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Steve Waugh’s farwell Test: A fitting goodbye to one of the doyens of the modern game

Steve Waugh's farwell Test: A fitting goodbye to one of the doyens of the modern game
Steve Waugh (center) chaired around Sydney Cricket Ground by Matthew Hayden (left) and Justin Langer © Getty Images

Records tumbled as Steve Waugh quit international cricket on January 6, 2004. Abhishek Mukherjee recalls his memories of a Test that was all about achievements, emotions, drama, and memories.

India were probably fortunate in the sense that Australia did not have their spearheads – Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne – in the series. However, it must be said in their defence that their main bowlers – Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh – could not play on past the first Test either.

The tourists started off in style at The Gabba, bowling out Australia for 323 after they were 268 for two at one stage. Thanks to the excellent support from Aakash Chopra and VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly’s 144 took India to a commanding position. The Test, however, tapered to a draw mostly due to rain.

India took a lead for the first time in Australia when they won by four wickets at Adelaide. The heroes of the historic victory were Rahul Dravid and Laxman, and rather bafflingly, Ajit Agarkar – the man who had been an object of ridicule on India’s previous tour of Australia.

Come MCG, and it was India’s turn to capitulate: Virender Sehwag bludgeoned his way to 195 of the best runs, but was caught off Simon Katich for 195. India collapsed from 278 for one to 366; Australia managed a 192-run lead thanks to a splendid 257 from Ricky Ponting; and went on to win the Test by eight wickets.

Despite the defeat, India had managed to spoil Steve Waugh’s swansong party successfully. Would they be able to finish it in style and clinch their first series ever on Australian soil?

There was also the aspect of Sachin Tendulkar. He had created quite a reputation for himself on Australian soil for himself over the past two series, but this time it was all coming down with a crash: he had scored 82 runs from five outings to the crease in the series with two ducks and a one – hardly the standards one expected from him.

The other event

Things had been taking a new shape at this columnist’s household as well. A day before the Test (on New Year’s Day) started, I became a father for the only time. While this went on change the entire world for me, I could also acquire a paternity leave.

“The mother and the child are doing fine, but need to stay in the nursing-home for a week,” was the verdict. Given that the Test started at 5.30 AM in India, it meant that I would miss about two hours of action during the morning visiting hours (though that would include the tea interval).

There are some men who are universal atheists. Some others, like me, keep their atheism restricted to the lesser realm outside the world of cricket. Could she bring victory to India, which would also be their first series victory on Australian soil? Could she bring Tendulkar back to form?

Day One: India take control

Ganguly decided to bat when my daughter was less than a day old: keeping in trend with the previous Tests of the series, Sehwag and Chopra provided India with the ideal start, reaching 98 without loss in 27 overs at lunch. Sehwag was eventually caught-behind off Jason Gillespie for 72 while Chopra followed suit with 45.

It was the coldest winter of the past decade in Kolkata, but the sight of the newborn inside the glass incubator made the travel worth it every day. Once the visiting hours were over, however, other issues sank in: this was from an era preceding smart-phones; carrying transistor radio-sets to hospitals was (probably) not good etiquette; and for whatever reason the television at the lobby played only CNBC.

I had to rush back home amidst uncharacteristic fog to find both Sehwag and Chopra back in the pavilion but Dravid and more importantly, the off-form Tendulkar, taking firm control of the situation after tea. The Little Master had adopted a queer tactic: he would not attempt to play a single stroke outside off.

Dravid gritted it out for a composed 38 before Gillespie trapped him leg-before. Laxman walked out and batted cautiously, and despite his defensive strategy, Tendulkar had managed to get off to a decent start. They finished the day on 29 and 73 respectively while India were a more safe than robust 284 for three.

Day Two: A regimented comeback

Laxman picked out the next morning to pull off a display of what can only be classified as batting for the Gods to be savoured. Four seasons back, he had scored 167 against the same opposition in his previous outing: this time he had Tendulkar for support (because that was exactly what Tendulkar had been restricted to), but that did not take anything away from his innings.

There have been few sights in world cricket that have been as captivating as Laxman in full flow: it was not only about the flicks placed wherever he wanted to; it was also about the silken back-foot cover-drives or the outrageous short-arm pulls; and about the on-drives against the turn; and the most innocent of grins when he was beaten on the rarest of occasions.

Laxman was unbeaten on a 67-ball 29 out of a 90-run partnership. The next day he scored 149 more in 231 balls as the partnership added 253 runs. It was the second special (okay, Very Very Special) Laxman innings SCG had witnessed. He caught up with Tendulkar and the pair raced each other till Laxman fell to Gillespie.

