One of the longest standing bets in cricket has finally been settled. It is quite well known that Steve Waugh had a $50 bet with brother Mark (and possibly Shane Warne too) that Glenn McGrath would score a first class half century. To that end, quite a few years ago, Steve Waugh became Glenn McGrath’s personal batting coach. While McGrath showed some improvement in style (he started to play some nice looking shots but was still unable to make contact with the ball on a regular basis), there wasn’t much promise.
Most of us thought that the bet would not be settled until the retirement of Glenn McGrath. However, yesterday, in what was truly a remarkable last wicket partnership, McGrath posted his half century late on the third day. And he did it in style: hooking, pulling, sweeping and driving. It is true that some of the hooks when over the wicket keeper’s head and some of the drives when over and through the slips but there were some good strokes as well. The highlight was a sweep from Vettori that went right into the crowd. Channel 9 was showing a lot of player reaction in the players’ viewing area – possibly a little too much but it was a great moment to see the delight (and amazement) of McGrath’s team mates as he put one over the fence. New Zealand had their chances: Vettori muffed a run out by dropping the ball right next to the bails (and knocking a bail off before the ball spilt onto the stumps) and McGrath was dropped twice in one over from the luckless Oram. The second effort from a skied sweep was a shocker.
When all said an done, McGrath was out for 61 on the fourth morning. Gillespie made 54 not out, also his first Test half century and the partnership had realised 114 runs. Only the third time in history and the first time for 80 years that an Australian last wicket had added more than 100 runs.
The shattered Kiwis proceeded to loose four quick wickets before lunch, McGrath taking the first three.
But it was the partnership between Clarke and Gilchrist that really sunk New Zealand. Both hit brilliant centuries in a display of stroke play that is rarely seen. Clarke brought up his century with a magnificent hook for four, from the last ball before lunch. In an over that drew obvious comparisons with the Steve Waugh century at the SCG a couple of seasons ago, Clarke hit 4 and 3 off the first two balls of the over, leaving Gilchrist to make a single from the penultimate ball before lunch.
This is the first time I have seen Clarke bat and there is a lot to be excited about. Just the fact that we are seeing a truly new, young batsmen is something of a novelty. Most “new” bloods in the Australian team over the past decade have been well known and at least pushing 30 (Lehmann, Langer, Martyn, Hayden etc). One has to go back Slater in 1993 for such unbridled enthusiasm and stroke play. Clarke’s stroke play and style have to be seen to be believed. The day after Clarke made 70 in the third Test in India, it was the spectacular nature of his innings that the commentators were raving about, not Martyn, who had made 97.His 141 yesterday had some truly astonishing stroke play. He flayed the ball over covers, pulled the ball straight down the ground for six as well as text book driving, cutting, pulling and hooking. And with Gilchrist going at full tilt at the other end, the partnership featured two players that truly do, and did, play all of the shots. The partnership added 216 runs in just 43.4 overs and was clearly the defining partnership of the match. When the pair came together, the Aussie score was still 131 behind the Kiwis. When the partnership was broken, Australia was comfortably placed, nearly 100 runs ahead.
At the end of the day, Steve Waugh was at least $50 richer and despite McGrath and Gillespie’s heroics, the 3rd day belonged to Gilchrist and Clarke.