Steve Waugh’s last day at the office

Kumble bowls. Waugh sweeps. He lofts it high in the air. Tendulkar waits just inside the square leg rope and takes the catch. And it’s all over.

After 18 years, 168 Tests, 260 innings, 82 scores of fifty or better and 10,927 runs, Steve Waugh had played his last innings for Australia. He scored 80 and helped Australia draw the Fourth Test against India.

It’s not often that 27000 people cram the Sydney Cricket Ground to see a game peter out into a draw. But that’s not what they were there for. They were there to give a rousing, emotional farewell to one of the sport’s greatest modern legends, finally giving the international game away at the age of 38.

Not everything went the way the crowd, egged on to some extent by a hysterical local media, would have liked. Australia didn’t win the Test – they gave up 705 runs in the first innings and were fortunate to be spared the embarrassment of following on. They didn’t win the series – it finished 1-1 with India retaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. And Waugh didn’t get a final hundred, though he came closer than should realistically have been expected on that amazing final day.

We’ve seen hyperactive scoring in the Test series in both Australia and South Africa in the past few weeks, and the final day in Sydney began with Australia 0/10 in their second innings, needing another 433 to win in 90 overs. An utterly unprecedented task at Test level, but the presence of such explosive batsmen as Hayden, Ponting and Gilchrist in the lineup meant that the dream was still not entirely unbelievable.

Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer played the first hour of the day as if victory was still within their sights. Hayden (30), however, fell to the first ball after the drinks break, driving a Kumble googly to Dravid at slip. Soon afterwards, Langer (47) lashed out to Murali Kartik, driving uppishly to Sehwag at long-off. At 2/92, Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn started rolling down the shutters.

As the pair began blocking ball after ball, a crowd fed on four and a half days of overcharged batting began the slow hand claps. But when Martyn (40) popped a Kumble delivery to substitute fielder Yuvraj Singh at leg slip, the crowd immediately ignored the action on the field to stand and watch the players’ entrance, as Stephen Rodger Waugh took to the field.

He began slowly but patiently, waiting for the bad ball to put away to the off-side boundary. The partnership between the present and future captains ended when Ponting (47) hit a return catch to Irfan Pathan. Australia was 4/196 with 38 overs still to play.

Simon Katich, who has shared some outstanding partnerships with Waugh for New South Wales this season, played a confident, though not entirely chanceless innings, and the pair took the score to 4/322 with eight overs remaining – the point where the two captains could agree to call the game off if they wished. With Waugh on 69, Ganguly still going for a win, and a big crowd loving the action, they played on.

Waugh’s strokeplay became more loose as the crowd’s expectations rose that he might just have enough time to squeeze in one final century. No such luck, as he holed out to one of the more uncharacteristic shots of his career in the fifth-last over of the game. The partnership with Katich was worth 142.

We thought the draw might be called at that point, but instead Adam Gilchrist came to the crease. Three balls later, Gilchrist returned to the pavillion, the victim of a very scrappy stumping by Parthiv Patel, having played just one scoring shot for four. Kumble’s twelfth wicket for the match, it brought Jason Gillespie to the crease.

Ganguly was still gunning for the victory, and still taking an interminable amount of time over his field settings, but Katich took control of proceedings and the match ended with Australia on 6/357. In the end, they finished just 86 short. It’s not often that 347 runs are scored on the fifth day of a Test match, but the truth is that the pitch had not worn much at all. Only 25 wickets fell over the five days for 1757 runs.

Katich finished on 77 not out and unquestionably played the best innings of the day. He scored 202 runs for the match, but still well behind Tendulkar’s 301 (241* and 60*). Kumble took 12/279 to equal the most wickets taken in a Test at the SCG (8/141 and 4/139).

With a couple of thousand more spectators coming to the ground during Waugh’s innings, there was much emotion at the end of the day as the Australian captain said his farewells to the crowd and did a lap of honour hoisted on the shoulders of his team-mates. Curiously, among all the thanks he gave in his farewell speech, there was no acknowledgement of Ricky Ponting or the future. One other disappointment was that the Indian team left the field with the Border-Gavaskar Trophy without taking the chance to thank their many fans at the ground.

While this day and this moment belonged to Steve Waugh, the series was a memorable one for India. They couldn’t quite take the series, but a 1-1 away result was much better than many were expecting. Their bowling ranks are still brittle but the star batsmen performed, one after another. Ganguly led it off at the Gabba, Laxman was excellent at Adelaide and Sydney, Tendulkar came good with the highest score of his adult career after it seemed his form was deserting him. And Rahul Dravid scored 619 runs to be named Man of the Series.

Australia looked that little bit more mortal, and with due respect to them, that is good for the world game. They’ll find it tough in Sri Lanka in March, and even tougher when they meet India next in October. It’s a tough challenge for Ricky Ponting without a Waugh, let alone two, in his eleven. But he’s already a World Cup winner, and the future is his.

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