Giving the entire credit to my daughter, I came back just in time to watch the final moments of VVS’ innings. Ganguly walked out to up the tempo and hit three lusty boundaries before being claimed by Brett Lee, but young Parthiv Patel came to the party. Lee, Gillespie, and Nathan Bracken all erred in bowling short to him: little did they know that the teenager belonged to that rare breed of Indians who were stronger off the back-foot than off the front.

Parthiv hooked, pulled, and cut with panache, reaching a 40-ball 45 before stumps. Despite Laxman’s elegant yet authoritative display and Parthiv’s cameo the “unseen” hero of the day was, beyond a doubt, Tendulkar – who had pulled off one of the finest innings of his career.

It was one the greatest lessons in self-discipline: the double-hundred had taken him 395 balls – but more significantly, all balls outside off, barring rank poor deliveries, were not attacked. Once he reached there, however, he broke loose, and finished the day on a 419-ball 220.

Day Three: Kumble creates dents after Indian record

Patel began Day Three emphatically, hitting four boundaries in the first nine balls he faced before edging one to Adam Gilchrist off Lee for a 50-ball 62. Ganguly decided to bat on and Ajit Agarkar fell early, but another teenager, Irfan Pathan, took India past their existing highest score.

Tendulkar and Irfan continued to bat before Ganguly called them in mid-over with the score on 705 for seven. Tendulkar’s 241 not out had taken him 436 balls (which meant that once he had reached 200 the next 41 had taken 41 balls). It still remains the highest score by an Indian in Australia.

All seven wickets were shared by Lee and Gillespie, and though Bracken bowled economically, Stuart MacGill was taken for 146 from 38 overs.

Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer then set out as if there were no tomorrow: I had been hoping that someone would break through in my absence from in front of the television, but the pair had raced to 145 without loss in 31 overs. Almost everyone was mercilessly clobbered, with special treatment dished out to poor Murali Kartik, who had gone for 33 from his three overs (he eventually finished with 19-1-122-0).

Anil Kumble was bowling on with relentless accuracy at one end. Considered a back-up option to Harbhajan before the series, he had picked up six wickets at both Adelaide and MCG. Many people had considered him past his prime, but then – Kumble was never one for conventions.

He struck when Hayden mistimed and hit a skier to mid-off for an 88-ball 67. An unfazed Langer carried on, but eventually gave in to Kumble’s persistence when he mistimed a slog-sweep for a 149-ball 117. The hosts were still on an emphatic 214 for two, but India had been clawing their way back into the Test.

Ponting, who had scored double-hundreds in the previous two Tests, was trapped plumb in front shortly afterwards off a shooter, while Damien Martyn hit one back tamely to “Jumbo”. Waugh (who had entered amidst a standing ovation) and Katich put up some resistance, but Irfan broke through, having the former caught-behind.

It was ironic that the wicket of cricket’s senior citizen would become a result of a combination between two teenagers. However, Irfan proved that the wicket was no fluke by dismissing Gilchrist with a screaming, reverse-swinging yorker shortly before stumps.

Australia finished on 342 for six as Lee played out time with the reliable Katich, who was batting on 51. They still required 164 to avoid the follow-on.

Day Four: Ganguly sets Australia 443 after Katich defiance and Kumble marathon

Kumble’s five-for came when Chopra caught Lee brilliantly at short-leg the next morning, but Gillespie became the flesh in India’s thorn as he allowed Katich to build up a partnership and took Australia towards that 506-run mark. When the partnership eventually amounted to a hundred it seemed that Australia would save the follow-on.

The pair eventually added 117 runs in 192 balls before Kumble struck again: Katich’s brilliant 125 (his maiden hundred that turned out to be a Test-saving performance) ended when he holed out at long-on. Kumble immediately rounded off things by bowling out the hosts for 474. He finished with figures of 46.5-7-141-8 – the second-best figures by an Indian in Australia (after Kapil Dev’s eight for 106).

The question remained, though: would Ganguly enforce the follow-on?

He did not. He had probably argued that Kumble had bowled unchanged that morning, and had rarely been taken off since he had come on after the seamers had dealt with the new ball. He knew that the only way India could have won the Test was to have a fresh Kumble, even if it meant the loss of time.

