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An opportunity to shine

December 25, 2002 17:54 IST

Love and Waugh join forces this morning in a world still searching for peace. A newcomer and the veteran whose place he might take come together in an attempt to add another defeat to those England has already suffered.

Stuart Macgill also appears, a combustible mixture of sharp turn and short fuse. These players are regarded as long-match specialists. Meanwhile the visitors return after a fortnight of cutting and carving to face the harder task of scoring runs in Test cricket. Despite the scoreline and the dullness of the summer there is much to be won and lost in these five days of exchanges.

Matin LoveAs ever each man has concerns of his own which must give ground to the requirements of the team and the pursuit of victory. For Martin Love this is a grand occasion, a day he will remember all his life, an opportunity he has earned the old-fashioned way, by scoring lots of runs. For his captain it is another Test against the old enemy. Waugh knows this could be his last appearance at this gashed ground. No matter how solid it appears every sportsman's career hangs by the slenderest of threads. Ever since losing his wicket to rough decisions in his first few Tests the Australian captain has fought against the fates. It has been a long and satisfying struggle whose end approaches. Captaincy has been his finest achievement. His cricket reflects his temperament but his leadership has required a leap of the imagination.

Waugh and Love are as different as lemons and apples. Love is a thoughtful type from a small country town in Queensland whose inhabitants rise with the sun to feed their chooks. He spends most of his time thinking about marrows and bats in the unhurried way of those whose days spread out before them. By and large bananabenders are a noisy lot but Love serves as a laconic counterpoint, a robin amongst the galahs.

He can bat, though, and has taken a liking to this England attack, scoring double-centuries in Brisbane and Hobart, innings laced with stylish placements through cover and neat strokes off his pads; these were long innings played by a settled cricketer. Love must have thought his time had passed and his selection says something about his persistence and a little about the slow maturing of the younger brigade, amongst whom Michael Clarke keeps throwing away his wicket. Like several of the emerging fast bowlers, Love comes from outside the mainstream. The importance of the academy has been overstated. His appearance, and the identities of the national and academy coaches, confirms that Queensland has become this country's cricketing stronghold. Might be worth a visit by the touring hierarchy. Enough has been said about Waugh. He walks out to bat quickly precisely because he wants to get on with the job. Neither entrances nor farewells mean anything to him. Cricket bathes in sentimental claptrap.

Stuart MacGillMacGill took a stack of wickets for Nottinghamshire, confusing all and sundry with his googly. Since he was not taken to Sri Lanka last spring and has not bowled well this summer his nomination must have come as a relief. Patently the selectors were looking for variety overseas and sent a young finger spinner in his place. Now it is Macgill's turn to restate his case.

He has a fine record in Test cricket and bowls better to left-handers than some leg-spinners. Australia must be encouraged by the number and calibre of the wrist-spinners emerging around the country, not least those chosen to play for the under 19s against England next month. Bob Paulsen and Kerry O'keeffe have coached many of these prospects. The fun does not entirely depend upon Shane Warne's shoulder.

England must strive to end a wretched tour on a high note. None of them has anything to complain about. Nasser Hussain's team must fight to the last. In a fortnight another Ashes series will be over and then some hard thinking will be needed. After the World cup England must start afresh with David Fulton and others unused to defeat brought into the fold. Meanwhile it is enough that these 22 men have been given the honour of representing their country on a great sporting occasion. As Waugh and Love could confirm, it is not an opportunity to be taken for granted.

Peter Roebuck