There will be no triumphant farewell, no pulsating final victory by which to remember one of the greatest of all careers. At the last, Steve Waugh had to surrender his stage to India, to V V S Laxman and, above all, to Sachin Tendulkar.
Australia's captain, playing at Sydney, his home ground, in his 168th and positively last Test, was reduced to helplessness. It was meant to be Waugh's occasion. Australia had recovered their aura and composure in the Third Test in Melbourne and drawn level at 1-1. Now they were meant to sustain the momentum - one of Waugh's key strategies - finish off India and send off into a golden sunset the most successful captain in history. India ignored all that hoopla, and wrested control of the deciding match.
Laxman and Tendulkar shared a partnership of 353, India's highest for the fourth wicket and the fourth largest by any team. They parted on the evening of the second day, by which time the game and therefore the series were surely beyond Australia's grasp. At the close India were 650 for 5 and Tendulkar was on 220, his 32nd and highest Test hundred.
It was, naturally, batting of the highest calibre, occasionally sedate, sometimes dismissive, invariably controlled. Throughout, Laxman's strokeplay was astonishing. His fourth hundred against Australia, against whom he averages more than 60, contained 30 boundaries, most of them exquisitely timed through the covers.
But no matter what Laxman did, the eye could hardly be removed from Tendulkar. He had been through a lean time and, to demonstrate quite how emaciated, one of the most quoted statistics of recent days was, bizarrely, that Muttiah Mura-litharan's Test batting average in 2003 was higher than that of Tendulkar.
On the first day, Tendulkar was edgy, out of form, aware of expectation. Yesterday, his vigilance did not desert him and he played to his strengths. There was a solitary false shot, when he was 149, but otherwise he plundered the Australian bowlers through the leg side, wherever they bowled. Of his 30 boundaries, only five went through off, 12 were crisply placed through midwicket, often from outside off stump, with his wrists snapping through the stroke. India reached a position from which even Waugh could not conjure up a victory but, just in case, Sourav Ganguly, the tourists' captain, showed no inclination to declare.
It was a flat pitch with evidence of turn, and perhaps it made a statement or two about Australia's bowling resources. Waugh has based his magnificent captaincy on heavy, fast scoring which more or less precludes drawn matches and has usually meant Australia winning. But the deal has been sealed by having a fearsome bowling attack - particularly Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. The absence of both - McGrath is almost fit, Warne's ban ends next month - has demonstrated that the others cannot quite do it by themselves. Jason Gillespie was splendid, but Brett Lee and Stuart MacGill did not bowl with the required accuracy.
Australia's catching was defective too. MacGill dropped two and, with Warne watching, he must have seen his Test career slipping away. While India were batting there was a sense that Waugh's departure indicates not only the end of an era but the passing of a baton.Reuse content