Peter Roebuck: Old masters discover a new lease of life

At the end of an extraordinary day that had seen the Australians romp to a stunning victory, the elders of the side ran around the field like spring chickens. Against all the odds, Ricky Ponting's side had secured a great victory. So much for Dad's Army. Australia overwhelmed an opponent alarmed into inactivity. Although it was a magnificent team effort, the victory owed most to the side's ageing champions. Seldom have two masters raged as strongly against the dying of their light as did Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath against England in their second innings. They turned an apparently lost cause into a triumph.

Shane Warne's contribution counts amongst the mightiest of his career. Pounded by the batsmen and berated by the critics after a lacklustre showing in the first innings, he produced a stirring performance. A drawn match had been universally predicted. Only the sight of the Englishmen arriving with glum faces suggested otherwise. And the fact that Australia had a magician in its ranks.

Anyone seeking to convey the greatness of this fascinating operator need only show footage of this display. It was not merely the skill summoned throughout an unyielding stint. Certainly the craftsmanship shown was superb, the way the ball dipped and turned, the unexpected googly and most of all, the accuracy that caused almost every ball to land on the spot.

But it was not only about skill. Greatness is a state of mind. Warne had taken 1 for 167 in the first innings and had been exposed by a confident young batsman. A lesser man might have wilted. Not Warne. Instead, he wanted to make amends and convinced himself it could be done. Maybe he had seen his opponents walk into the ground with long faces. He knows that the scared sportsman is vulnerable. Now his arm was higher and he changed his line, aiming more often at middle stump, using the leg-side delivery sparingly. Astute fields were also set so that batsmen could not easily escape. And so the great competitor went to work. His first strike owed something to fortune. Bad luck stalks the timid. Next came the most crucial blow. Warne left the leg-side temptingly open and sent a ball behind Pietersen's legs. Accepting the bait, his recent tormentor swept and lost his off stump. Warne had nailed his man.

Meanwhile McGrath watched. Not so long ago he had been thrown the ball when the game was afoot. Now he did not try his arm till late afternoon. At last the ball was tossed to him. He ran in hard, bowled purposefully and took the last two scalps.

Then the old champions walked back to the pavilion and watched the batsmen knock off the runs. Finally they ran on to the field like excited youngsters. It had been a wonderful fightback, and the old warriors had led the way.


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