The Waugh saga gets better and better

Steve Waugh struck a century in each of the two Tests. Waugh is now the second highest century-maker (32) in Test cricket, just behind Gavaskar.-Pics. HAMISH BLAIR/GETTY IMAGES Steve Waugh struck a century in each of the two Tests. Waugh is now the second highest century-maker (32) in Test cricket, just behind Gavaskar.

DESPITE Bangladesh's much improved performance in the second Test at Cairns, most questions about the side's credibility at Test level remained.

DESPITE Bangladesh's much improved performance in the second Test at Cairns, most questions about the side's credibility at Test level remained.

Following innings defeats in the Darwin and Cairns Tests, Bangladesh's record in its brief Test match history reads an awful 20 losses in 21 matches, the beleaguered team managing to draw just one Test.

And 15 of the defeats have been by an innings, indicating that the country is clearly not ready for battles at Test match level. With the International Cricket Council (ICC) thrusting Bangladesh into Tests, the damage has already been done. The two-Test series in the Australian winter was easily the biggest mis-match in the history of the game. The result went along predictable lines, Bangladesh going down by an innings in both matches (innings and 132 & 98).

Even a semblance of resistance put up by Bangladesh at Cairns, when the team posted 295 in the first innings, took many by surprise. The first Test concluded inside three days, while the Bangladeshis managed to extend the second into the fourth day. However, the Tests were held in what is the off-season for cricket in Australia (the principal reason for the tourist towns of Darwin and Cairns, the two latest Test venues, being chosen for the series) and many of the Aussie players, returning from holidays, may have been a touch rusty going into the Tests. Ironically, it was the series against Test cricket's worst side that saw Steve Waugh scoring his world record 37th win as captain in Tests, overtaking the West Indian giant Clive Lloyd's mark of 36. Waugh improved the record to 38 at Cairns and this is one mark that will take some beating.

"It has worked out pretty well from a bit of a slow start. I have been fortunate to have some great players in my side. I feel I have improved along the way and have done a pretty good job," said Waugh about his remarkable tenure as the Australian captain.

It was a memorable series with the bat too for Steve Waugh, whose unbeaten 100 at Darwin made him the second batsman, after South Africa's Gary Kirsten, to reach the three-figure mark against all Test playing countries. When he remained unbeaten with 156 at Cairns, he became the first to score 150 plus at the expense of these nations.

Waugh also took his tally of centuries to 32 overtaking Sachin Tendulkar; the Aussie is now just two behind Sunil Gavaskar's record 34 Test hundreds. Not surprisingly, he was pragmatic about his achievement — "There's always a chance (of making 35 hundreds). It doesn't really matter what I set. Sachin Tendulkar (with 31) is going to waltz past that one anyway."

Waugh has gone through a difficult phase over the last eight months, with several sceptics, especially during the 2002-2003 Ashes, believing it was time for him to leave. Waugh revealed he dealt with the situation positively. "Really, I just wanted to be positive. If I was going to finish up last year, I wanted to go out on my own terms and that was playing some shots. Perhaps that might have released some pressure and I've just gone out there and just tried to play the ball on its merit." Before the series, Waugh said that the Aussies would make a conscious effort to improve behaviour on the field and there were no ugly incidents in the series.

The left-handed Darren Lehmann sparkled too in the Australian middle-order producing centuries (110 and 177) in Darwin and Cairns, knocks that must have done his confidence a world of good, irrespective of the opposition. And another middle-order batsman Martin Love, who has been on the fringes for quite a while now, got to his maiden Test century (100 not out) at Cairns. However, some bigger guns failed to fire.

Even as most expected the fearsome Aussie pace trio of Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee to blitz through the opposition, it was Stuart MacGill who caused the maximum amount of damage with his leg-spin, capturing 17 wickets in the series. Bangladesh coach Dav Whatmore admitted that his batsmen might have relaxed just that little bit mentally against a spinner — "Most people were talking about the pace battery of the Australian team but the person who won the Man of the Series and got the most wickets was a spinner. I think maybe we didn't apply the same amount of effort against the slower bowlers as we did against the quicks."

Waugh, however, did not take any credit away from MacGill, who registered a 10-wicket match haul in Cairns (10 for 133) — "He's taken over five wickets per Test match. It's probably about time that everybody realised that he is not in Shane's shadow. He (MacGill) is not Warne's replacement. He's a world class bowler in his own right."

But for the 12-month doping ban imposed n champion leg-spinner Shane Warne, MacGill, who now has an impressive Test record with 131 scalps in 25 matches, may never have received a look-in. The New South Welshman, who will figure in six more Tests this home season before Warne becomes eligible for selection, plans to make the most of this `Warneless period' — "This is a good 12 months in Test cricket that I've been given the opportunity to participate in and I'm going to cash in."

The 32-year-old MacGill was also practical about Warne's return — "One way or another Shane Warne will always be a part of my career, simply because our ages are so similar and he's been the greatest leg-spinner ever. When Shane comes back, it will be as it's always been. I think he's going to be in great shape when he gets back, and I expect him to play almost immediately."

For Bangladesh, the first innings effort at Cairns might have offered a ray of hope. The tourists ended up just five runs short of 300, and opener Hannan Sarkar's determined knocks of 76 and 55 in the match, indicated he might have a future at the international level.

Middle-order batsman Habibul Bashar, a compact customer at the crease, came up with innings of 54 at Darwin and 46 at Cairns, and though there were useful contributions from Sanwar Hossain (46) and wicket-keeper batsman Khaled Mashud (44) in the second Test, the rest of the batting hardly measured up. Mohammed Ashraful, the most promising young batsman in the Bangladesh line-up, disappointed, as did Alok Kapali, an all-rounder with a streak of aggression in him.

However, Waugh saw some positives in Bangladesh's display at Cairns — "They left the balls a lot better, their body language was good. They took balls on the body and didn't flinch, so I think they are well on their way. It is easy to write off a side because they've lost by an innings again. I know as a player that they have improved a lot."

Whatmore said his team could take much heart from the second Test — "Well, we stretched the game longer than we did in Darwin. I thought there was a definite improvement. To fight back and get 295 in the first innings was excellent."

Bangladesh captain Khaled Mahmud said his team would travel to Pakistan in August in a more confident frame of mind. "Playing against that quality of opposition (Australia) is not easy. Maybe against other opposition in future it might be just that little bit easier and we can progress. We tried our best to prove ourselves, to fight hard on the ground. I think that has been one of the good things that has come out of this series against the best team in the world."

Before the duels against Pakistan, the Bangladeshis have plenty of aspects to work on. While the batting continues to be brittle, the lack of teeth in bowling, makes it al too easy for the other teams to apply pressure. To add insult to injury, off-spinner Sanwar Hossain was reported for suspect action.

There is not a single threatening bowler in the Bangladesh line-up, and when Australia declared its first innings at 556 for four at Cairns, it was the highest score made against Bangladesh in Tests.

Bangladesh has a lot to prove to the cricketing world... about its credentials to figure in the elite world of Test cricket. Although Cairns might have offered a glimmer of hope, the days ahead are bound to be difficult.