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20 short of a fairytale farewell
Sourav with the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. (AFP)

Sydney, Jan. 6: It could have been the biggest party in Indian cricket, but Steve Waugh authored a farewell that would challenge the most emotional of scriptwriters.

Everything was on his terms and made for extraordinary viewing.

Indeed, the chants of “Steve Waugh, Steve Waugh” which reverberated during his passionate 175-minute stay at the SCG wicket were nothing more than a curtain-raiser.

What followed his walking into the sunset, after taking Australia to safety in the deciding Test, would turn the biggest names in sport anywhere green with envy.

It was as if the nearly 30,000 turnout wanted to remind the world that Steve was a national treasure, that he had already gained immortality. While Prime Minister John Howard led the send-off, teammates chaired Steve during his lap of honour at a ground where he first dreamt big.

There were touching banners, confetti and moist eyes. Earlier, Man of the Match Sachin Tendulkar was booed when he caught the legend off Anil Kumble.

And, when Steve walked off for the last time in his Baggy Green, he was accompanied by wife Lynette and their three children. Of course, he left the SCG turf with the good wishes of the thousands, as also the Indian cricketers. Be it Man of the Series Rahul Dravid or Sachin or, even, captain Sourav Ganguly, that sentiment was publicly declared during the awards presentation.

Tony Greig took the PA system to call for “three cheers”. Well, the cheers would have carried to all corners of this chic metro and beyond.

Clearly, even Steve didn’t envisage such a farewell when he announced (on November 26) that the fourth and final Test against India would be his last. “Yes, the emotional outpouring over the last few weeks surprised me. There were cheers for every run, cheers for every ball I fielded,” he said at his last media conference as the Australian captain.

Then, pausing, Steve admitted his retirement hadn’t yet registered: “I suppose that will be done when I wake up tomorrow. Why have I quit when I’ve been playing well' For that reason alone. Really, it can’t get better than this. Getting 80 and Australia saving the Test after allowing India to score 700-plus.… The team will survive without me, hopefully it will keep winning.”

Steve also conceded to feeling “nervous” in both innings before stepping on to the SCG.

“Once in, though, I had a feeling of tranquility. Not having anything to lose, I wanted to enjoy myself.” Asked if there was more “chirping” than usual, he laughed: “Somebody did say I would be out to another of those slog-sweeps and I promptly replied I must get respect as I’d been playing from the time some of the guys were in nappies!”

Soon enough, talk about the Steve legacy is going to dominate discussions across Australia. Yet, his own mind isn’t made up on what exactly will be treated as one. “I can’t say. But, yes, I do know that I’ve instilled the importance of fighting back from adverse positions,” he said.

Except that Steve didn’t sign off with a century, he achieved everything a captain would have hoped for in a situation where India had the upper hand. As it turned out, needing 443 to win the Test and series, Australia finished on 357 for six. Steve’s 80 — his 50th fifty — was the top score, but Simon Katich (a centurion in the first innings) wasn’t far behind with an unbeaten 77.

Disappointed, but not upset, Sourav told The Telegraph: “The lesson which must be learnt is that we need two bowlers who can attack.” On a wicket which didn’t crumble in the manner expected, the captain was left with no choice but to rely wholly on the seasoned Anil Kumble. He delivered to the extent possible, returning match figures of 12 for 279 and ending the series with a personal best of 24 wickets.

Sourav quickly agreed that the bowling ought to have been “better”. However, he wasn’t unusually critical of anybody. “Overall, the team put in a special effort to end 1-1. I’d said this series would be a true test of our ability. The team stood the test well.”

That Kumble didn’t get support from the other end, though, is going to hurt. If only the laws allowed the same bowler to operate simultaneously....

“Look, you can’t be dependent on one bowler alone. Kumble did a terrific job but, having bowled almost 47 overs in the first innings, he was tired. Then, he didn’t get a break, eventually bowling 42 overs in innings No. 2. Surely, he couldn’t be doing everything,” said Greg Chappell.

An absolute disaster was much-hyped Murali Kartik. Agreed it’s not easy featuring in a Test after three years, but if a left-arm spinner isn’t going to utilise the roughs on the last day, then we have a serious problem. Apparently, he has got “muddled” (to quote a member of the think tank) by interacting too much with a former India captain.

India retained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, which was presented to Sourav by the two icons in person, but a plus has been Dravid being adjudged Man of the Series for a handsome tally of 619 runs. Typically, he talked about hoping to “improve”.

Incidentally, in Steve’s opinion, the Border-Gavaskar Trophy is currently the premier competition around. Three cheers to that as well.

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