Steve Waugh stands tall as Australia put England to the sword
If this proves to be Steve Waugh's swansong in England then those who were lucky enough to get tickets for the fifth and final npower Ashes Test at the AMP Oval will have witnessed something very special and rather extraordinary.
The Australian captain made an unbeaten 157 to take his side to declaration and feasibly their fourth win in five contests. From early on in his innings, the calf injury that forced him to leave the field by stretcher at Trent Bridge, stiffened up, restricting both his batting and his running, which made the completion of his 27th Test century all the more remarkable.
It was not attractive to watch though it was his obvious pain and discomfort, rather than any untidiness in his strokeplay, that made many of the 18 000 crowd squirm in sympathy. There were a few balls that left the square two feet above the ground, which was unusual, but that apart it was a gritty and truly inspiring performance from a man who has steel coursing through his veins.
Waugh joined his brother Mark and Justin Langer in the centurions gang, two finishing unbeaten - Langer retired hurt on Thursday for 102 and Steve undefeated - and Mark losing his wicket for 120 during the afternoon session. The Waugh twins put on 197 for the third wicket, the second highest stand in their long career and it was 'Junior' who reached his century first, having faced 161 balls and hitting 13 of them for four and one for six.
Like his previous hundred at Lord's, this exhibition was a lesson in natural skill and timing and is bound to feature heavily in the Ashes series highlights, when they are compiled. It was attractive and entertaining and was matched in importance only by his brother's innings for its courage and determination.
Six of the seven batsmen who featured in Australia's first innings effort of 641 for four declared, made 60 or more and only Adam Gilchrist recorded a comparative failure making 25 from 32 balls before he became a landmark wicket for slow left armer Usman Afzaal, bowling for the first time in Test cricket and snaffling Gilchrist with a wide full toss which was despatched to extra cover.
Australia resumed in the morning on 324 for two and after giving England a simple chance with the fourth delivery of the day, forced them to wait until 45 minutes after lunch before handing them another opportunity, which was seized on rather more successfully.
Had Mark Butcher taken the catch at first slip, with Waugh on 50, the story for the day may well have been different but what should have been an easy take ended up as an exercise in juggling which ended in failure. The scene was thus set for the day and rarely, throughout the 70 overs of Australia's innings, did the smiles return to England's faces.
The pitch was flat enough to convince a delusional batsman he could bat like Bradman but for the bowlers, the figures were distressing. Andrew Caddick took none for 146 while Phil Tufnell finished with one for 174.
Australia's spinner Shane Warne did not have to wait so long before his boots started to fill. When the declaration finally came at 4.38pm, it left a weary England with a tricky 18 overs to face in the muggy London heat. After fielding for the best part of two days in boiling hot temperatures, they could have done with an ice bath and a lie down.
Instead Mike Atherton and Marcus Trescothick were required to put on their pads and square up to Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie, who had been relaxing around the cooler box for five whole sessions.
Neither batsman showed signs of fatigue until the 13th over when Atherton, who had already faced two overs from Warne, was surprised by the spin and bowled for 13. England were 58 for one, needing 442 to avoid the follow on.
Trescothick raced to his half century in 49 balls, with all but ten of the runs coming in boundaries and by the close, he was unbetaen on 55 with Mark Butcher, the Headingley hero, not out 10.