Match Report by Jon Cocks 30/12/03
Steve Waugh described his team’s comeback from the disaster that was its Day One performance as ‘outstanding’. Given Virender Sehwag’s heroics and the upbeat performance turned in by India when the pitch was at its benign best for batting, this assessment might even be an understatement, given the titanic nature of this absorbing holiday season arm-wrestle.
Although Australia’s nine-wicket victory was achieved in a canter on the fifth morning, the journey over four days was anything but routine. India dominated Day One, other than Australia’s late flurry in which three wickets fell. Australia won Day Two and much of Day Three, but India fought hard for the bulk of Day Four, before crumbling in the match’s penultimate session.
This Test was a multi-faceted jewel. It sparkled on Day One with Sehwag’s cavalier 195 and shone in the middle stages, as Ricky Ponting’s match-winning 257 remained the centerpiece around which Australia’s answer to India’s statement in Adelaide was founded. The work of Bracken, Lee and MacGill in the heat that forged the diamond that was this gladiatorial contest was worthy of any of the game’s greats.
The courage and persistence of Dravid and Ganguly on Day Four threatened to set Australia a much steeper challenge than eventuated, but Steve Waugh’s farewell to Melbourne cast its own glow, one that illuminated this ebbing and flowing contest from the first delivery to the last. It was a worthy backdrop to his impending retirement and could not have been better as an appetiser for his farewell home Test in Sydney, with the series balanced at 1-1.
Elite sport so often comes down to a matter of millimeters. Australia had the chances on the first morning in Melbourne before a packed stadium on Boxing Day. However, none of them stuck in the hand, hit the stumps nor swayed the third umpire. Instead, India went to lunch well placed on 0-89, with Virender Sehwag on a belligerent 51*, with eight fours and a six, and Akash Chopra on 30, a total swollen by boundaries from the final two balls of the session.
Ganguly won the toss and batted and for the first ninety minutes, the Indian openers battled hard against the raw pace and aggression of Brett Lee, while Nathan Bracken troubled both batsmen, especially Sehwag, pushing the ball across them. Both batsmen were hit on the helmet in the first half hour, but, crucially, they managed to keep the good balls out. The score was locked on 20 for three overs and then 24 for another three. The boundary that advanced the score sailed through the off side cordon.
Even more crucially, a gilt-edged runout chance went begging in the first half hour, when Brett Lee might have run Chopra out at the bowler’s end from Steve Waugh’s throw, but instead hurled wildly to Gilchrist, who missed gloving cleanly the half volley at the base of the stumps. The aborted second run to deep cover should have resulted in the initial breakthrough, but this let-off – and the new-found Indian ability to tough out the hard overs and work the pacemen through the off side to keep the scoreboard moving – allowed India to escape to lunch unscathed and on top.
The showed itself to be as dry as a second or third day batting pitch, as described by Shane Warne. The bowling, according to Richie Benaud, was gun-barrel straight, utterly devoid of swing. While it contained India in the first 80-90 minutes, it allowed them to consolidate in the last 30-40. MacGill’s second delivery of the Test disappeared over the deep extra cover fence. Sehwag had controlled his natural instincts against the pacemen, but he looked to get on top of MacGill at once. Straight drives down the ground to the rope underlined his growing confidence.
Sehwag was fortunate that a fraction of his boot must been behind the line, when MacGill spun one past the bat and Gilchrist whipped off the bails. That close call, along with the missed runout and balls sailing at catchable height through slips, allowed India the chance to bat Australia out of the game. The batsmen, particularly Sehwag, began to unleash the shots in the final half hour before lunch that would do just that.
Clinging to the ball that flicked Chopra’s bat and ballooned off the pad, Simon Katich, at forward short leg, would have been a relieved man, just after the drinks break, having uncharacteristically dropped Sehwag at point earlier in the session. The Indians sought to accelerate from their lunchtime position of dominance, as 52 runs were added in the third hour of the match.
Chopra lost his wicket for a hard-fought 48, but it was the only bright spot in a session that was dominated by Virender Sehwag (137*), as India piled on 130 after lunch without further loss. The pitch continued to play well and no bowler could stem the tide of runs, as Sehwag continued to stand and deliver in his inimitable style.