Chopra fell early (which was good in a way), but Sehwag and Dravid batted at a breakneck pace, adding 62 in 76 balls. I came back to watch Dravid and Tendulkar in full swing. A few overs before stumps, Dravid got hit on the ear trying to hook Lee, and Ganguly called the men in immediately. Despite the fact that Dravid was on 91, Ganguly could not afford to lose further time.

Set 443 for a victory, Australia finished on ten after four overs. Would they go for the chase? Could India pick up ten wickets? If they did I would name (or nickname, at least) my daughter Sydney, I promised to myself. After all, that was what Brian Lara’s daughter was also called, right?

Day Five: Tugga bows out after epic stalemate

They did: once again Langer and Hayden went berserk, adding 65 from the first 12 overs of the morning. However, Kumble kept bowling to a plan, bowling straight deliveries outside the off-stump, dragging Hayden’s bat further and further outside off. Then he suddenly bowled one slow in the air on the same line, and Hayden’s drive ended in Dravid’s safe hands at first slip.

Agarkar had toiled hard through the morning, two of his leg-before appeals against his “bunny” Langer not being given by Steve Bucknor despite the replays showing that the ball would have hit middle-stump. He tried to repeat his first-innings onslaught against Kartik but failed to clear mid-off.

I had missed the Martyn dismissal (or rather, what should have been the three Martyn dismissals: he survived plumb leg-before decisions against both Kartik and Kumble before his sweep went to the substitute Yuvraj Singh at fine-leg). I also missed the arrival of Waugh for the final time on a Test arena, and the Ponting dismissal as well: he had hit one tamely back to Irfan.

It was up to Kumble now: as the colossal Waugh and the in-form Katich started taking the attack back to the opposition Ganguly, perhaps out of desperation, started shuffling his bowlers. He brought on Tendulkar and Sehwag to rest Kumble and Kartik, but to no avail.

There was even sledging, albeit from the wrong end:

Parthiv: Come on, just one more of those famous slog-sweeps before you finish.

Waugh: Show a bit of respect, mate. You were still in nappies when I made my debut.

Then, after scoring a 159-ball 80 with 15 fours, Waugh quit the arena for one final time: perhaps with the intention of scoring a hundred in his final outing, Waugh slog-swept (a Parthiv effect?) and holed out to Tendulkar on the fence. He bowed out of cricket for one final time, and it was only fitting that two of the giants of Indian cricket had played their parts in his final dismissal.

Gilchrist lofted Kumble over his head for four two balls afterwards, but there was more drama to follow in the ball that followed: Gilchrist stepped out, missed the ball completely, but so did Parthiv: the ball rolled from his gloves, hit his pads, and rolled along the ground to hit the stumps. Gilchrist was still short of the crease.

The wicket gave Indians a hope, but Katich and Gillespie thwarted their spinners the way they had in the first innings. In the end they finished on 357 for six with Kumble finishing on four for 138. He became the second Indian (after Bhagwat Chandrasekhar) to pick up 12 wickets in a Test in Australia.

The crowd cheered once again, this time to bid Waugh a farewell from the greatest of stages. Back home, I could not help but smile when I realised that my daughter would eventually grow up with a name that had nothing to do with cricket.

What followed?

— Ponting, then the ODI captain, succeeded Waugh as the captain of Australia in Tests as well.

— Laxman’s love affair with SCG continued: he scored 109 in the first innings of the next Test at the ground four years later as well, therefore making it hundreds in three consecutive innings on the ground (Sunil Gavaskar at Queen’s Park Oval remains the only other Indian to do so). He not scored more than a single hundred in any other venue (barring, of course, Eden Gardens, where he has scored five).

— Kumble continued his golden run with eight more wickets in the next Test at Multan, thereby making it 32 wickets in four Tests. His career had taken off again, and in the 15th year of his career he came back as roaring as ever.

Brief scores:

 

India 705 for 7 decl. (Sachin Tendulkar 241*, VVS Laxman 178, Virender Sehwag 72, Parthiv Patel 62, Aakash Chopra 45; Brett Lee 4 for 201, Jason Gillespie 3 for 135) and 211 for 2 decl. (Rahul Dravid 91*, Sachin Tendulkar 60 *, Virender Sehwag 47) drew with Australia 474 (Simon Katich 125, Justin Langer 117, Matthew Hayden 67, Jason Gillespie 47; Anil Kumble 8 for 141) and 357 for 6 (Steve Waugh 80, Simon Katich 77 *, Justin Langer 47, Ricky Ponting 47, Damien Martyn 40; Anil Kumble 4 for 138).

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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