Emotions show as champions depart
Three relieved and tired men briefly came down from their retirement highs to speak for the final time as players in the same cream-coloured basement where Steve Waugh bowed out three years ago. After the adulation came some answers before they returned to the dressing room and reflected on their playing lives.
Still damp from the exploding champagne, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer grabbed a soft drink from the fridge before covering topics from the next generation to comebacks and spotlight withdrawal. Warne wore a casual cap in the middle while McGrath and Langer spoke under their baggy greens. McGrath's was in good shape and ready for more wear. Langer's had faded and ripped. He sniffed it and grimaced to convince everybody of how bad it smelt.
"It's going to have to be behind some thick glass," Langer said when asked where he'd put it. McGrath said it would be disappointing that Langer would have to find something else to wear to bed every night.
They were exhausted but found energy for teasing before an afternoon of toasting in the bottom of the members' stand. Each man had played a small part as the final five wickets fell and the 46 runs were taken for the 5-0 Ashes victory. "It was nice that Pigeon finally got one right," Warne said. McGrath's pre-series predictions will not be missed as much as his bowling and he signed off with 3 for 38, including the innings-ending wicket of James Anderson.
"Obviously seeing offstump cartwheel back 10 to 15 metres is probably the perfect scenario," McGrath said as Warne interrupted with "20 years ago, maybe". "But a slower ball caught at mid-on, I guess I'll take that. When I saw that ball go up and Michael Hussey was underneath it I was pretty happy, a perfect way to finish.''
Langer scored 20 as he took his career tally to 7696 runs and earned a few "badges of honour" after being struck a couple of times by Steve Harmison. It was Langer's long-term partner Matthew Hayden who sealed the victory with a push in front of point that followed a six over midwicket. They hugged for the last time as partners and there may have been a kiss. From the dressing room the rest of the team surged out for celebrations and presentations lasting at least half an hour.
The retiring dads sat on the outfield with their children in a scene that would have been like a Sunday picnic if the SCG was not almost full. Gold glitter was blown from machines, the crystal Ashes trophy was handed over and Ricky Ponting lifted the prize. He had stayed away from the flashing cameras in the immediate aftermath of the victory as the thought of the three senior players departing made him cry.
"I shed a bit of the tear out on the ground," Ponting said. "I tried to stay away from the cameramen and the photographers for about ten minutes. Even when we took the last wicket [it was emotional], thinking that would be the last time we'd be walking off with Glenn and Shane. I was hoping to get a chance to bat with Lang, so I was a bit dirty on Matty for not getting out." It had been the best seven weeks of his life.
Adam Gilchrist wore sunglasses to cover his eyes and Hayden hugged John Buchanan, the out-going coach, like a father, burying his face in his shoulder. Men at Work's Down Under blared from the stadium speakers and Brett Lee, Stuart Clark and Michael Clarke made scarves out of Australian flags. McGrath walked around the outfield with two thumbs up while Warne scuffed around with his shirt out. Langer wiped his eyes with his sleeve before giving a farewell message to the crowd.
"The baggy green cap means a lot to a lot of people," he said. "It's a wonderful thing and it's been a privilege to wear it 105 times." Langer said later he was relieved it was all over. "That's probably the perfect script," he said, "to be put there when the winning runs are scored with my opening partner, 5-0 up in a Test series.''
McGrath has been part of the Australian team for 124 Tests and his 563 wickets are the most by any fast bowler. "The way we've played since the last Ashes has been some of the most outstanding cricket I've been involved in," McGrath said. He will stay on until after the World Cup and has already ruled out a Test return on any terms.
"We're retired from Test cricket, there will be no comebacks," he said as Warne shook his head like a pantomime villain. "It's the last time I'll be wearing white pants. It's time for the young guys to step forward now. Australia's in a very healthy position so there won't be any calls next year for us to come back.''
Warne's body aches after 708 wickets in 145 Tests. He is ready for a rest - from cricket and the spotlight - and does not expect any withdrawal symptoms after 15 years as a globetrotter. "I doubt it," he said. "Hopefully it'll keep people off my front lawn for a while, following me around in cars, all those types of things. Hopefully that will die down. I won't miss that at all. Maybe I can get my gear off and dance on top of a bar if I want to." It will have to wait a couple of days. They were all too weary for any more exertions.
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo