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Steve Waugh

India can stand up to any team today

January 07, 2004

The morning after a very emotionally charged day has been pretty relaxed. Today, as I look back on my decision, I think I have timed it well. This is the right time for me to move on simply because Ricky Ponting is ready to take over, the Australian team is the best in the game right now, and I could not have thought of a better farewell personally.

As I handed over the mantle of captaincy to Ricky last evening, I told him to follow his instincts and do it his way. I know he is the man for the job, and the timing is right for him as well.

The last stroke: Steve WaughI would be lying if I said I did not want to win my last series as captain, but at the end of this edition of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, I felt no regrets about the way things shaped up. The Indians are a quality side, and man-to-man they can stand up against any team in the world right now, especially from the batting point of view.

This is much the same batting lineup that came here in 1999, and one can see that the potential that was evident then has been realised now. Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and V V S Laxman always constituted a formidable middle order at home, but with this performance they have proved that they are a force outside their territory as well. This series marks a major improvement for all of them as far as technique, approach, and concentration while playing outside familiar conditions is concerned.

The other crucial difference was the way the openers, Virender Sehwag and Akash Chopra, invariably provided a good start to the Indian innings so as to ensure that the quality middle order was not exposed too early. When there was an early breakthrough, Dravid, who was impeccable in his defence and technique, ensured that we could not get much further. All in all, the top six really acquitted themselves quite well, and it was their performance that ensured the Border-Gavaskar Trophy remained with the Indians.

As far as our side is concerned, we were not with our full-strength bowling, and that did make a difference. But we must resist the temptation of comparing the likes of Brad Williams and Nathan Bracken with Glenn McGrath. They need the breathing space to grow to full potential, and these comparisons will not help anybody.

It also did not help that we dropped catches at crucial moments right through the series, and who knows, had we caught half of those, the scoreline of the series might have been very different. But then India too missed a lot of chances, so they could legitimately make the same claim.

A farewell series can be difficult for any individual, and I am no different. I was completely spoilt for the last couple of weeks, and the amount of newsprint devoted to me was quite embarrassing at times. The nice part, however, was that it was all very complimentary and touching, and I must admit that I was surprised at the amount that was written about me right through this series. It goes to show that the Australian public really loves this game, and perhaps their kind words to me at every venue were just a manifestation of that love for the game. I am grateful for the support I got at every step, at every venue, and as I said earlier, I just could not have imagined a more memorable farewell.

Coming back to the game, at the start of this Test I really wanted to play well in my last innings. I came in when the situation was potentially dangerous for us. I have always enjoyed a challenge, and playing to save a game in my last Test was a great challenge. I am proud of the way I scored those 80 runs, and while a century would have been even better, I walked back feeling proud that we had even managed to put some pressure back on the Indians in the last hour.

The moment of my dismissal will always stay with me because it was a rare occasion on which I let the crowd sway my shot selection. Hitting Anil Kumble out of the rough was always going to be a risk, and perhaps I would have been better off taking twos and waiting for the next over. But with 40,000 people chanting behind me, I went for the shot and Tendulkar took the catch. He may have become the hero of Sydney if he had dropped it, but a senior pro like him does not miss such chances.

The series has raised the profile of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy to another level. The encounters between these two sides have been special over the last couple of years and it was no surprise that they competed for the World Cup in the final last year. I am sure the tradition of tough, entertaining cricket will be continued in the series in India later this year. It remains to be seen whether Ricky Ponting and his men will realise my unfinished dream of beating India in India.


Previous column: Tendulkar and Laxman were flawless

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