Ending on a high

Eventually the door closed and the trio — Warne, McGrath and Langer — were lost to the privacy of the rooms. When the gates open again, others will emerge, determined to play their part in sustaining a great tradition. The footsteps point the way. The shoes will be hard to fill, writes Peter Roebuck.

Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer went out with a bang and not a whimper. Nothing changed on their last day. They took wickets, scored runs, and pounded the Poms. Then they hugged their team-mates and walked around the ground one last time. And then they were gone.

McGrath's last day as a Test cricketer resembled most of its predecessors. He let loose another probing spell and did not relent till the last wicket had fallen. He has bowled superbly these past few weeks, and without any hint of luck. Eager to end on a high note, he rejoiced as Kevin Pietersen groped at a tempter. Thereafter the Australian captain would have required a wrench to prise the ball from his grasp. The champion continued by removing Sajid Mahmood with another familiar delivery, a ball that kept low and cut back, and ended the innings with a slower ball. McGrath had always wanted to be a clever bowler. Instead he was smart. His work done, he walked from the field with a smile on his face.

On his final day of cricket in Australian colours, Shane Warne contented himself with moments that hinted at the greatness he has known. He took an unconscionable time to warm up. Nothing in his opening overs or work at slip indicated that he had prepared himself in the modern way, with an ice bath, harmless refreshments, an early night, several laps of the oval and an hour's toil in the nets. Although Warne's future is beyond prediction, he is unlikely to shrink.

Once stiffness had been overcome, Warne sent down some lovely deliveries, flighted leg-breaks that bounced steeply and turned sharply, a flipper that darted through malevolently and a googly that eluded a tailender. He did not take a wicket but that did not worry him. He left the arena alongside his old mate, arm in arm, waving but not looking back. He knew his timing had been perfect. It has been a privilege to watch him.

Happily Justin Langer was also given his due. England rose to the occasion, forming a guard of honour to salute the little left-hander. Langer has been the cement that has prevented the construction from collapsing in rough conditions. Pride and application have counted amongst his strengths. No-one ever saw him take a backward step. Just the sight of him walking to the crease with jaw set was enough to settle nerves in the rooms.

In his final innings, Langer was his usual self, tucking balls off his pads, pulling a couple of times, driving through cover, talking passionately to his partner, not giving an inch. And then he relaxed and laughed and cried and knew that he would not walk this path again. He has played alongside giants, and did not look out of place.

Eventually the door closed and the trio were lost to the privacy of the rooms. When the gates open again, others will emerge, determined to play their part in sustaining a great tradition. The footsteps point the way. The shoes will be hard to fill.