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Steve Waugh makes history
January 03, 2003
There was no essential reason why Steve Waugh had to reach his hundred by the close of day two of the fifth Test. With the state of the game putting an Australian 5-0 Ashes whitewash in jeopardy, it would have been perfectly understandable had Waugh put his head down, gone to stumps on 90 not out, and lived to fight on the following day. However, fate, and the expectations of a sold-out home crowd of 41,931 mostly devoted supporters, would not have had it any other way.
Waugh has said he wanted the focus on the cricket rather than himself these last two Tests, but he should take it as a sign of respect and affection that the interest centres on him, even with the clean sweep at stake.
Waugh will not have an emotional farewell distracting him and will decide on his future after this match. But if the Australian captain did decide to ignore the selection panel's warnings and play on in the West Indies, then the form displayed in the first innings in Perth and Melbourne should, in fairness, have been enough to justify his inclusion. If Waugh did need one more century to save his career, though, then he could scarcely have achieved it in a more trademark and dramatic fashion than in the last Test in front of his home supporters.
The knock was a throwback to the mid-1990s, when Waugh was the heart, the centrepiece, of Australia's batting. At 56/3, 300 behind, the situation was made for him. And, positive and determined, he answered the call about as well as he ever has, making a mockery of notions of poor form.
Waugh has always appeared vulnerable against the short ball; the key is it has so rarely got him out. Jumpy initially against the awkward Harmison, Waugh was soon underway by whipping a boundary through square leg. Both in Sydney and Melbourne, Waugh has not just gone out to accumulate runs in the hope his final score will be impressive, but to seemingly impress those in need of convincing with the way he has batted. When the ball has been in his zone, either to cut or to drive, Waugh has gone after it aggressively.
He deliberately hit over point when Caddick was short and wide; along the ground in the same area when it was further up. He was merciless off his pads, and hit some superbly timed back foot drives. Damien Martyn, patently struggling with his game much more than Waugh at the moment, was left way behind.
Waugh had stormed onto the ground to commence his innings virtually as Hoggard was running in to hold Justin Langer's top-edged hook. As well as his own situation, there was the precarious state of the game to consider. England's innings highlighted how much Australia rely upon McGrath and Warne and it would not be pleasant to finish a series, let alone a career, on a losing note.
Australia are seeking a 5-0 whitewash for just the second time in Ashes history. Waugh has previously maintained he is yet to play his best innings and with Gilchrist as a partner it is not inconceivable that could occur in this match. On 69, Waugh notched another milestone when he became the third player after Gavaskar and Border to score 10,000 Test runs.
On 81, Waugh appeared set for a hundred on the day until Gilchrist, appearing to relish the opportunity to play an important innings for the first time in the series, stole the limelight with a series of pulls and drives. With the overs counting down, the rest was pure theatre.
When, on 92 in the penultimate over, Waugh scrambled back for a second run that would have seen him run out had Harmison's throw from fine leg hit, it was evident he was not prepared to wait for the changed circumstances of a new day, and would give his supporters what they wanted.
On 95, Waugh defended the first three deliveries of the final over from Dawson, before driving for three. Gilchrist obliged by taking a single from the penultimate ball. Hussain delayed, bringing in more fielders, and Waugh crowned the day by driving Dawson to the cover boundary.
It was a joyous moment of dramatic accomplishment, equalling Bradman's Australian record of 29 Test centuries. Whatever happens now, at least one more memorable chapter has been added to Waugh's career.