High roller Waugh admits one shot held Test in balance
Australian captain Steve Waugh admitted one blow from New Zealand's Chris Cairns was the difference between a loss and a draw for his team during a dramatic day of high stakes in the first Test at the Gabba today.
The match finished in a draw under lights not long after Cairns was caught on the long-on boundary by Ricky Ponting, ending an irresistible campaign by the New Zealanders to steal the Test.
Waugh said if Cairns' swipe had cleared the boundary, New Zealand would have won a Test which was brought to life by the rival captains after rain had ruined the previous three days.
Waugh and Stephen Fleming made bold declarations on the final day, engineering a finish which seemed unlikely when a torrential downpour swamped the Gabba on the fourth night.
New Zealand was set 284 to win from 57 overs and fell short at 6-274 following valuable knocks from Cairns (43 from 38 balls), Fleming (57), Mark Richardson (57) and Nathan Astle (49).
The final day had it all, including 459 runs - the highest in the last 47 years of Test cricket.
But that was a backdrop to the overall plot, which included the likelihood of an Australian win, the probability of a tame draw and then the real chance that New Zealand would knock over cricket's best team only after they had been invited to the party by Waugh.
"You're here to entertain and enjoy yourself and you're trying to win a Test match if you can. I don't see any point playing out a dull draw," Waugh said.
"They definitely had their chances and I guess if that ball went for six they probably would have won the game so it was a fine line."
It was an ending that seemed unlikely when New Zealand began the final day at 5-186 in its first innings, trying to avoid the follow-on mark of 286.
They squeaked past that with two wickets to spare and Fleming immediately called his players in, waiting for a response from the Australians.
They obliged with 2-84 from 14 overs before Waugh called a halt midway through the day, setting up a one-day style chase on a perfect Brisbane afternoon.
The foundations were laid before Cairns lit up the Gabba with 43 from 38 balls, dragging the Kiwis within 21 runs of victory with just 18 balls remaining.
Fleming's approach was refreshing for an Australian public which has put up with touring teams which have worked on safety-first cricket, with some even refusing to play under lights in Test matches.
"It's about the traditions of a game and it's about breaking new mould and if you can create entertainment, I'm massively for it," Fleming said.
"I'm convinced it's the way Test cricket has to go entertainment-wise."
The fifth day was extended to 105 overs because of the previous rain delays, and it was rewarded with plenty of action.
But it was still headed for a draw until Cairns and Craig McMillan (23 not out from 22 balls) scared the wits out of Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath in the final overs, taking 31 runs from two overs.
But McGrath pulled the shutters down when he bowled a wide line outside off-stump, just inches inside the legal width, and Waugh later defended the tactic.
"We did it when we had to and New Zealand did the same thing," Waugh said.
"There was a lot of wide stuff from their bowlers. It's Test match cricket and you're not going to hand out a victory on a platter.
"They had to work hard for it - that's what it's all about."
Both teams head for the second Test in Hobart on Thursday week, with New Zealand resigned to life without paceman Dion Nash.
He will return home tomorrow with an abdominal muscle injury, but he braved the pain today for an invaluable 25 not out in the first innings.