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Udayan sad at Waugh exit

Kamil Zaheer | January 06, 2004 21:41 IST

The kids at India's Udayan home for the children of lepers could not watch "big brother" Steve Waugh's battling performance at the end of his international career on the last day of the Sydney Test as they did not have cable television.

While most Indians were glued to their television sets watching the action from Sydney, the children played cricket on a scruffy, brown-patched field talking of their sadness at his retirement but their hopes he might spend more time with them now.

"I wanted India to win but wished Steve da got a century," said 14-year-old Haru Mahtao, taking a break from their game at Udayan just outside cricket-mad Calcutta, home to Indian skipper Saurav Ganguly.

"I am really sad he is retiring."

Waugh, who scored 80 against India at a packed Sydney Cricket Ground in his 168th and final Test, is chief patron of Udayan, nestled among betelnut, mango and coconut trees and fish ponds, 50 km from Calcutta.

"It is really bad he is retiring. It's hard to believe," said Bimal Karmalakar, a thin 12-year-old.

Waugh, 38, has been helping Udayan since an aid group took him there in 1998, making regular visits and helping raise funds and donating his own money to help build an 80-bed hostel for girls at Udayan last year.

"Steve is not only a great cricketer but also a great human being," founder Reverend John Gregory Stevens said.

"I have seen him holding leprosy patients with no qualms."

About 300 children, mostly thin but relatively healthy, live at Udayan, 220 of them boys. Many have been here for years.

Most of their leprosy-affected parents are away working in rehabilitation homes or as beggars, peasants or labourers.

Waugh's annual visits are eagerly looked forward to here.

"We still love him even though he has retired," Mahtao said.

"Now, he will have some more time to visit Udayan and give us cricketing tips."

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