No. 38 September 6, 2009

Waugh gets a last-ball hundred

Against the old enemy, the old buzzard times it to a nicety

Sydney, 3 January 2003

As a cricketer who forsook extravagance for grit and bloody-mindedness early in his playing career, Steve Waugh's name is not normally associated with magic. Two Waugh moments that spring to mind immediately are not strictly batting-related: of him standing eyeball-to-eyeball with Curtly Ambrose in Jamaica in 1995, and sprawled on the ground at The Oval in 2001, where he scored a hundred on one leg virtually. But off the last ball of the second day's play in the final Ashes Test in Sydney in 2003, he produced a stroke that completed, in his own words, "the Cinderella story".

The Ashes had already been won, but Waugh's place in the side was being questioned. The selectors had gone public saying they could offer him no guarantee, and he had done little in the series till then apart from making two fifties. But at 56 for 3 chasing 362, he walked in to a situation tailormade for Steve Waugh, and batting serenely he reached 47 at the final drinks break of the day.

The last hour brought a flurry of boundaries, and soon a Waugh century became an outside possibility. The final over of the day, he found himself facing the gentle offspin of Richard Dawson, with five to get. The first three balls were patted back, and when Waugh turned to run a third off the fourth ball, it seemed he had given up the chase. But as he would say later, he was hoping to run four. Adam Gilchrist found the single, though.

Nasser Hussain then spent minutes setting the field and chatting with the bowler. It was a flat, quick ball outside the off stump; Waugh swung through the line with the quick arm movement that had been a feature of his strokeplay, and the ball sped to the cover boundary. It left no one who was watching - including his opponents - unmoved. Australia went on to lose the Test, but it was an innings that let Waugh decide the terms of his own retirement.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo. This article was first published in the print version of Cricinfo Magazine