Australia v India, 4th Test, Sydney, 5th day January 6, 2004

Waugh's last stand

It was an irony that a man whose bequest to cricket is the elimination of the draw should end his Test career with one.

Steve Waugh walked out to a thunderous ovation which didn't end till he faced his first ball
© Getty Images

It was an irony that a man whose bequest to cricket is the elimination of the draw should end his Test career with one. For Steve Waugh the captain - and it is as captain his influence on cricket has been more profound - it wasn't a fitting end, but for Waugh the warrior-batsman, his final innings wasn't devoid of poignancy. His attempt for a fairytale finish marred the ending somewhat, but by then, he had done almost enough to secure a draw.

Along with Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara, Waugh will be counted as the batsman of the '90s. Unlike them, he was not a prodigious talent; for a batsman of his stature, he often didn't lord the stage, his batting lacked the regality of Lara and wholesome refinement of Tendulkar. He often looked mortal, sometimes ungainly, but very often, he prevailed. Defiance and combat were his defining virtue. India denied Waugh the captain the honour of a glorious departure, but they set the stage for Waugh the batsman to make a final stand. It wasn't an epic, but it had all the Waugh ingredients: grit, steel and punchy strokes.

When Waugh made his final journey to the batting crease, you strained to glean a trace of emotion on his face. It wasn't a full stadium - Yabba's Hill, the most raucous part of the SCG - was virtually empty, but at 27,056, it was a record for a fifth day at Sydney. (At 189,984, the total attendance in this Test is the second-highest in the history of the SCG, which is as much due to Waugh's going away, as it is to the captivating cricket in this series.) The ovation for Waugh was thunderous. Stands burst alive with confetti, and the applause wouldn't end until he prepared to face the first ball. He made his way to the middle briskly, and if you had hoped to spot a drop of tear, it was hoping against hope. Once an Iceman, always an Iceman.

Steve Waugh: a giant who will leave a huge void
© Getty Images

His first stroke was a characteristic shovel-drive. It fetched him nothing, and could even have cost him his wicket. The next ball met the middle of the bat, and it was greeted with the sort of cheer that is reserved for major milestones. And when he scored his first runs with an on-driven four off Murali Kartik the stands erupted again. A couple of balls later, Kartik let out a ridiculously optimistic lbw appeal and you could have heard the boos at Sydney Harbour. In the same over, an attempted sweep went high in the air off the leading edge, and as the crowd looked heavenwards and prayed, the ball fell short of Irfan Pathan, running in from deep square leg.

Pathan was brought in to confirm the suspicions about Waugh's frailty against pace. And after ducking under a bouncer, Waugh rocked on to his back foot to crack him to the cover fence. Two more cuts, this time against Anil Kumble, brought two more fours and, on the Hill, a young boy held up a banner that read "WAUGH RULES, OK!"

Waugh didn't rule this series. He started it by running out Damien Martyn at Brisbane, before getting himself hit-wicket for a duck while fending off a bouncer. His side then lost the Test at the Adelaide Oval despite scoring 400 runs on the first day, and 556 in all. At the MCG, he suffered the ignominy of retreating to the dressing-room after ducking into a bouncer from Ajit Agarkar, and in the first innings of this Test, with his team needing a hero's innings, he perished, caught out on the back foot by a full-length ball from Pathan that reverse-swung late, kissed the edge of the bat, and flew through to Parthiv Patel. The combined age of the men who brought about his downfall was less than Waugh's own, and though he has piled up runs against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in the last 12 months, it really was time to go.

Even Billy Bowden joined the Indian team and Simon Katich in applauding Waugh off the ground. The match had been consigned to a draw for the whole of the last hour, and had been converted to a farewell party as Waugh made a desperate surge for a century to deafening chants from the stands. Agarkar was booed every time he bowled a bouncer, and when Katich turned down a single to let Waugh have the strike, he received a cheer. But India, who have steadfastly denied him invincibility, refused to give him a century, and the field was spread. Waugh's Test career ended in the lap of Tendulkar at deep square leg, and off he went, in brisker steps than usual, virtually sprinting his last few strides to the dressing-room.

It's difficult to imagine how he will feel when he wakes up to his new life tomorrow morning. For those who love their cricket, there is already an emptiness. When giants like Waugh depart, they leave a huge void.

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