Australia v Zimbabwe
At Sydney, October 17, 18, 19, 20, 2003. Australia won by nine wickets. Toss: Zimbabwe. Test debuts: B. A. Williams; G. M. Ewing.
The Sydney Test was a more even contest than the First, with Australia weakened by the absence of the injured Gillespie, MacGill, Lehmann and, by the end of the second day, Lee. It was a match in which spin - this time of the left-arm variety - worked its magic as it so often does at the SCG; in which Ponting produced some dazzling artistry of his own; in which Katich made a surprising, impressive return to Test cricket; and in which a Zimbabwean bowler, Blessing Mahwire, had to climb into a completely empty stand to fetch a ball hit with awesome power by Hayden as he completed an 84-ball century.
The whole stadium felt eerily vacant, as Sydney demonstrated its ambivalence towards Test cricket in October - the Australian captain Waugh was uncertain whether such an experiment should be repeated. But it was a worthwhile experience for some: Brad Williams, the hearty and brutally fast bowler who was effectively discarded by his home state of Victoria but journeyed to Western Australia to regenerate his career made his Test debut at 28, while Hogg and Katich, each armed with left-arm wrist spin that was almost entirely alien to Zimbabwe's batsmen, played their first Tests on Australian soil. For Zimbabwe, Ervine succumbed to a knee injury and Evans was left out of the team. They were replaced by Gavin Ewing, a 22-year-old off-spinning allrounder, and Mahwire.
The loss of so many experienced Australian bowlers did not seem so much of a problem by lunch on the first day, with Zimbabwe's top three batsmen all gone. Williams veered the new ball around at great speed, and captured Vermeulen lbw for his first Test wicket, but Carlisle was at the crease, and building. He began by unsettling Hogg, twice clubbing dubiously directed deliveries to the boundary, and scored steadily throughout, sharing healthy partnerships with Taibu, the young, feisty vice-captain, and Streak. Carlisle had reached 50 from 96 balls just before a brilliant googly from Hogg spat off the pitch, caught the edge of Taibu's bat and thudded into Gilchrist's gloves.
As Carlisle's innings blossomed he was furnished with reminders from the Australian fielders that he had not made a Test century, and used the voices to spur him forward to his first. He reached an accomplished 118 but, when Australia batted, Ponting eclipsed him, imposing his aggressive frame of mind on the Zimbabwe bowlers and bringing up his 18th Test century in only 113 balls, pulling, driving and cutting with abandon.
He finally fell to Price, who looked far more comfortable on the turning SCG pitch than he had in Perth. Price was absorbing to watch and not at all intimidated by the reputations of Ponting or Waugh and co. He captured them both for 169 and 61 respectively, and carved out the heart of Australia's middle order with his thoughtful left-arm spin. Another of that middle order, Katich, proved an inspired selection. He rattled up his maiden Test half-century as Australia achieved a 95-run lead, and, though a late developer as a bowler, extracted six second-innings wickets including three important middle-order scalps.
Although Ponting and Hayden easily devoured the 172 runs needed for victory, giving Waugh his ninth clean sweep in 16 series as captain, Zimbabwe headed home with their dignity intact. They had lost 11 consecutive Tests, but revealed a proud team with a proud captain and considerable promise.
Man of the Match: R. T. Ponting. Man of the Series: M. L. Hayden.