Steve Waugh's courageous knock

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

Steve Waugh's unbeaten 120 was a match-winning one against South Africa.-V. V. KRISHNAN

THERE are eight instances of a captain scoring a century in a World Cup match. Kapil Dev's epic 175 not out had changed the course of a tournament. It was one stirring piece of motivation which saw the Indian team go on to become the champion in 1983.

There was a similar situation at Leeds in 1999. Australia faced a must-win challenge against South Africa, which had looked the team best equipped to take the Cup. Australia, in front of an excited crowd at the Headingley, needed to win, a task it achieved with two balls to spare. The entire credit went to Steve Waugh, who played the role of the leader to perfection, scoring an unbeaten 120 to keep Australian hopes alive. As the events unfolded, Australia, riding on this courageous piece of batting by Waugh, went on to win the Cup at Lord's.

It was a magnificent innings by Waugh that brought out the best out of a captain and a batsman when the team needed him to. A century by Herschelle Gibbs had put the South Africans on the track. It was an ideal stage for the tough to come good and Waugh, showing amazing mental toughness, came up with an innings in keeping with his personality.

A target of 272 was going to be difficult, keeping in mind the South African fielding standards. The cheap dismissals of Mark Waugh and Adam Gilchrist, it became clear that Australia needed a big innings from one of the middle order batsmen. It had to be Steve Waugh, because he possessed the resolve to come good on the big stage. As one would have expected, Waugh decided the best course to fight was to attack. He picked the bowlers to belt in turns and paced his knock like a champion. Waugh was a pastmaster at playing a matchwinning innings and this was one job he enjoyed most. He had to show the world why he was rated so high by critics when it came to judging the mentally strong cricketers.

Pressure had no impact on Waugh. His target was a victory for Australia and he also knew that he had to finish the job himself. Having been in the middle for a good time, he took upon the responsibility to see Australia through. He almost failed in his pursuit in what shall rank as the most expensive lapse by a fielder.

Gibbs, who had played such a wonderful part in South Africa's innings, grassed the regulation catch at mid-wicket to give Waugh a providential reprieve.

The batsman was 56 and Australia 120 runs away from the target. "You just dropped the Cup, mate'' Waugh is said to have remarked to Gibbs, who tried to throw the ball in the air even before completing the catch. The celebration had begun a bit too early. Gibbs lost control of the ball even as Waugh gained charge of the chase and gave no other opportunity, closing the contest in the company of Tom Moody. Waugh's knock had carried the team into the semifinal for another skirmish with South Africa, which was to produce a grand tie. And Australia could move ahead only because of its win over the same opponent in the league stage. And it all came from Waugh's invaluable innings. And it was just his second century in 266 one-day internationals. It could not have been timed better.

From 48 for three, Waugh had carried the team on his shoulders with an innings (110 balls, ten fours and two sixes) crafted according to the need of the hour. It was not an easy pitch to bat and his improvised strokeplay put his performance in the highest category of all-time great knocks. It may not have been flawless but it was a classic. It was truly an act which saw Steve Waugh take a huge step forward in his journey to be hailed as a leader.