Waugh saves his final battle

India 705 for 7 dec and 211 for 2 dec drew with Australia 474 and 357 for 6 (Waugh 80, Katich 77*; Kumble 4-138)

What a way to go. The leitmotif of Steve Waugh's career has been his appetite for a fight, and it was only at the fag end of the series, with everything at stake, that he stood up and scrapped the way we'll always remember him. Australia went in to tea four wickets down, 238 behind, and with 35 overs left. Anil Kumble was in his element, and an Indian victory seemed the most likely result. But Waugh added 142 with Simon Katich, in the process making 80, as Australia salvaged a draw. Waugh was out in sight of a century, caught by Sachin Tendulkar, bowled by Kumble, the two men who have been around for the longest time after him. The Sydney Cricket Ground resounded with emotion as he walked off the field one last time, after his last rescue act.

India's chances of victory slipped away rapidly after tea, as a desperate Sourav Ganguly tried a succession of bowlers, but none of them could get the breakthrough. Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag gave Kumble and Murali Kartik a break, but Waugh and Katich motored on. Waugh was his usual pugnacious self, playing the spinners carefully on the front foot, except when there was the slightest hint of length outside off, when he rocked on his back foot and cut or punched through the area between cover and third man. He swept powerfully against the spinners, reaching his last Test fifty with one such off Sehwag.

Katich batted much as he had in the first innings, assured and elegant, using his feet superbly against the spinners, driving magnificently through the off side. At one point, with 15 overs left and a required run-rate of about 10-an-over, it seemed likely that Australia would go for a win. But while they remained aggressive, they did nothing reckless, and the opportunity slipped away.

Then, towards the end, the crowd sat on the edge of their seats as Waugh made a dash for what would have been his 33rd Test century. Katich even refused a single off the last ball off the sixth-last over, so that Waugh would have the strike in the next. But off the first ball of that over, Waugh slog-swept Kumble uppishly to Tendulkar at backward square leg. Tendulkar, smiling sheepishly, ran up to Waugh to shake his hand, as red rags fluttered in the breeze all around.

Adam Gilchrist hit a lofted straight four off his second ball, and was out off the next, when Parthiv Patel failed to gather a ball which rolled off his body onto the stumps to leave Gilchrist stumped. India crowded the bat for the 27 balls that were left, but Australia had come too far to let their captain down at the end, and they hung in there.

It could all have been so different, India would be justified in thinking, if a few umpiring decisions in the morning had not gone against them, most of them from Steve Bucknor. Justin Langer was caught plumb in front, twice, to balls from Ajit Agarkar that pitched on leg stump, straightened, and would have hit middle; each time Bucknor gave him not out. Kartik trapped Damien Martyn plumb in front after lunch, but Bucknor again negated the appeal. Kumble also had Martyn in a similar predicament, and this time, Billy Bowden shook his head. To their credit, though, India kept at it instead of letting these decisions upset them, and the gentlemen in question were eventually out. But the extra time Australia gained was critical.

Langer and Matthew Hayden had begun briskly in the morning, scoring at over four an over against the new ball. But Hayden's dismissal for 30, suckered into a drive to a beautifully flighted googly from Kumble, edging to Rahul Dravid at slip (75 for 1), brought the tempo of scoring down.
Langer decided to carry on with his first-innings policy of tonking Kartik out of the attack early on, and perished in the effort. Kartik held one back, Langer tried to drive over mid-off, but just knocked it tamely to the fielder there, Virender Sehwag (92 for 2). Langer had made 47, and was lucky to get that far. Ricky Ponting and Martyn took Australia through safely to lunch, and batted circumspectly after the break, as the Indian spinners got into a groove. Kartik managed to settle into a rhythm, which he hadn't been allowed to do in the first innings, and found his length. Kumble bowled with guile, varying his pace, producing a few googlies, but the wickets remained elusive, partly because of the umpiring.

Then Martyn decided to step up the pace, and swept Kumble for four. He tried a repeat off the next ball, and could only top-edge a legbreak that pitched well outside leg. Yuvraj Singh, on the field as a substitute, took the catch at square leg (170 for 3). Martyn had made a poised 40, and his dismissal was uncharacteristic.

Waugh came in to a huge ovation, the decibel level of which rose as he opened his account with a flick off Kartik for four. Two balls later, a hush descended as an uppish hoick looped up in the air, but fell just short of Pathan at square leg. Waugh was unconcerned, and played as if this was just another Pura Cup game, unflappable and strokeful. His cutting against the spinners, especially, had the crowd in raptures.

Shortly before tea Australia suffered another setback as Ponting was early on a drive against Pathan and hit it straight back to the bowler for a return catch (196 for 4). He was out, like Langer, Sehwag and Jason Gillespie before him, for 47. Katich joined Waugh, and the two home boys held guard as India chased that elusive away-series win.

Waugh's innings, so characteristic of the man, was a fine end for a series that saw so much top-quality cricket, and which was contested so hard. Dravid, Ponting, Kumble, Laxman, Tendulkar - there were many who achieved remarkable things in these four Tests. But none of them would grudge Waugh his moment.

Amit Varma is managing editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India.