Coming from a country whose batsmen are known to have dancing feet to the slow bowlers, Sehwag seems atypical, his main movement before playing a big shot being the away sway of his body to allow a full swing of the bat. His second six, from a MacGill full toss, disappeared over the midwicket rope. His third, which ripped the volume from the cheers that greeted Steve Waugh in his first over, was an Exocet-like smear over the long off fence. Hitting straight, or cutting or pulling square, this would become Sehwag’s signature innings to date.
Nothing went right for Australia, including the runout call that the Third Umpire might have got wrong. Brad Williams probably got a finger to scorching drive that broke the stumps at the bowler’s end, but India got the reprieve. A few balls sailed through gaps in the slips, before the field became defensive by necessity.
Sehwag went from strength to strength, raising his fifth Test century and first against Australia and motoring on towards tea, after pointedly marking his guard. Meanwhile, Rahul Dravid (23*) picked up from where he left off in Adelaide, his straight bat and flexible wrists doing the business. India’s second dominant session had them in control at tea, having reached 1-219.
The first half hour after tea saw India add 29, with Sehwag ‘in the zone’, picking the balls to hit and looking impregnable against the probing ones. His relaxed stance seems to indicate that he has plenty of time to play the shots and with Dravid in the middle with him, helping him focus, it looked very bleak. Sehwag’s 150 came from a very cultured cover drive that pierced the ever-more defensive field.
Steve Waugh had a bowl more in hope than anything, but the runrate pushed towards four an over, an amazing feat, considering the fact that only 24 came in the first hour of the Test. Williams battled away outside off, but at best – from his point of view – the batsmen hit him straight to the field. The only Australians in the game were the ones fielding on the boundary – and there were no shortage of them.
Typical of how things were going for Australia, one Williams over featured some reverse swing that tied Sehwag up, only to see him cream the next through cover with Caribbean style flourish of the bat and no footwork. When he took the sharp single to keep the strike, the Australian throw at the stumps missed. As the field retreated towards the boundary, so did the sharp singles increase.
Against the trend, Dravid (49) flicked one to midwicket off Waugh, for Damien Martyn to dive forward and take an excellently judged catch, ending the 137-run second wicket stand. The relief in the Melbourne crowd was palpable, as the ball might well have been worked fine to the rope, but the Swami Army cheered all the louder for Sachin Tendulkar’s arrival at the wicket. Drinks were taken. Waugh took himself off and threw the ball to Lee.
Immediately – especially for the millions watching on TV in Mumbai - the unthinkable happened: Tendulkar (0) flicked at Lee’s first ball of a new spell, a loosener down leg, and Gilchrist hooked in a great left-handed diving catch. At 3-286, a tiny window of hope had opened for Australia. MacGill returned to the crease, but Sehwag found his rhythm again, slaughtering the leggie’s first ball over the mid wicket fence.
Sehwag (195, 25 fours and five sixes) must have thought it was still Christmas day, as Waugh brought Katich on to give Lee a spell before the second new ball. He tried to scoop the first ball over Gilchrist’s head – a ridiculous shot. He hit the second – a rank full toss – over deep mid wicket for his fifth six. The next ball – also a full toss – found Sehwag looking to get his double hundred in a similar manner. Instead, he holed out to Bracken, who took a well-judged diving outfield catch and Australia was back in the game at 4-311.
Waugh took the new ball shortly afterwards. Lee’s maiden to Ganguly included a blow to the helmet and a dropped return catch, after the bowler had softened the batsman up already with a couple in the area of the ribcage. Ganguly square drove Lee for two late boundaries to underscore the let-off, as India reached 4-329 at the close, but letting Australia back into the match somewhat by losing three wickets, albeit for 110 runs from 33 overs.
