Steve Waugh's Test. The Old Trafford duel that saw the Aussies pull level will be remembered that way, no matter that Shane Warne had his own share of the limelight. In sticking it out when all around him were falling and giving Australia respectability after they chose to bat, Waugh showed once again the fighting spirit which one associated with several members of the squad who played under Allan Border, the man who slowly resuscitated an Australian squad which had gone to pieces under Kim Hughes.
Spectacular is not an adjective that one can apply to a man like Waugh. That is reserved for his twin. Workman-like fits the bill better. So does professional. He does not look like he is enjoying it much out in the middle but there is in him the will to succeed and do well by his team. And he is most likely to come up with his best when the chips are down, when the rest have thrown in the towel and the cause seems lost. He is a man for a crisis and one is strongly reminded of the way in which Border often grimly guided his team from what appeared to be a losing position to one of strength.
Had Australia fallen for less than 200 in the first innings -- as seemed more than possible had Waugh not played that sterling knock -- England would definitely have come up with a better reply. What was important about Waugh's knock was the way he stuck it out. He stood there and refused to go succumbing to the domino effect the way the others had. England's weakness lies in being unable to deliver that last killer blow and Waugh stayed there long enough to nullify the attack. Then the rebuilding began. He showed courage in battling back and inspired Reiffel to stay with him.
To me, the Test was won mentally at this point itself. Despite having been knocked for a six in the first Test, the Aussies had shown that they would not give in. There were indications of this in the first Test itself when Mark Taylor fought back bravely; Waugh completed the process, one which showed the old enemy that this was a side which now considered itself in with more than just an even chance. Thereafter a lot of things fell into place. The inspiration which Waugh had provided was enough.
There have been quetsions hanging over Warne on this tour; some have written him off. After his showing in the first innings, there was no such talk. The tabloids were silenced; the broadsheets saw doom on the horizon. The sting had been taken out of England and while any lead would have sufficed, the fact that it was nearly a third of the Australian total put a further mental burden on England. The second innings showed that Australia had broken their spirit; the fight had gone out of them.
After this it was a matter of time. Had England been set 225 to win, it would have been sufficient. But they were so badly mentally outplayed by this time, that they found themselves really up against it and when the time came to chase or survive, there was a lot of time to last and far too many runs to get. Had Waugh failed in Australia's second innings, it wouldn't have mattered. Somebody else would have come good; the team was rejuvenated. He had done his part, pulled Australia from being on the fringe to a position from which they could not lose. His second hundred meant that Australia were set up for a big win.
Taylor's task has now been made all that much easier. Even three drawn matches will be enough, though he is not a man who likes to see matches end without a result. As far as Waugh is concerned, he has more than justified his promotion to vice-captain. He has helped turn around a team which was showing signs of being jaded after all the travel and endless cricket of the past 12 months. Australian cricket is fortunate that it has such doughty fighters to turn things around.