| Steve Waugh punches the air after reaching his 29th century as Adam Gilchrist joins in the celebrations on the second day of the final Ashes Test in Sydney on Friday. (Reuters)
Sydney: Australian captain Steve Waugh hit the last ball of the day for four to complete a brilliant century after becoming just the third player to pass 10,000 Test runs on an emotional second day of the final Ashes match against England on Friday.
His unbeaten 102, helped Australia reach stumps at 237 for five, still 125 behind England’s first innings total of 362, but far better off than when he came to the crease with his side on the ropes at 45 for three.
In one of the most amazing finishes to a day’s cricket, Waugh smashed spinner Richard Dawson through the covers to go from 98 to his 29th Test century.
The boundary meant Waugh equalled Don Bradman’s Australian record that had stood since 1948 and put him joint third on the on the all-comers’ list headed by Indians Sunil Gavaskar (34) and Sachin Tendulkar (31).
When he reached 69, Waugh, who is already making his world record-equalling 156th Test appearance, joined fellow Australian Border (11,174) and former Indian captain Gavaskar (10,122) as the only players to reach 10,000 runs.
Waugh, who was left out of Australia’s side for the upcoming World Cup, hardly played a false stroke as he began his team’s rescue mission, smashing 18 fours in an innings spanning 176 minutes and 130 balls.
He walked on to the Sydney Cricket Ground to a standing ovation and left with the place in pandemonium.
England fast bowler Andy Caddick had just torn through the Australian top-order, removing Matthew Hayden (15), Ricky Ponting (seven) and Justin Langer (25) in quick succession but Waugh was up to the task.
Despite making half-centuries in the past two Tests, the captain had been below his best but he immediately showed he was in the mood when he belted two quick boundaries off Matthew Hoggard then smashed three in a row off Caddick to race to his 50 off 61 balls.
He paused briefly to acknowledge the applause when he made it to 69 and the 10,000 mark and then refocused, sharing a 90-run partnership with Damien Martyn before the Western Australian threw his wicket away for 26.
Martin Love, playing in only his second Test, departed for a duck after averaging 519 in all games against the English on tour.
Adam Gilchrist joined Waugh for the final hour and followed his skipper’s lead to finish the day unbeaten on 45 in an 87-run partnership to give Australia some hope of completing a 5-0 series whitewash.
Waugh’s prospects of making a hundred before stumps seemed to have disappeared when he hit Dawson for three to reach 98 in the last over of the day with just two balls left.
But Gilchrist took a sharp single off the penultimate ball to put his skipper back on strike and he found a hole in the tightly-set field to reach triple figures, jumping for joy and punching the air with delight.
Waugh’s performance overshadowed an equally brave display from England’s oldest and most experienced player Alec Stewart.
The 39-year-old, playing possibly his last Test, shrugged off the effects of chickenpox to belt 71 off 86 balls and ensure the downtrodden tourists a respectable total before the tail collapsed and England lost their last five wickets for 30.
Stewart cracked 15 fours to complete his third half-century of the series and overtake Geoff Boycott as England’s third highest run-scorer in Test cricket, taking his career total to 8,149, behind only Graham Gooch (8,900) and David Gower (8,231).
He fell just before lunch with the total on 332 after sharing a 92-run partnership with John Crawley who was content to play a more cautious role.
Crawley started the day unbeaten on six with England on 264 for the loss of five wickets and added just 29 to his score before running out of partners shortly after lunch.
Andy Bichel, bowling with a broken finger, triggered the England collapse when he bowled Stewart and then had Dawson caught behind for two.
The Australians, chasing their first series cleansweep over England in 83 years, signalled their intentions early as Hayden, the leading runscorer in the series, whacked fours off each of Caddick’s first two overs before the veteran bowler deceived him with a full toss and trapped him leg before wicket for 15.
Ponting followed soon after for seven when he failed to evade a ball from Caddick that came back at him and brushed the face of the bat to present Stewart with the easiest of catches.
Langer, who made 250 in the Melbourne Test, skied a catch to Hoggard to make his exit for 25 before Waugh and Martyn steadied the innings.