Things proceeded quietly enough on the second morning, until the score reached 350, whereupon India lost 6 -16, collapsing to 366 all out and completing a 9-88 rout that looked a dream when Sehwag hit Katich (4-1-18-1) for six to move to 195. Ganguly (37) sparred at Lee (27-7-103-2), coming from around the wicket and Langer accepted the chance. Lee had been labouring in the morning, well below his best, overstepping the mark and utterly without rhythm. There would soon be more spring in his step and that of the rest of the Aussies. Waugh (9-0-35-1) would have happy not to bowl again on Day Two.
With the score on 353, two wickets fell. Patel was caught by Gilchrist off Bracken (28-6-71-1) for a golden duck and Agarkar was run out by Williams (20-6-66-1) from the next delivery. Kumble and Laxman added 13, before the last three wickets fell on the total of 366. Kumble (3) was caught by Langer at third slip from Williams, Laxman (19) edged a big-turning MacGill (15-3-70-3) legspinner to Hayden at first slip and Nehra (0) edged the leggie to Gilchrist.
Australia’s robust fightback suffered one setback towards lunch, when Langer (14) holed out to Tendulkar point from Agarkar. Ponting and Hayden cruised smoothly to the break without further drama to complete a stirring Australian fightback on Day two. At 1-35, things were on an even keel again, after the Indian dominance on the Day One
The middle two hours of the day belonged to Hayden and Ponting, who both reached half centuries and asserted their authority over an Indian attack that began to labour a little. The Australian batsmen added 114 on a pitch that played a little slowly, but continued to be true.
Trademark cuts and pulls from Ponting were in evidence, as were the sweep and the massively clubbed six over long on from Hayden. Both batsmen were intent on occupation as much as run-scoring, but neither player failed to cash in on the juicy half volleys and short wide ones. The sense of occasion was with them, as they took the bit and began the session that would be the platform for building a substantial first innings score, an unthinkable proposition at about this time on Day One.
Australia pressed the advantage hard after tea, as Matt Hayden (136, 173 balls, ten fours and a six) and Ricky Ponting (120*, 214, ten fours) did their best and just about emulated the heroes of Adelaide, Dravid and Laxman. On a pitch that began to show signs of staying down, the two Australians combined in a partnership that highlighted a growing sense of leadership shared by the duo.
There was a great deal more astute shot selection shown by both batsmen earlier in the session. The occasion demanded and received from them some aggression, blended with a fair degree of caution. Hayden pushed through the nineties mainly in singles. The Indian bowlers directed their attack into the stumps more as a few balls stayed down, but the Aussies remained resolute.
It’s fair to say that Indian fielding went off the boil, as the team, frustrated by the long stand for second wicket, became less than sharp in the field, no more so than the hapless Ashish Nehra, whose lame attempt at gathering a ball that had hung in the air for an age, saw it delicately avoid his grasping hand, trickling infuriating into the rope.
Hayden drove majestically to extra cover to raise his seventeenth Test century. A long way down the wicket, which saved him, Ponting survived a close LBW shout from Kumble. Meanwhile, Hayden smashed three boundaries, the last of which Ponting had to ‘hurdle’, given that it was hurtling in the direction of long on, via a sensitive part of his anatomy. When Hayden was given out LBW, perhaps a little unluckily, to Kumble, he and Ponting had added 234 runs, transforming a tenuous 1-30 to a robust 2-264.
Gilchrist (14) came out to smear his second ball from Zaheer through covers. The Australian momentum was maintained, although Ponting laboured a little through the nineties, achieving the ton – his 20th in Test cricket - in singles. However, Gilchrist hit across the line and the big top edge dropped into Nehra’s waiting hands. Damien Martyn (7) emerged to accompany Ponting to stumps, with Australia, on 3-317, trailing India by just 49, with seven first innings wickets intact.
In a powerful display of character and skill, Australia fought back from its Day One woes to dominate the second day against India, with Zaheer Khan struggling a little under his suspect hamstring and none of the other seamers genuinely troubling the batsmen greatly, even with the ones that kept low. Australia would now seek as big a lead as possible, mindful of the danger Kumble would pose later in the match with more regular low bounce.
