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Waugh must find his peace now
January 06, 2003
Anyone turning up for the last day of this series might be forgiven for thinking that England has a formidable attack and their opponents a feeble batting order. Latecomers and recent arrivals from Mars saw Andrew Caddick steaming in like Curtly Ambrose and his captain setting fields with more slips than can be expected from a drunken newsreader. Here was a team rampant and another defending desperately or rushing with the air of men wanting another schooner before closing time. Here was a team triumphant and another doomed.
Anyone remembering the first day of the series in Brisbane must have found these events bewildering, for then, a nervous visiting captain invited his hosts to bat on a plumb pitch and this same Caddick dropped his deliveries gently upon the surface, an actor knocking upon a cardboard door. Matthew Hayden resembled a Roman centurion as he cut a swathe through the forces despatched from England. In Sydney he did more damage to the upholstery than to the bowling.
England won the last few days of the summer and has been the stronger side since their opponents allowed them to bat again in Melbourne. Australia won the first day and most of those in between. But enforcing the follow-on at the MCG was a mistake from which neither the home captain nor his bowlers fully recovered. But for this error Australia might have taken the series 5-0, though this is to enter the realm of conjecture where only arrant speculators tread with confidence.
Enormous credit must be given to these visitors for fighting to the end. After a long summer of eating humble pie they finally stumbled upon the golden coin. Around the world touring teams are collapsing. India's celebrated batsmen have been routed by a purposeful Kiwi attack. Pakistan is present in Africa in body but not in mind, spirit or soul. Nasser Hussain's side has been outclassed and bedevilled by injuries, but it has refused to surrender.
Amongst the Englishmen, Michael Vaughan has given the most delight. His praises have been sung. Simon Jones was missed. Steve Harmison took his place, a gangling paceman of some potential whose radar intermittently failed. Harmison 's fielding was also a source of rich entertainment as he dived valiantly, rose slowly, and then embarked upon another fruitless chase. Jason Gillespie was almost his match and sometimes seemed not to be getting any close to balls lying immobile upon the field. Harmison and his fellow tailenders also swiped cheerfully, connecting now and then and smiling hugely as the crowds cheered. Richard Dawson bowled with his shirttail out and Robert Key walked in like a blacksmith.
Despite the solemnity of the times the game retains its colour. Slogging tailenders, maverick leg-spinners, grouchy captains, noisy newspapers, blind umpires, and disgruntled batsmen -- has anything changed?
Hussain did his best to hold his team together and Sydney was his reward. Variously stubborn, arrogant, daring and defiant, he looked like a man whose race has not quite been run. Afterwards he praised supporters whose cheers and cheerfulness have brightened the summer and justified maintaining the tradition of regular five-match series between these teams. No one need be in any hurry to invite the current Pakistan side for a long tour.
Australia ended the series with battered bodies, weary minds, and bruised egos. Defeat did not find them at their most impressive, with Adam Gilchrist and Hayden called to account in a summer that had been peaceful. Not until the Australians are graceful in adversity will they truly capture the hearts of an expectant public.
Throughout the summer Steve Waugh's team has dropped lots of catches, a failing that must be confronted. Justin Langer's unwillingness to field at short leg and the dropping of Mark Waugh upset the balance in this department. None of the replacements is naturally athletic and the sight of Darren Lehmann chasing from his perch provoked consternation. Martin Love is a slip fielder and not much else.
Australia bowled well before running out of steam in the last two matches. After bowling beautifully in the early weeks, Gillespie could not sustain his effort and niggles prey upon his mind. Brett Lee was fast and sometimes furious, but does not hit the pitch hard enough. Trajectory matters in bowling. Stuart MacGill troubled tailenders but lacked the resources required to remove top-order batsmen, especially a top-spinner sufficiently well disguised to keep his opponents guessing. Selectors, amateur or official, keen to revitalise their team might take a closer look at these positions. Michaels, Hussey and Clarke, and leather-flingers such as Ashley Noffke and Brad Hogg might yet be taken to the Carribean.
Inevitably, the summer ended as it began, with the Australian captain in the spotlight. Most captains scoring runs and winning an Ashes series 4-1 might anticipate words of congratulation and reassurance, but Australians are hard markers. It is a strength. After the match Waugh played around with his children on the outfield. A few hours earlier a hastily constructed back defence had cost him his wicket.
Now Waugh must find his peace. Last Friday, Waugh played an unforgettable innings on that same arena. Between them, that innings and the touching moments with his offspring might convince him that the good battle has been fought. If he goes now it will be on his own terms and with the cheers of the crowds echoing in his ears.