughing at the extreme reaction of a dropped catch and the palpable disappointment of the packed house. Needless to say the next ball was hit into the deep where it had to be fielded by MacGill. He had to run a long way and didn’t he run hard and rip in the return.

Mercifully, Gillespie almost immediately knocked over Laxman’s off stump with a sizzling off cutter and a wonderful innings was over.

Ganguly made a quick fire (aside from a toilet stop) 16 from eleven balls. With India five down, the crowd may have been expecting some more wickets. I was. Tendulkar survived a very good lbw shout from Gillespie but then India really put the foot down.

Young Patel, contrary to the great Hasha Bogle’s assessment (Hasha said he only scored between point and third man), smashed all bowlers around the ground to be 45 not out at stumps, from just 40 balls. The last session saw 2/150 from just 30 overs.

Will India declare or bat on? I would suggest that they will bat on. I’m a big believer in first innings runs. The Indian pair did appear to “shut up shop” for the final 2-3 overs.

Tendulkar is on 220 – his highest Test score – and counting.

One thing is certain: Australian cannot win the match and give Steve Waugh a victorious send off. That being said, I was proud of our team. As they left the field yesterday, after a very long, hot, hard day, they did not leave with heads down. They seemed enthusiastic – they bounced around doing a lot of back slapping and encouraging of each other. The day had been character building.