The third morning gave us a tense battle, a war of attrition in which the pitch stayed low more often and batting became more an enervating struggle for survival, especially after Martyn (31) was dismissed for yet another nice cameo – rather than a extended epic of strokeplay and masterly defence - and Steve Waugh had to retire hurt when the second ball he faced cracked him on the elbow. Australia added 79 runs from 27 overs, moving to 4-396, an overall lead of thirty.
Martyn’s relative failure is disappointing, as the stage was set for him to join Ponting in steering Australia to an intimidating first innings lead. It was doubly unfortunate, given Steve Waugh’s subsequent injury, after entering the arena to colossal acclaim and another sea of red rags. The anti-climax of his departure evaporated in the immediate heat of the added pressure on Simon Katich, for whom this became an opportunity to advance his claims in a post-Waugh Baggygreen lineup.
Martyn’s failure to bat for a long time meant that Katich now had the chance to accompany Ponting for an extended stay. With the pitch staying down, somewhat reminiscent of the horror Melbourne centre squares of the eighties, Ponting (162*), a study of concentration, changed his game completely after Martyn’s and Waugh’s rapid successive departures, being very watchful against anything on or near off stump and maintaining a perpendicular blade.
Zaheer Khan began the morning at a reduced pace, because of his injury. However, he managed to find the edge of Ponting’s bat between Patel and Dravid at first slip, the escaped chance becoming a four. The new ball was taken by Nehra from the city end and both batsmen nudged and ran quick singles. Agarkar bowled a probing spell from the Great Southern Stand end, gaining rare (for Melbourne) outswing. He beat both batsman outside off stump, assisted in part by the growing vagaries of the pitch.
Martyn edged Agarkar past third slip, playing from the crease after Agarkar had bounced him with the previous delivery. Very shortly afterwards, Agarkar found the thin edge of Martyn’s bat, as he hung it out from the crease. Patel swallowed the chance and Waugh entered the MCG to thunderous acclaim, only to depart two balls later under an injury cloud.
Agarkar continued to bowl an excellent line to Ponting, who saw off a couple of maidens, blunting the new ball’s shine being his chief concern. Meanwhile Ashish Nehra’s second major clanger in the field, in which he failed to field a routine off drive cleanly, allowed Katich to get off the mark and get Ponting back on strike. Zaheer Khan failed to field cleanly shortly afterwards to allow Katich another run.
The runrate slowed to a trickle, as the batsmen focused on safety first and protecting Australia’s slender lead as lunch approached. Ponting still scored from anything on his pads, but anything in the corridor was treated with utmost respect. Ultimately, the morning was like a chess match, in which Australia lost a knight, but made some steady gains, while India strained to penetrate a defensive position.
For the loss of Katich (29), Australia advanced the lead by 114 with caution, patience and the ability to put away the loose delivery on a pitch showing more signs of deterioration. Steve Waugh, with armguard, re-emerged to more acclaim and batted in a restricted, defensive manner, but Ricky Ponting just ground on in the manner of his captain, raising his 200 and marking his guard again. Australia’s fourth successive session win saw disaster on Day One evolve into a near-winning situation in two days.
Katich was looking ready to drop anchor and play a long innings. He would be kicking himself at the manner of his dismissal, as here was the perfect chance to book a berth in the post-Waugh lineup. A topspinner just caught the shoulder of his blade and ballooned to Chopra at short leg. The capacity to stay with new captain Ponting and play a long knock would have made him first cab off the rank. Ponting’s second successive double century added him to an exclusive club, led by Bradman and Hammond.
The four hundred came shortly after resumption, and Ponting played a couple of sublime boundaries through off, becoming the leader in the 2003 Test match calendar year runs aggregate list. Despite playing with compact efficiency and looking assured, the persistent Kumble succeeded in getting Katich to pop one up to end the fifth wicket partnership. Re-enter Steve Waugh, bandaged and with forearm guard.
Waugh got off the mark with a single, as Ponting began to eye the second double century. Kumble went negative, coming around the wicket to Ponting and pitching well wide of leg. Ponting’s answer was from a hop, skip and jump down the wicket, as he creamed the leggie down to the wide mid on rope to move to 198.
