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A triumph of sheer will

The result of this Ashes opener does not matter any more. This match will not be remembered for that or Nasser Hussain's double hundred; what it will be remembered for is the way Mark Taylor let his bat do the talking. And more than that, the fact that he has not tried to score any brownie points after giving his team a chance of losing with honour.

A day can be a long time. And no day has probably been longer for Taylor than the third day of the Test. He went out to bat knowing that Australia had probably been reduced to eight and a half men. Mark Waugh's absence meant a great deal as Australia were in deficit by 360. Blewett, one of the batsmen in form, was one of the walking wounded. Taylor wasn't buoyed up by the thought that this innings could well be his last in Test cricket -- for some time at least, if not forever -- if he failed.

Was it that feeling which gave him the courage to finally battle back, lay all those demons to rest and graft his way to a hundred by the close? Nobody but the man himself will know what coursed through his head and his veins as he battled in the middle, both for his reputation and his country. Throughout this ordeal, with both the media and former players baying for his blood, Taylor has never hit back on the same level. He has retained his dignity and he could well have been forgiven if he had taken a defiant jab at the press enclosure with his bat when he took what must have been the most precious run of his career, the one that helped him move from 99 to 100 after a quarter of an hour.

But revenge is probably the farthest thing from his mind. His demeanour right through has been that of a gentleman. This knock has probably removed a lot of cobwebs from his batting and his mind; there will be no pressure on him on this score for some time at least. It means that his injury-ridden side now has a good chance of fighting back in the remaining five Tests.

It is difficult to recall when any player, let alone a captain, and a successful one at that, faced a situation such as this. It is even more difficult to think of a man who went through a leaner spell and ended it so convincingly when under so much pressure. The decision to bat was his and he saw the team crumble for 118. Had the pitch been a devil, then he might have had to shoulder the blame for that in toto. But no, there were careless shots aplenty and England showed that there were no demons around. The blame for not putting up a good total thus rested squarely on the batsmen alone.

There are times when that walk back from the middle becomes a marathon. Times when one is conscious of every pair of eyes in the crowd, never mind if they are staring at the sky. Times when there is agony in every step. There is that feeling inside that if the sky were to open and swallow one up, then it would be the ultimate act of mercy. Such was Taylor's walk back to the pavilion when the first innings fell to pieces. His expression said it all -- it was the picture of the first day's play from an Aussie perspective.

It is said that great players produce their best under adversity; that pressure brings out all that is best in a man. No cricketer in recent times has been under greater pressure than Taylor. He has been the object of national speculation and inspection in Australia. The land of Oz has never been more obsessed with a sporting figure to this extent. To Taylor, most of this must have hurt, and hurt deeply. He hasn't shown anything. He has taken it all in a stoic fashion, weathered the barbs with grace and now stands exonerated.