Cricket: Heads turned by sterling Waugh effort: The younger twin's 178 for Australia has the Surrey bowlers labouring

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BEVERLEY WAUGH claims to have endured two weeks of labour before giving birth to her twins, Steve and Mark. Steve made life equally difficult for England in 1989 and, on the evidence of yesterday's breathtaking display, Mark looks eminently capable of inflicting similar damage this summer.

Should the younger Waugh do so, even the xenophobic may have little cause for complaint. Collecting eight sixes as he sped to 178 from 174 balls, he barely struck a blow in anger, preferring to employ exquisite timing and footwork worthy of Baryshnikov. During the standing ovation that greeted his exit, one half expected a bunch of begonias to be tossed his way.

The first act, mind, afforded few clues to the subsequent mayhem. With Joey Benjamin having Michael Slater expertly caught at slip by Monte Lynch and Mark Taylor taken at short leg amid the early mugginess, Australia slumped to 67 for 3, presumably doing wonders for Alec Stewart's back.

Indeed, despite those fair dinkum links with the amber nectar, The Oval is hardly the tourists' favourite watering hole. Since 1948, they have won just one of their 11 Tests here, having the good grace to surrender the Ashes beneath the gas holders in Coronation year and handing them over again in 1985.

As the day wore on, though, the hoodoo theory was ruthlessly refuted. With Waqar Younis granted a furlough to visit his family and Martin Bicknell out with a knee injury, the home twirlers did most of the donkey work, fetching and carrying as Waugh and Damien Martyn conspired for a freewheeling fourth-wicket stand worth 237 in 46 overs.

Neil Kendrick, a bubbly, slow left-armer unafraid to invite the drive, managed to outwit Waugh three times in one over while he was in the 90s and later had Martyn held at midwicket before luring Allan Border into a sharp return catch.

In between times, however, Kendrick was in danger of suffering a permanently cricked neck as Waugh and Martyn kept hoisting him into the Bedser Stand. Having donated five of Waugh's sixes, James Boiling will doubtless have a few choice words with the visiting press corps who disparaged his tormentor's technique against spin after he had sustained four ducks against Sri Lanka last autumn.

Graham Thorpe's unprepossessing medium-pace induced a slide, bringing him a career best 4 for 40 as Australia absent-mindedly shed six wickets for 74 runs before the declaration. Bad light halted play briefly but nothing could dim the memory of those earlier splendours. Joan Littlewood had it about right: 'Oh] What a Lovely Waugh.'

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