Waugh takes charge of his future - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Waugh takes charge of his future

By Mike Hedge 26/12/2002 07:21:35 PM Comments (0)

If you were a batsman playing for your future, you would probably enjoy facing Mark Butcher.

Steve Waugh is, and he did.

The Australian captain arrived at the MCG today with the painful knowledge that this was probably going to be his last match on the ground for Australia.

As he walked to the wicket, Waugh received the sort of welcome a young gun playing in his first Test might have received.

Or an old hand playing his last.

But Waugh produced the innings of a cricketer near the top of his form.

It was also that of a man of immense strength of mind.

Unquestionably, Waugh benefited from being confronted by a less-than-second-rate trundler like Butcher.

But there was always the risk that if Butcher had got him out, then he truly was gone.

Waugh, though, is far from done.

His first four scoring shots were boundaries and in his first 50 he hit 11 of them.

Butcher's contribution was to allow Waugh 22 runs in two overs, 20 of them from boundaries, putting him well on the way to 62 not out by the end of the day.

The reception given to Waugh wasn't much different to the one he got at the MCG 16 years ago when he played his first Test.

But the circumstances were in stark contrast.

Then he was 20 and embarking on one of the finest careers in Australian cricket.

Now he's 37 and facing the chop.

But for this day, at least, the axe was out of sight.

Waugh's first four scoring shots were from deliberate, precise strokes.

The only surprise was that England captain Nasser Hussain chose Butcher to serve up the balls.

Waugh had already been almost five hours in the dressing room waiting for his turn to bat, and he would have been aware that the majority of the sell-out crowd had come to see him for what they believed would be the last time.

As it turned out, the 64,000 who maintained Melbourne's Boxing Day tradition got a lot more than just Waugh.

From the opening over, Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer again made it clear why Australia is having such success on the cricket field, and why England is not.

The ability of the Australian openers to score fast and well has underpinned almost every innings of this series.

At the MCG on Boxing Day, most of the spectators were still dragging Christmas hangovers to their seats when Hayden hit his first boundary.

But not many missed his next nine fours, or the three sixes he hit in an innings of 102.

Perhaps the most telling shot Hayden played was the one that no responsible opening batsman should really have contemplated.

Ten minutes before lunch on the first day of a Test match he stepped into a fullish ball from White and lofted it over mid-on for six.

Reckless at worst, cavalier at best.

But the bowling encouraged the attitude.

Hayden's second six brought up the Australian 150 and came during a three-over spell from three different bowlers that yielded 40 runs.

While Hayden knocked it around the ground, Langer, who a year ago would have been odds-on to be gone from Test cricket before Waugh, showed why he won't be.

Langer's century looked far more responsible, even though it came off three fewer balls and was rung up with a six.

He was still there at the end of the day on 146 runs, Australia was three for 356, and Steve Waugh might just have proved he can still play cricket.

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