Australia v India, 4th Test, Sydney January 7, 2004

A 'reasonably sporting' declaration

'It will be strange to see an Australian side take to the field without him'
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The Test series was undecided until the fourth-last over of the final day of the very last match. Even then, it was overshadowed by you-know-who.

Steve Waugh filled the pages with quotes ("I told the keeper to show me some respect, because he was in his nappies when I made my debut"), answered questions on sledging, advocated the banning of runners and leg-byes, took a dig at (who else?) England's competitive spirit, took another dig at Sourav Ganguly's "reasonably sporting" declaration, and said pretty much everything that a retired man would.

Words came to Waugh as easily at 38, as at 22, when his Somerset team-mates were put to shame with his words: "Do you blokes want to save this game or not?" The words had their effect.

"He had witnessed spilled catches and misfields and was bemused. Were these guys bothered whether the game was saved? This wasn't the tough, Bankstown-bred cricket that he was used to. He wasn't sure how much his team-mates cared, so he blurted out his rhetorical question. His new colleagues, young and old, were stung," wrote Vic Marks in The Observer (London). "This craggy little Australian never said much, but when he finally opened his mouth you listened and often you were shamed into renewed effort. That game, as I recall, was saved with Surrey nine wickets down at the end. In addition to his century Waugh conjured three important wickets."

Even back then, Waugh wanted to fight all the way. He didn't shy away from making the most of his opportunities, including scoring heavily against weak attacks, for that dodgy decision or rogue pitch could be just around the corner.

But there were no easy runs yesterday, and Waugh gave the crowd a day they wouldn't forget, wrote Mark Nicholas in the Daily Telegraph: "When the fifth day began, Australia required a further 433 for victory. Sydney was in the grip of Steve Waugh fever, and believed in his ability to produce the incredible."

Nicholas went on: "The Sydney Cricket Ground was a special place to be yesterday afternoon, most especially at 5.05pm when the Australian captain smashed Virender Sehwag through square leg to bring up his fifty, and then again, soon after 6pm, when he was held on the boundary. Those two mighty roars would have been heard all over town."

India, says Nichoilas, have become harder to beat than before, and "a great deal more likely to succeed abroad, which has previously been an Achilles heel." He added: "Sourav Ganguly leads his talented team with the air of an autocrat and a touch of the devil."

But has Australia's power been on the wane? We'll find out when Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne return.

Ganguly didn't care. He just wanted to win. India won the awards, the plaudits, and exceeded everyone's expectations, but it didn't matter to him.

Rohit Brijnath wrote, in the Indian Express: "Oddly enough, [Ganguly's] brooding was a good omen, his refusal to quickly self-congratulate suggesting an unsatisfied side of powerful ambition. Not since 1986, when England was beaten in the old country, has an Indian squad played with such composure and class. But evidently, this team's expectation exceeds even our own."

Too bad Anil Kumble could bowl at only one end, because there was no support. India couldn't take 20 wickets, when it came down to it. Yet, even though straightforward decisions were turned down, and the future of Indian cricket was fumbling takes behind the stumps, the captain had faith. Brijnath is sceptical: "Perhaps he is, but at present he has got the wicketkeeper-batsman label backwards. It was not a good day for Patel, for even his gentle sledge at Steve Waugh was met with a teasingly, beautiful reply [Waugh's 'nappy' jibe]."

Ganguly's team went to Australia expected to crumble, but they were defiant, and struck a blow heard around the cricket world. Brijnath concludes: "Australia will always remember the summer Ganguly's Indians invaded their island."

Fittingly Peter Roebuck, in the Sydney Morning Herald, likened Waugh's innings to "constructing a brick wall and repelling invaders". India lost the will to win, which was a by-product of Waugh's lack of emotion; the opposition fears him because they don't know what he's up to. They could not find a way through him. And when he left, eager to reach his century, everybody saluted Waugh. Until the very end, he signified the ruthless spirit of the Australian team, Roebuck continued. "It will be strange to see an Australian side take to the field without him."

Rahul Bhatia is on the staff of Wisden Cricinfo.