Bay 13 suspended the Mexican Wave in the collective holding of breath, as all at the MCG anticipated the batting milestone. Ponting nudged into the on side and ran the first hard, but Steve Waugh aborted on the second. However, another single shortly after raised the rafters at the G, as Ponting faced Nehra (29-3-90-0) with the field all in. He nudged the first to mid on and bolted. He faced 368 balls and hit 21 fours, batting for over eight hours.
The lead eked out past a hundred, as Kumble stayed around the wicket. Ponting announced his intention of further occupation with his studied padding away of these defensive offerings. Meanwhile, it had been announced by the ICC that bowlers not turning to face the umpire when appealing would be charged with a Level One offence, which would result in substantial match fee fines.
The pitch beginning to play noticeably lower, the Indians sought to crowd Steve Waugh with close in fieldsmen and to make him come well forward to play, testing the injury to his right elbow. In one over there were shouts of excitement, followed by dismay when two balls that popped up from the pad to catchers on either side of the wicket were disallowed. Australia, on 5-480, had begun to take charge at tea.
Ricky Ponting’s majestic 257 – his highest Test score - was ended by a shot from his carefree youth, as he celebrated the fact that Australia had extended its lead to almost two hundred. It was in startling contrast to his ten hour epic, during which his incredible timing and sharp running between the wickets – along with an even more marked sense of responsibility – saw the Tassie Tiger enter a new upper echelon in the pantheon of Baggygreen batting legends, while steering Australia to a testing 558, a first innings lead of 192.
22 runs were added before Waugh (19) bade farewell to the MCG as a batsman, when he failed to both pick the wrong’un from Kumble and to offer at shot. At 6-503, it was time to hurry the scoreboard along, but Brett Lee (8) found himself forward, poking and prodding at Kumble (51-8-176-6), whose tail was up. Lee didn’t last long, succumbing – as Kumble’s sixth wicket - to the short leg catcher, Ashish Chopra, from an edge that ballooned from the pad. Nehra (29-3-90-0) and the hamstrung Zaheer (25-4-103-0) had days with the ball that they would rather forget. The decision to leave out Pathan in favour of a not-quite-recovered Zaheer had to be queried.
Ponting played a glorious, wristy pull to raise his 250, but Bracken (1) chipped a low full toss back to Tendulkar. A couple of cat and mouse overs followed – in which Ponting ignored a few singles to shield Williams – but when Williams clubbed a Tendulkar full toss for six, Punter took the single cheerfully and the paceman managed to keep his wicket intact against the spinners, although he was bowled by a no-ball from a Kumble wrong’un.
Ponting’s dismissal brought MacGill in for his now customary first ball bowled or LBW dismissal. The LBW call given to Agarkar (33.2-5-115-3) was a little unlucky, as the ball pitched outside off and MacGill actually played a shot. Now Australia had eleven overs to get among the Indians.
In Nathan Bracken’s first over, Chopra (4) was caught by Gilchrist after Bracken pitched one that swung into the right-hander late, although TV replays suggest that the batsman was unlucky. Did the bat hit the back pad? It seemed late on the ball. At 1-5, however, Virender Sehwag showed no fear, whipping a loose one from Lee behind square. Lee beat Sehwag with a fast one that whistled just over middle and off, but the batsman did not need to play at his outswingers.
Sehwag (11) chipped Lee over the infield with a short arm jab, but Lee had the last laugh. The opener flicked one towards mid wicket, where Brad Williams threw himself forward and to the left and pulled in a stunning infield catch. In an interesting psychological ploy, Ganguly (6*) came out and chopped Lee perilously close to his stumps, but survived those and a couple of ‘musical’ ones near the chin. Dravid (6*) closed up shop with his captain.
At 2-27, India trailed by 165, having two nights before been well placed to bat Australia out of the match and series. Ponting’s epic 257 and Hayden’s 136 were the only scores above 50, but the rest of the order stayed around long enough for Australia to amass the first innings lead of 192. Partnerships were the key, advice that India would look to take to heart on Day Four.
