Cricket: Waugh takes the fight to England

Fourth Test: Atherton's wretched series continues as Australia leave tourists in danger of another Ashes defeat: England 270 & 65-2 Australia 340
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The Independent Online
OF ALL the cricketing wonders of the sporting world, Steve Waugh is surely the master. Sachin Tendulkar may have the glamour and Brian Lara the sublime touch, but Waugh has the sheer will to make vital scores when they are most needed. On a day when the Australian vice-captain went past Sir Donald Bradman's aggregate of 6,996 Test runs, England felt the full force of his greatness.

It is a value not measured simply in runs, but in a ruthlessness few would find comfortable, even in a sporting environment as close to ancient Rome as this. If you think the analogy an unlikely one just ask Michael Atherton how he felt when Damien Fleming bowled him for his second nought of the match and 43,000 people roared as one.

Test cricket can break, as well as make, those who play it. Just witness the differing fortunes of Waugh and Atherton in this match. With his side under pressure, Waugh duly serves up his 17th Test century, while Atherton, in denial over certain shortcomings, registers his first pair in Tests. One a champ, the other at least for the moment, a chump.

Atherton, one of the few England batsmen to rival Waugh's tenacity over the last decade, has not even come close to it this series. A mixture of bad luck and poor technique - his bat is coming down across his body, rather than in an arc from wicketkeeper to bowler - have undermined his effectiveness.

He claims not to feel out of touch, but with scores of 0, 28, 1, 35, 41, 5, 0 and 0, he will have a job persuading all but the most blinkered acolyte. Unlikely to tour Australia again, he now has the Sydney Test to show the locals that he is more than a walking wicket for Glenn McGrath and Co.

By contrast, Waugh's repute just seems to grow and grow, mostly to a point where eulogy has become exhausted. He is not Bradman, and it would be blasphemous to suggest that he was. And yet similarities exist, the cool blinkered approach to run-scoring being one.

Of course the Don was at his best dictating the pace of the game, whereas Waugh likes the situation to shape the game for him. Pressure is his muse and it inspires him almost as much as the leper colony in Calcutta, to which he is now committed, raising money whenever he can.

This Test, with Australia on 98 for 3, had been nip and tuck until Waugh came in. Six and a quarter hours later, when he had eventually run out of partners, England were 70 runs behind, a deficit that had cost them two second innings' wickets by the end of play.

The irony is that until Ian Healy joined him, England, with three wickets in the morning session, including the recalled Darren Lehmann, had been having a decent time of it.

It is a clever combination that works well, though to begin with it was Healy, with his quirky lofted clips and slashes over the top of gully, who got the scoreboard ticking. Adding 58, Waugh only really began to take control once Healy was out, well caught by Dean Headley making ground to his left after the keeper had whipped a short ball from Fraser down towards long leg.

At that point, Australia with four wickets standing, were 61 runs behind England. It should have been three, but Graeme Hick diving to his left at second slip, dropped Fleming on nought off Headley.

Not for the first time in this series, a difficult chance had been floored by England. In terms of what Fleming eventually scored (12), it was not expensive and Hick made amends soon after. However, in terms of the morale it was another drip in a well, just about filled with disillusionment.

With the second new ball almost due, Gough perked things up when he upended Matthew Nicholson on the stroke of tea, to take his fifth wicket of the innings. The delivery, a classic inswinging yorker that just clipped leg stump, was a beauty and it begged the question, with the ball reverse swinging, why England ever opted to take the new one a few overs later.

They say you must use the new ball wisely in Australia and that means the second one as well. Sadly, England ignored this sage advice, at which point Waugh began his charge, the bugle sound being a particularly violent cross-batted slap to the cover fence off Gough, who apart from the indignity of some rough treatment from Waugh and the tail, had otherwise bowled impressively.

The long handle is not generally Waugh's style and it was a surprise when he brought up his hundred with a hook for two off Gough. Apparently he hooks about twice a decade, in which case he has now used up his quota for this millennium.

Inspired by his vice-captain, Stuart MacGill, with a previous Test best of 24, suddenly began to play shots too. A No 9, when he last played for Devon six months ago, MacGill has improved to the point where he took 43 off England's new-ball attack, before nicking one behind off Mullally.

The damage had been done and with 88 runs being added for the ninth wicket - the highest partnership of the Aussie innings, and 18 runs higher than England's last seven batsmen could manage in the first innings - Australia had regained the initiative. Perceived advantages are what Test cricket is all about and all of Australia would have leapt in delight when Atherton, surviving a plumb lbw appeal in Fleming's first over, was clean bowled the next ball.

