|1-1 not bad: Steve Waugh (AFP)
Melbourne, Dec. 24: The more Steve Waugh wants to treat the Boxing Day Test as just another game, the more he is being reminded he can’t. By the circumstances, as Australia are 0-1 down, and then by his admirers who are as visible as the abundant greenery in these parts.
The hype, in any case, is of the highest order. From “Steve’s last stand at the MCG” to slightly less rhetorical headlines, the print media has been going berserk. And, much as Steve would have liked the pressure to be within the control-range, the more significant it is becoming.
“I’m looking forward to the Test as a contest, not that it’s going to be my last here. It’s an opportunity to show exactly what we are made of. In recent years, yes, we haven’t been used to trailing, but...,” Steve pointed out, almost pleading that he be allowed to focus without being weighed down by so much emotion and sentiment.
Yet, even a public announcement by the outgoing captain isn’t going to make a difference. As it was in Adelaide, everybody wants a piece of him. To Steve’s credit, he hasn’t refused — at least not at the venues — requests for autographs and photographs.
Indeed, he has been signing on everything: caps, T-shirts, posters, books, newspapers, bats...
Moreover, he has been acknowledging the good wishes. For example, a middle-aged fan remarked: “Steve, we appreciate everything you’ve done,” as the icon finished his last (compulsory) workout at the MCG today. The prompt reply was as warm: “Thanks and take care, mate.”
The next minute, another admirer presented what appeared to be a gift-wrapped tie. “Is it cash or...,” Steve quipped, while accepting that token of appreciation. He seemed touched.
At the moment, though, Steve is himself taking care of Australia at a critical time. However, he believes too much ought not to be made of the four-wicket defeat in Adelaide. “Look, a team can have one bad day. So, it’s not that we will be playing much differently (here and in Sydney). In fact, you can’t play Test cricket too differently. The key, really, is intensity and holding catches,” he said.
Dismissing the rain-affected first Test as a “non event”, Steve accepted India is a “quality side”, but made the point that even the trusted firm of Messrs Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman could make “mistakes”.
Steve also dismissed comments by the Mike Gattings. “At different times, a lot of people have spoken about the end of the golden era and all. Such views don’t affect us, don’t take anything away from our focus,” he said.
Asked whether he had devised a formula to stop the two in-form batsmen, Steve replied: “I’ve given some thought but, after Adelaide, I had a break with the family (at their beach house in New South Wales). Now, I’m back to business and... like I’ve stated, they aren’t above making errors.”
Steve, of course, will be hoping tearaway Brett Lee is the one who quickly forces mistakes. “I’m not sure whether he has been recalled (after injury and corrective surgery) purely for a psychological motive. What counts is that he is a quality bowler” is how he summed up Lee’s comeback.
With only the training and fielding mandatory, Lee preferred not to bowl during the day’s workout.
While Australia must win at the MCG and in Sydney if the Border-Gavaskar Trophy is to be regained, Steve let slip that a 1-1 scoreline wouldn’t be a “bad result”. If not anything else, that confirms the Indians’ enhanced stature. Australia, by the way, has won the last four Tests here, the sequence beginning with the 180-run victory over India in 1999-2000.
Be it the eve of Christmas or Boxing Day in 2004, Steve won’t either be training or taking guard at the MCG. What will his thoughts then be' “Don’t know. But, yes, it’s going to be nice to sit at home and watch the Test (against Pakistan) on TV.”
The Melbourneans, though, will miss him.
In an exceptional gesture, fans have been asked to bring along a red piece of cloth or a handkerchief to wave throughout the five days as a tribute.
Steve has been carrying a red rag in his left pocket for over a decade — it’s a “good luck charm”.