Another tight, enthralling session of Test cricket unfolded on a fourth day pitch that kept low all the more consistently, as India added 82 without loss, seeking to excavate itself from the deep pit into which its cricketing fortunes had sunk. The Australians’ line and length closed down most scoring chances. Very few cross-bat shots were employed in deference to the up-and-down nature of the pitch and the excellent off stump line of the seam bowlers.
Things were not helped any, when Ganguly ducked into a short one from Williams that did not get up. The ball struck Ganguly on the back of the neck, just below the guard and he was compelled to leave the field, having added ten runs to his overnight score of six, bringing the previously out-of-sorts Tendulkar to the wicket.
Brilliant work from MacGill at midwicket kept the little master on strike from the first ball he faced, a dive that typified the continued hard work and desperation showed by the hosts in the field. Bracken came around the wicket and bowled a tight line, drawing the edge from Tendulkar that – had it been taken – would have been a stake in the heart of subcontinental hopes.
The ball flicked Gilchrist’s outstretched, grasping glove. Hayden hurled himself at it from first slip with an equal lack of success. A little later, at 2-94, Tendulkar edged Bracken into his pad and the bowler’s desperate dive forward onto the pitch fell just short of his outstretched palms.
Tendulkar (33*) scratched around, but kept his wicket intact. His opening scoring shot was a beautifully timed straight boundary, perhaps taking on board advice from former Indian opening bat legend Sunil Gavaskar, who was seen to chat with him out on the ground before play.
Meanwhile Rahul Dravid (38*) continued his straight-bladed defence, surviving an LBW appeal against Bracken and an edge through slips off Williams. The partnership between the two Indian batting icons made some inroads into the desperate situation faced by the visitors at the start of play. As well as the pacemen bowled, the Indians had answers and luck on their side.
MacGill bowled steadily as well, coming around the wicket and spinning into the pads from outside leg, or ripping them across the batsmen, whose application and shot selection were an object lesson for those in a backs-to-the-wall situation, the runrate still hovering close to three an over, despite the pressure.
More of the same occurred after lunch. Australia’s pacemen bowled a tight line, as did Stuart MacGill, who lowered his pace and tossed them up, unafraid of going for the occasional boundary. Rahul Dravid (60*) continued in circumspect mode, not without the odd anxious moment, while the setbacks to India’s progress were the losses of Sachin Tendulkar (44) - caught behind from a Williams away-swinger – and VVS Laxman (18), who edged MacGill to Hayden with the score on 160.
With the score on 3-126, Saurav Ganguly emerged, his head a little clearer after his earlier mishap. He was steady enough to add 15 to his score, as India cautiously erased 73 more from the deficit, to trail by just ten at tea. Dravid was severe on anything loose, while Ganguly was watchfulness personified.
Dravid edged Bracken for a rare boundary. The left-armer had kept the brakes on, bowling around the wicket, but Dravid rode his luck and the bowler’s economy suffered. Bracken asked for an LBW around the wicket, but Dravid’s luck held, to the extent that one delivery popped up from the pad via the edge, but Bracken himself could not get to the return catch half-chance. MacGill continued to probe, tossing them up and getting substantial turn, but the pitch held up with only a few deliveries keeping low.
Dravid’s watchful vigil cast him once again in the role of India’s saviour. Immaculate in defence, he was elegant in dispatching anything not in the corridor. Australia made two important advances in the march towards victory in this enthralling test, but for as long as Dravid stayed, a monumental impediment to a series-equaling win remained, a substantial wall to scale.
The final session of Day Four was the one in which Australia again wrested the advantage over the resolute Indians, taking 6-104, with Brad Williams (22-5-53-4) making the most of his opportunities to be the pick of the bowlers, despite wasting the first over with the new ball.
The wicket of Rahul Dravid (92, with 13 fours) was the turning point, but the rest of the lineup had to be prised from the crease. The pace, line and persistence of Williams proved equal to the task, supported by Stuart MacGill, who maintained a good line and struck the other vital blow, removing Ganguly (73, with 12 fours).
