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WAUGH'S WAR GOES IN VAIN Australia v/s England, Fifth Test, Sydney Cricket Ground, 2nd-6th January 2003

Stephen Waugh's awesome Australians had already taken the series by the time the two teams arrived in the picturesque city of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. The best England could hope for was a consolation win in the final Test after losing each of the first four Tests. They had history on their side, having beaten the old enemy in 'dead' Tests of the previous two series in 1998-99 and 2001 respectively. The overwhelming dominance of the Australian team in Ashes contests since 1989 also suggested that England couldn't really hope for anything more than 'dead' triumphs. The teams were hopelessly mismatched, not so much in talent as in temperament.

The 2002-03 edition of the game's oldest rivalry had commenced with a stunning blow to England's prospects of winning the Ashes for the first time since 1986-87; one that was entirely self-inflicted. English skipper Nasser Hussain won the toss in the first Test in Brisbane and elected to field on what looked a 'sporting' wicket. He then watched haplessly as the Australians made merry on what turned out to be a dream batting track. The hosts ended the first day of the series at a colossal 364-2 and did not look back.

The spectators who thronged the Sydney Cricket Ground on the second day of 2003 expected the home team to complete a clean sweep. But their 4-0 lead notwithstanding, the Australians were under a spot of bother. They were without Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, their two strike bowlers, both of whom were nursing injuries. In fact, it was the first time in a decade that both stalwarts were unavailable for selection. Another stalwart wasn't in the best frame of mind. Skipper Steve Waugh's indifferent form in the first four Tests had attracted the attention of his critics and the selectors. He had already been left out of the one-day side for the forthcoming World Cup in Feb-March 2003, despite the fact that he had captained Australia to victory in the previous edition! It was a controversial, but typically Australian move, wherein the selectors had decided to invest in youngsters rather than a 37 year-old veteran who was approaching the end of his career.

It was widely speculated that the Sydney Test would be Waugh's last, unless he did something sensational with the bat.

England put up a competitive 362 on the board. Australia were 56-3 and in some strife when their skipper strode to the crease. 'Strode' was the operative word, for Waugh always liked to get in as quickly as possible, so as to give the opposition a message that he was ready for their challenge, and also because the fact that they were still celebrating the fall of the previous wicket would give him precious extra seconds to get a better feel of the conditions.

Much to the unbridled delight of his home-crowd, Waugh found his rhythm almost as soon as he got in. A flick to the square-leg boundary off Caddick convinced him, as it did his fans across the globe, that it was going to be his day. The Sydney spectators had seen enough of him since his international debut in 1985-86 to know that with the selectors apparently eager to push him towards the gallows, Stephen Waugh was not one to meekly toe the line. They were expecting a scrap, and they witnessed one.

Waugh's feet were moving well, as was his bat. He drove, cut and ran his way to become the third batsman after the Indian Sunil Gavaskar and fellow Australian Allan Border to complete 10,000 runs. He went past fifty, and batted his way into the 70s and subsequently the 80s, even as the shadows lengthened.

It was a scene straight out of a fairytale. A champion performer had regained his touch after a long time and brought himself tantalizingly close to a special achievement. Waugh could have played out the day and gone for the hundred the following morning, but somehow that just didn't seem appropriate. The spectators were cheering in anticipation, the English fielders were wary, and the Australian dressing-room was tense. As the minutes ticked away and the cut-off time approached, Waugh moved to 95. No one seemed interested in checking out the team's score. It was one of those moments wherein the individual had upstaged the team, albeit briefly, on a cricket field.

Hussain threw the ball to off-spinner Richard Dawson for the final over. Waugh was to face the first ball, and the Sydney spectators couldn't wait. As they gave vent to their feelings and Waugh prepared himself to take strike, wicketkeeper Alec Stewart spoke for many when he asked the batsman, "Who writes your scripts?"

Waugh was determined to achieve the landmark, but he could make nothing out of the first three balls. The fourth ball, he steered past cover-point, and completed a frantic three with his partner, the fleet-footed Adam Gilchrist. The whole of Australia willed Gilchrist on to get a single off the penultimate ball, which he did. With one ball left, Waugh was on strike, with 98 runs against his name.

Hussain walked over to his bowler and indulged in casual talk, with some hand-waving thrown in for good measure. Waugh knew, as did every single human being who was watching at the ground or on television that the English captain was only trying to play on his counterpart's patience by delaying the final ball as much as possible. Waugh did his best to keep his cool and settled into his stance.

The last ball of the day was a quicker one, pitched just outside the off-stump. The bowler intended to surprise the batsman with a flatter ball, but Waugh had seen plenty of those since 1985-86. He launched into it and drove mightily past extra-cover for four, to bring up the 32nd Test hundred. It was certainly one of the most enthralling centuries of his 156 Test-old career.

The roars of delight that pervaded every inch of the Sydney Cricket Ground could have been heard across the Tasman sea in New Zealand. With that splendid innings, Waugh had halted the selectors from pushing him any closer to the gallows. He might have been declared persona non grata as far as one-day cricket was concerned, but there was no way his spot in the Test squad could be touched, unless of course he decided to leave on his own terms.

A stupendous 183 by English opener Michael Vaughan in the second innings took the tourists to a strong position, and they ended up winning the Test by 225 runs. But the English fans apart, nobody really cared about the result. What was uppermost in every Australian's mind was that their Test captain, and one of cricket's all-time greats, had proved that he was far from finished. Waugh went on to lead Australia in Test series against the West Indies, Zimbabwe and India before calling it a day exactly one year after he had hit that rousing hundred.

England's detractors did their best to take away the gloss from the visiting team's comprehensive 'consolation' win, pointing out that Australia were missing their two star bowlers. It was something Michael Vaughan, England's undisputed Man of the Series with three majestic hundreds, observed and noted. Two-and-a-half years after that Sydney Test, he led England to a 2-1 triumph over the old enemy. The 2005 victory was England's first Ashes conquest since 1986-87. And it was achieved against an Australian side that comprised Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath.


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1 AustraliaAustralia 118
2 IndiaIndia 112
3 cricketPakistan 111
4 EnglandEngland 108
5 AustraliaNew Zealand 98
6 SouthSouth Africa 92
7 sri LankaSri Lanka 85
8 West IndiesWest Indies 65
9 BangladeshBangladesh 57
10 ZimbabweZimbabwe 48
1 AustraliaAustralia 123
2 new ZealandNew Zealand 113
3 ZimbabweIndia 110
4 South AfricaSouth Africa 110
5 EnglandEngland 106
6 sri LankaSri Lanka 102
7 BangladeshBangladesh 98
8 countryWest Indies 94
9 cricket Pakistan 87
10 AfghanistanAfghanistan 49
1 New ZealandNew Zealand 132
2 IndiaIndia 128
3 west IndiesWest Indies 122
4 AfricaSouth Africa 119
5 EnglandEngland 116
6 AustraliaAustralia 110
7 Pakistan Pakistan 104
8 sri LankaSri Lanka 96
9 AfghanistanAfghanistan 78
10 BangladeshBangladesh 74

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