Martyn's rite of passage

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The Independent Online

The mob in the Hollies Stand booed when Damien Martyn came out with Steve Waugh at start of play yesterday, and, as if to press the message home, they booed again when Martyn and Adam Gilchrist returned to the middle after the extended lunch break.

The motive for this unfriendly reception was not dislike. It was more fear of what the Australian team are capable of. During the long interval highlights of Australia's Second Test against India earlier this year were shown on the big screen. It was like a consciousness-raising session designed to show that Australia could be beaten.

But the day was full of evidence that the England team and their followers still find it hard to believe this. They knew about two of the century-makers, Steve Waugh and the pyrotechnical Gilchrist. Yesterday they learned about Martyn too.

Martyn freely admitted that he found the conditions difficult. He admitted that he had been lucky, but he worried less after getting some reassurance from Steve Waugh, who told him that he was bound the play and miss on this wicket: just forget it, said Waugh. So he forgot it.

Martyn felt comfortable with Gilchrist too. Both are from Western Australia, and they had batted together in England before, a decade ago when they were in Australia's Under-19 team. Each was playing in his first Ashes Test, but during the afternoon each went on batting as though they believed they had a divine right to a charmed life. Martyn was dropped by Alec Stewart when he was 64; Gilchrist steered the ball a fraction of an inch wide of Craig White's right hand, and slashed a second over third slip. It must have seemed clear to Nasser Hussain that England were not gong to win this Test by fair means. They were looking to the clouds. Australia were beginning to look to Martyn.

Martyn, who is 29, played his first Test nine years ago, and had appeared in only 10 more Tests until this match. His record was sound: batting average 38.89 in 20 innings with a top score of 89, but his life as a cricketer had been, by his own account, up and down in the past decade. He captained Western Australia briefly but was replaced by Tom Moody. His reputation was established in one-day internationals. He was expected to be among the reserves when the Ashes Tests began.

Justin Langer had been batting at three and Ricky Ponting at six – lower perhaps than he should, but Steve Waugh is reluctant to change a winning team, even after Langer had a poor start to his English summer following an undistinguished tour of India. But a disastrous game against Essex last week meant that the problem solved itself: Ponting moved up to three and Martyn came in at six.

He has a neat, stocky build. He grips the bottom of the bat handle, keeps his head scrupulously still, and has an unadorned Australian style, playing straight, mainly off the front foot, cutting when the right ball comes along. Unlike Gilchrist, Martyn rarely hooks or pulls.

He had already added 30 to his overnight score when the rain came yesterday. Following his let-off by Stewart, he kept pace with Gilchrist for a while, scoring 48 of their first hundred together. When Gilchrist accelerated, Martyn kept on accumulating his runs with hard, well-aimed drives through the covers.

As tea approached, he moved steadily through he nineties, and hated it when he went in on 99. But he did not have long to wait before sliding the ball through the slips for two. He celebrated with a driven four, and then drove overconfidently and was caught by Marcus Trescothick diving at point. His 105 had taken 165 balls and he hit 15 fours, and he said he felt he had committed a sin getting out so soon after reaching his hundred.

It was his first Test hundred in his first Ashes Test. Gilchrist's too – a wonderful afternoon for both. Not so good, you might have thought, for Langer. But while Martyn was taking his shower, Langer could not wait to show how he felt. He went in and gave him a big hug.