January 3, 2003

Waugh century crowns magical day at Sydney

Surely, Test cricket never came any better than this. Three innings of class and aggression, from Alec Stewart, Adam Gilchrist and above all from Steve Waugh, for whom you simply couldn't have written a better script. On his home ground, after becoming only the third batsman to pass 10,000 Test runs, the Australian captain drove the final ball of the day from Richard Dawson to the cover boundary to complete his 29th Test hundred, equalling Sir Donald Bradman's record. England, truly combative at last, are still 125 runs ahead with Australia on 237 for five.

Waugh and his vice-captain resume an unbroken sixth-wicket partnership of 87 tomorrow, which threatens England's hopes of a substantial first-innings lead. They came together at a paltry 150 for five, after first Andrew Caddick and then Steve Harmison had shown rare fallibility in Australia's top five. Their response was immediate and electrifying. Waugh's 102 came off just 130 balls, while Gilchrist, perhaps more predictably, rattled off a run-a-ball 45.

The day ended amid high drama, as the will-he-won't-he issue of Waugh's hundred kept virtually every spectator glued to his seat until that memorable last ball. With Gilchrist blazing away in idiosyncratic style, it was a joyful reminder of cricket's capacity to entertain regally on multiple fronts. Hardly in the game's history can gate money have been better spent.

Australia's initial response to England's 362 had been far less imposing. Three wickets for Caddick had reduced the hosts to a perilous 56 for three, and brought the Somerset opening bowler to 227 Test wickets, just one behind his former new-ball partner Darren Gough.

Matthew Hayden, after an attacking 15, was first to go, lbw to a swinging full toss. Ricky Ponting followed in Caddick's next over, trying to leave a lifting delivery that brushed his bat on the way through to Stewart. Four overs later Justin Langer, trying to hook, got a top edge for Matthew Hoggard to run in from the long leg boundary, doing magnificently well to take a high, swirling catch.

Waugh then joined Damien Martyn to feature in the first of two telling partnerships. The two put on 90 for the fourth wicket, with Waugh racing to his 50 off just 61 balls. He joined Sunil Gavaskar and Allan Border on the 10,000 run landmark with a back-foot push for four off Dawson, but lost Martyn (26), playing a wild pull at a short ball from Harmison which was caught by Caddick at wide mid-on, leaving Australia on 146 for four. That became 150 for five when Martin Love edged a lifting Harmison delivery to Marcus Trescothick at slip.

Waugh's record-breaking knock was not the first of the day. Stewart, England's veteran wicket-keeper batsman, overhauled Geoff Boycott's 8,114 runs to become England's third-highest run scorer, and then treated another sell-out SCG crowd to a delightful display of strokeplay. He hit 15 boundaries in an 86-ball innings of 71 before he was bowled off his pad trying to put an Andy Bichel half-volley through mid-wicket.

Stewart, who had shrugged off a bout of chicken pox, received a standing ovation on the ground he regards as his second favourite after Lord's, but was quickly followed by Dawson as England's innings went into a tailspin. The Yorkshire off-spinner was caught behind pushing firm-footed at Bichel.

Caddick became leg-spinner Stuart MacGill's first wicket of the innings, bowled trying to sweep, and Hoggard was stumped in MacGill's next over. Last man Harmison was run out at the non-striker's end to finish the innings, leaving John Crawley unbeaten on 35. England had lost their last five wickets for only 30 runs in 13 overs.