Melbourne: After leading Australia to an emphatic nine-wicket win at the MCG, on Tuesday, Steve Waugh fired a warning at the Indians. “My one-day career ended with a defeat in the last series (2001-2002 triangular at home), but I have no intentions of leaving Test cricket with a loss... I’m not going to bow out a losing captain.”
Having made it 1-1, Steve is intent on a kill in his last appearance with the Baggy Green. That the deciding Test, in the four-match series, is on his home turf guarantees the action is going to be this summer’s hottest. Perhaps, the most memorable as well.
In fact, wanting to go full tilt, the Australians have named Jason Gillespie as their 13th player. However, as he is coming off a right groin strain, he will be “monitored” till Friday morning, when the Test gets underway.
Predictably, Steve was given a rousing farewell here. He led a lap of honour — actually, a complete round wasn’t necessary as sections of the MCG remain out of bounds on account of “development work” — and as the chart-busting “Go Aussie Go” reverberated, touching banners (like ‘Thanks to Tugga, Our Hero Always’) surfaced at different points.
If anything, Sydney will have a greater emotional ring, but Sourav Ganguly isn’t counting on that being a factor. “It will be nice if the emotional bit affects Australia but, being such a professional side, I doubt if they will allow themselves to be beaten by the occasion,” the Indian captain pointed out.
The third Test, of course, got over quickly — some 20 minutes before lunch on the final day — and, as expected, there wasn’t any drama. Justin Langer again misread Ajit Agarkar’s swing, but the Australians didn’t lose another wicket. Appropriately, first innings heroes Matthew Hayden and (MoM) Ricky Ponting sealed the victory.
The home team could have been under some pressure had David Shepherd upheld Ashish Nehra’s supremely confident appeal for leg-before against Hayden, on the same score (nine for one) when Langer exited, but that was not to be. In any case, no matter how bad a wicket, 95 is no target — that too with a full day in hand.
Sourav, who has recovered from the Brad Williams-inflicted blow, was left to rue a big chance that went abegging.
After all, at 278 for one on the first afternoon, India had everything in their favour. Even Steve acknowledged as much: “I had to bowl, which suggested things weren’t going our way... But, we took control on the second morning, when the last six wickets fell for just 16... After that, the momentum stayed with us.”
“Yes, we managed not to capitalise on an excellent start... It didn’t help that Zaheer (Khan) had a recurrence of the hamstring problem so early in the game... We were always one strike bowler short,” Sourav remarked. He agreed that the lower-order needed to bat time and make a contribution.
Later, talking to The Telegraph, Sourav insisted it wouldn’t be difficult to regain momentum. Also, motivation won’t be lacking. As he put it: “If we don’t believe we can win, then there’s no point playing...”
Steve, who conceded having thought of the possibility of not getting to play at the SCG, after being struck by Agarkar on the left elbow (“I thought I’d broken that hand”), disagreed with a suggestion that his team may succumb to the pressure of not losing a home series.
“The best teams look to situations that are more challenging... They raise their cricket... The best teams rise to the occasion and, so, I’m not worried,” he argued, the manner of his reply saying as much as its content.
Incidentally, Steve paid a handsome compliment to Hayden (136 and 53 not out) and Ponting (career-best 257 and an unbeaten 31): “Look, right now, it’s difficult to pick who is batting better... Both are having a terrific run.”
For the record, Ponting has already amassed 634 runs, while Hayden has helped himself to 354.
Gesture towards victims
Meanwhile, in a nice gesture, players of both teams have signed Steve’s shirt which will be framed and auctioned on the net (site e-bay). Proceeds will go towards rehabilitating victims of the killer earthquake in Iran.
In a statement, Steve said: “We’ve all been saddened by the news coming out of Iran over the last couple of days... Our thoughts are with all those who have been impacted by this tragedy — specially the Iranians in Australia, who have lost loved ones back home. It’s difficult to comprehend destruction of this scale and we hope our contribution will assist in the fund-raising effort.”
Very statesman-like, that.