Australia v India, 1st Test, Brisbane, 2nd day December 5, 2003

From hero to villain in 10 minutes

For nearly a week, Steve Waugh has obsessed sports-loving Australia



Steve Waugh: the last mile will be an uphill walk
© Getty Images

For nearly a week, Steve Waugh has obsessed sports-loving Australia. Every cricket ground has been making its preparation to send off the national hero in the manner he deserves. Understandably, local newspapers have taken time off from Ganguly-bashing for some serious Waugh-eulogising; a local company plans to distribute thousands of Waugh-like red rags to spectators to wave whenever he comes out to bat, and it's all leading to a spectacular farewell match at the SCG, Waugh's home ground.

Waugh might yet still make a feast of it in the second innings, but today at the Gabba it was not to be. Ten minutes is all it took for him to go from being the farewell hero to national villain of the day, and if he wasn't barracked, it was perhaps because the crowd was too stunned to react. The players came off for lunch the moment Waugh was given out, and for many in the stands, the tragedy was only brought to light by the giant television screen.

While Waugh walked out to a rousing reception, it wasn't lost on some keen observers that in his eagerness to get out to the middle - he virtually sprinted out at the fall of the first wicket this morning - he had denied the hero of the Australian first innings, Justin Langer, the opportunity for an ovation that he so deserved. Langer's had been the standout performance in the match so far. He had negotiated with grit and pluck conditions he later described as "scary" and made the most of a flagging Indian attack in the last hour. Gentle speculation had been rife after Michael Slater's good run of scores for New South Wales this season, and Langer's answer was a century that he termed as his best. Yet, with Waugh out in the middle in a flash, the crowd rose to salute him rather than Langer who had brought Australia to a position of dominance.

And then came the run-out. Damien Martyn is the kind of batsman who is incapable of looking out of touch. He either gets out or he flowers. On a difficult pitch here, he had been in supreme touch, caressing the ball with majestic ease. Admittedly the call was Waugh's - he was running to the danger end - but Martyn's `no' had been emphatic, and Waugh was guilty of disregarding it. Many former Australian players were horrified that Martyn chose to sacrifice his wicket for his captain, for sentimentality has no place in the Australian cricketing lexicon. The only way for Waugh to redeem himself was to bat his team out of a potentially difficult situation.

His dismissal brought an end to a near-surreal morning session. For years, his technique has been suspect against the short ball, but while he always looks awkward against it, he is rarely dismissed by it these days. He nearly got out with an unconvincing hook that took his gloves and sped away to the third-man fence eluding a despairing Parthiv Patel. But Waugh had been pushed back enough for his boot to hit the stumps and dislodge a bail.

It's far from over for Waugh yet. But as Greg Chappell said in a private conversation during the rainbreak, the last mile for Waugh is only uphill from here.

Sambit Bal, editor of Wisden Asia Cricket magazine and Wisden Cricinfo in India, will be following the Indian team throughout this Test series.