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Steve Waugh

Stage set for an epic contest

January 01, 2004

The stage is set for an epic contest between two highly motivated sides, each believing they can win the decider. From a personal viewpoint, I'm excited at the prospect that lies ahead not only because it is my farewell Test in front of my family and friends, but because we have a challenge to confront as a side, and that's when I believe we play our best cricket.

It is important for us as a team to focus on the unfinished business of winning the series. It's going to be a very tough game, so it's a huge plus for us to have Jason Gillespie up and running in time for the team. Our bowlers did a splendid job in Melbourne, and Dizzy's return will add an extra dimension to the attack.

Our batting can only improve, with Adam Gilchrist, Justin Langer and Damien Martyn all due for a big one. India's supporters would say that so is Sachin Tendulkar, so it remains to be seen what happens. It's going to be a tough, winner-takes-all situation, and I cannot think of a better way of ending what has been a completely absorbing series.

Many of my favourite cricketing memories revolve around the famous Sydney Cricket Ground. I was first introduced to this great venue by my first cricket coach of the Panania East Hills Under-10 side. Back in 1973, the whole team travelled out to the SCG in the back of his 'ute' after having done battle earlier in the morning against our local rivals. It was like landing on another planet the first time I walked through the turnstiles and saw the hallowed turf. We all sat on the hill in our whites eating our Four and Twenty pies, drinking cans of Coke and mimicking the action in front of us, which was a Shield match between South Australia and New South Wales.

I was hooked from that moment on and subsequently came back to watch many more state and international matches over the years. The most vivid image I still have is seeing Kim Hughes smash a Bishen Bedi full toss into the top deck of the Members' Stand, which seemed destined to take the clock out.

Gaining selection in the development squads in my youth gave me the opportunity to practice at the SCG number two oval and come closer to my dreams of making it out to the main ground. Training occasionally coincided with Test matches and I recall meeting and getting the signatures of Jeff Thompson and Sam Gannon, a moment that was captured by the press, and made it into the papers the next day.

The SCG has provided me with many of the defining moments of my career. After struggling to reproduce my form of the 1989 Ashes tour, my inconsistency was such that even though I made 48 and 14 against England, I expected, and got, the call from Bob Simpson informing me that my twin brother Mark would ensure that a Waugh was still in the side.

It wasn't long after fighting my way back into the side that I was again under the microscope coming into a Sydney Test. This time I was facing the might of the Windies and batting in the unfamiliar position of number three. Any hundred against an attack containing Curtly Ambrose is worth remembering especially when the 'whisper' was that if I did not produce the goods I would be playing Shield cricket once again. I also remember that particular century for my defiant gesture to the press box and my subsequent dismissal a few balls later, thus teaching me a valuable lesson to concentrate on my job and let the actions do the talking.

Watching opposition players excel at the SCG has also provided lasting memories. As three stand outs, I would rate Lara's 277 for pure skill and shot placement, Haynes' 143 for footwork and execution against spin and Darren Gough's hat trick.

The SCG is one of the most intimate venues in the world when filled to capacity. It feels like the crowd is almost on top of you and the noise level multiplies greater than at any other ground. The members' stand is one of the most aesthetically pleasing to view as it represents the history and traditions of the past.

Of course, I can't talk about my career at the SCG without mentioning last year's century against England. There's no doubt that the goodwill and massive support I enjoyed that day from the crowd inspired me to achieve the results that came my way.

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