Immediately following the tea interval, Dravid spanked two boundaries to equal the scores and survived another LBW appeal, while Ganguly focused on keeping his wicket intact, coming from his shell to clip MacGill through covers to the boundary on the rare occasion that he bowled too full. Lee (22-3-97-2) and MacGill (26.5-5-68-2) failed to make an early breakthrough, so Waugh tried giving the ball to his ‘shock’ wicket-taker, Simon Katich (4-0-16-0), just before the new ball was due.
The second new ball at first realised valuable runs for India, as Williams first and then Lee struggled to find the right line and length. Ganguly raised his fifty with an on drive from Lee and followed it with a cracking square cut off a no ball to the point rope. Then he hooked Williams for a boundary and India looked a big chance to bat to safety.
Lee, finally landing an outswinger in the right place, made the crucial breakthrough shortly after, when a tired Dravid edged Lee to Gilchrist. This heralded the toppling of the Indian lower order. Six wickets fell for 33, a collapse not dissimilar to that of the first innings, but on a pitch where run-scoring was significantly more difficult. The tale of the match would hinge around these collapses, as much as it would on Ponting’s epic 257.
Steve Waugh hadn’t lost his touch. He made the change, swinging Nathan Bracken (25-13-45-2) into the attack and the left-armer broke through with his first delivery, when Ganguly inside edged onto his leg stump. Although Parthiv Patel (27*) swung bravely and defended stoutly, the rest of the lower order could make little impression on the scorecard.
Agarkar (1) was bowled by a ball from Williams that stayed down a little, Kumble was trapped LBW next ball for a golden duck and Zaheer (1) fared little better, edging Williams to Hayden at slip in the following over. Nehra (0) survived seventeen balls, before MacGill found the edge to give Hayden another slips catch and Australia went into the rooms at stumps, needing just 95 to win the test and square the series.
The VCA opened the gates for the coup de grace, remembering the bowel-clenching excitement of the fifth morning twenty years before, when Border and Thomson almost got Australia over the line, and the one a couple of years earlier, when Kapil Dev took 5-25 and Australia succumbed for 83, chasing just 143.
This time, as over 20,000 poured in to farewell Steve Waugh, there would be no white-knuckle ride to the line, just a professional performance by Hayden (53*) and Ponting (31*) - relatively untroubled on a wearing pitch - adding 88 for the second wicket and steering Australia to a series-leveling victory.
Ajit Agarkar (7-2-25-1) began with a fine over, in which he swung the ball into the left-handers, troubling Justin Langer (2) as he had done all series. While he soon had Langer LBW, his partner Ashish Nehra (6-3-16-0) could not maintain similar pressure from the other end. Although the ball kept low, the opportunities for shot-making presented themselves and were taken by the Australian batsmen.
There was a substantial hole in the pitch on a length from one end, inadvertently opened by the ground staff that no Indian bowler managed to hit. Before play, Match Referee Mike Proctor directed curator Ware to dig out the bit that his ground staff replaced. Despite this and the other cracks, the batsmen were relatively untroubled.
The early overs saw a lot of swing with the new ball and several desperate Indian appeals. The first half hour realised just nine runs, but as the ball lost a little shine, both Hayden and Ponting began to play cuts, pulls and drives and the scoreboard began ticking over. Anil Kumble (6.2-0-43-0) came into the attack and zeroed in on the stumps, but could not penetrate the solid defence of the batsmen, who worked many deliveries from close to the stumps behind the wicket on both sides.
Drinks were taken at 1-46, after which Hayden and Ponting put the pedal to the metal and the runs flowed freely. The Indians appeared to have no plan for Hayden, as he crunched the off drives and hammered the pulls. It was fitting that Ricky Ponting should hit the winning runs. His legside boundary from Kumble ensured that he would average a century in Test cricket for the calendar year, a period in which he emerged as one of the game’s leading batsmen.
Good umpiring means that you hardly notice the officials. Umpires Bowden and Shepherd, both rather eccentric characters, could not have done better. The dream script for Sydney was written; now the final act in this absorbing drama would be spiced by the farewell of Steve Waugh. Rarely has the final home test in an Australian series been so keenly anticipated.