Despite his recent promotion to opener, Stewart must be well used to losing quick wickets and he again went about his business unperturbed by the poor start. But if he played with the same purpose as he did in the first innings, the loss of Mark Butcher, to a bizarre dismissal just before a belated close of play at 7.21pm, would not have pleased him.

The late finish after play had started early at 10.30am, in order to make up for time lost on the first day to rain, was unacceptable. With no front-line spinner in the side, the chief culprit was England's over- rate, which was tardy in the extreme.

Fortunately for Australia, their specialist spinner, MacGill, appears to have the golden touch. His dismissal of Butcher for 14, caught by Michael Slater after Butcher had lodged a full-blooded sweep shot into his groin at short-leg, was freakish.

Somehow Slater managed to cling on, though what he was clutching at as he reeled away was not at first clear. When he held up one ball rather than two, Butcher knew he had to go.

MELBOURNE SCOREBOARD

Third day; Australia won toss

England - First Innings 270 (A J Stewart 107, M R Ramprakash 63).

AUSTRALIA - First Innings

*M A Taylor c Hick b Gough 7

45 min, 29 balls

M J Slater lbw b Gough 1

19 min, 14 balls

J L Langer c Hussain b Gough 44

168 min, 103 balls, 5 fours

M E Waugh lbw b Fraser 36

90 min, 67 balls, 3 fours

S R Waugh not out 122

315 min, 198 balls, 13 fours

D S Lehmann c Hegg b Gough 13

27 min, 23 balls, 2 fours

I A Healy c Headley b Fraser 36

68 min, 55 balls, 3 fours

D W Fleming c Hick b Mullally 12

41 min, 30 balls, 2 fours

M J Nicholson b Gough 5

23 min, 18 balls

S C G MacGill c Hegg b Mullally 43

98 min, 63 balls, 3 fours

G D McGrath b Mullally 0

2 min, 2 balls

Extras (b4, lb6, nb11) 21

Total (452 min, 98.3 overs) 340

Fall: 1-13 (Slater), 2-26 (Taylor), 3-98 (M Waugh), 4-127 (Langer), 5- 151 (Lehmann), 6-209 (Healy), 7-235 (Fleming), 8-252 (Nicholson), 9-340 (MacGill), 10-340 (McGrath).

Bowling: Gough 28-7-96-5 (nb4) (7-5-15-2, 5-0-12-0, 8-0-37-2, 8-2-32-1); Headley 25-3-86-0 (nb3) (5-1-11-0, 2-0- 7-0, 6-1-13-0, 9-1-41-0, 3-0-14-0); Mullally 21.3-5-64-3 (3-1-12-0, 6- 1-18-0, 8-2-18-1, 4.3-1-16-2); Ramprakash 2-0-6-0 (1-0-5-0 1-0-1-0); Fraser 22-0-78-2 (7-0-28-1 10-0-25-1 5-0-25-0).

Progress: Second day: 50: 67 min, 14.2 overs. Bad light stopped play: 6.13pm at 59 for 2 (Langer 26, M Waugh 12) 18 overs - close. Third day: 100: 139 min, 29.5 overs. 150: 215 min, 46.1 overs. Lunch: 163 for 5 (S Waugh 37, Healy 5) 50 overs. 200: 266 min, 57.2 overs. 250: 349 min, 76.2 overs. Tea: 252 for 8 (S Waugh 77) 77 overs. New ball: taken after 80 overs at 260 for 8. 300: 406 min, 89.2 overs. Innings closed: 5.39pm.

S Waugh's 50: 141 min, 88 balls, 5 fours. 100: 249 min, 157 balls, 11 fours.

ENGLAND - Second Innings

M A Atherton b Fleming 0

8 min, 9 balls

*A J Stewart not out 43

91 min, 74 balls, 4 fours

M A Butcher c Slater b MacGill 14

67 min, 45 balls, 1 four

D W Headley not out 0

14 min, 10 balls

Extras (lb2, nb6) 8

Total (for 2, 91 min, 22 overs) 65

Fall: 1-5 (Atherton), 2-61 (Butcher).

Bowling: McGrath 6-1-26-0 (nb4) (5-1-23-0, 1-0-3-0); Fleming 6-2-12-1 (nb1); Nicholson 4-1-11-0; MacGill 5-1-14-1; M Waugh 1-1-0-0 (one spell each).

Progress: Third day: 50: 67 min, 15.2 overs.

Umpires: S A Bucknor and D J Harper. TV Replay umpire: G T Morrow. Match referee: J R Reid.

Compiled by Jo King

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