Steve Waugh - 'No sledging in cricket, mate'
Steve Waugh - 'To get a lap of honour on your team-mates' shoulders is as good as it gets for any sportsman'
Steve Waugh admitted that it had taken him until the last innings of a distinguished 168-Test career to realise that "it was just a game". He said that while he was nervous in the build-up to his innings, "there was almost a feeling of tranquillity when I walked to the middle." He accepted that the chance had been there to end it all with one more defining moment, in a career that has had too many to count, before he got out, caught in the deep by Sachin Tendulkar.
The Australians finished 86 runs short of the target of 443, and Waugh said that it had always been an improbable task, terming Sourav Ganguly's declaration "reasonably sporting" - "It gave us about a two percent chance of winning," he said to loud guffaws. "We were behind the eight-ball all day," said Waugh. "Simon Katich threatened for a while, and we were always debating whether or not to go for it. I thought it was a brave effort to get so close."
Waugh also said that he reckoned the Border-Gavaskar Trophy was now the premier contest in world cricket. "If you look at the last seven Test matches between the sides, they've fluctuated back and forth. Both sides have had chances to win." He said India's batting had been "sensational", and that both sides had learnt from watching the other play. "They're as good a batting side as any I've seen before," he said.
There was more than a touch of humour too when he was asked about sledging in the middle. "There's no sledging in cricket, mate," he said with a grin. "The keeper did ask for one more of those famous slog-sweeps before you finish, and I turned round and told him to show a little respect because he was in nappies when I made my debut."
When asked why he was quitting while in reasonably good nick, and after a year when he had scored heavily, he said, "That's exactly why I'm going. I can't imagine it getting better than this. This Australian side is a great side, and it's been a privilege to captain them. They'll continue to play well without me."
He said it was hard to put the emotions into context so soon after his last innings. "To get a lap of honour on your team-mates' shoulders is as good as it gets for any sportsman. It hasn't really sunk in that I won't be playing for Australia again ... maybe tomorrow morning."
He admitted that Australian cricket would face some big challenges over the coming months. "Sri Lanka is a very tough place to win, and we haven't done that for a long time. And India will be a very big challenge." He was confident, though, that Australian cricket had enough strength in depth, and enough quality - with Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne due to come back - to remain at the top for the foreseeable future.
He praised both sides, and especially his own players, for the series being played in such "outstanding spirit all the way through". "There was some scepticism about the spirit of cricket document earlier, but I thought my players kept to it. There was some talk on the field, but it was friendly and spirited."
He confessed to being a little nervous after he got out, considering the way the game was placed. "It just shows you," he said with a wry smile, "that even after 168 Test matches, you can still lose the plot under pressure."
After a day's break, Waugh heads up to Newcastle for a Pura Cup game against Victoria. "I'll be finishing up where I started," he said, indicating that there will be no let up in intensity even if the baggy green cap is swapped for the light blue one.
As for the most famous piece of headgear in modern-day sport, "it certainly won't be sold". "It'll stay in the family ... and probably end up in a museum somewhere," he said with little trace of emotion. In the years to come, that exhibit could rival the Bradman Museum in Bowral and the Victor Trumper grave at Waverley cemetery as a likely destination for those that love their cricket.
Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India.