Steve Waugh hit a defiant half-century to power Australia towards a major first innings total in the fourth Test at the MCG today to demonstrate his determination to continue his illustrious international career.
Speculation has been rife that Waugh will be forced to end his career for Australia at the end of this series with the selectors hinting that his place would no longer be guaranteed after the final Test at Sydney.
But today he demonstrated his ability to perform at the highest level with a quickfire half-century to guide Australia to a commanding 356 for three at the close of the first day after his team exploited England’s under-strength attack.
Waugh arrived at the crease with Australia in danger of squandering an impressive start to the traditional Boxing Day Test after losing Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn in relatively quick succession to slip to 265 for three.
Any hopes of England building on those two successes, though, were quickly ended with Waugh powering his way to a half-century off only 49 balls including 10 boundaries to dominate an unbroken 91-run partnership spanning 26 overs with Justin Langer.
His display, which followed a half-century in the previous Test victory at Perth, only served to highlight the few options available to England with an attack boasting only four specialist bowlers.
England’s plans to bounce back in the final two Tests of a series lost at Perth nearly a month ago were thrown into disarray this morning with wicketkeeper Alec Stewart failing a fitness test on his bruised right hand.
Without Stewart in the top six, it forced the tourists to play an extra batsman to cover his loss and with understudy wicketkeeper James Foster being recalled for his first Test since last March, they had no option but to overlook Matthew Hoggard once again.
That policy was soon exposed to be flawed with openers Matthew Hayden and Langer battling their way through tight new balls spells from Andrew Caddick and Steve Harmison to forge a 195-run stand.
England had successfully restricted the pair during the majority of the morning session and limited them to 88 runs before lunch, but the limited options offered by their attack allowed the Australian openers to hit 99 in the 14 overs after the interval.
That hour-long run-spree enabled Hayden to reach his third century of the series, which included three sixes and 10 other boundaries, but he fell two overs later when he advanced down the pitch and tried to hit Caddick over the top but miscued the shot and the ball flew high to John Crawley at mid-off.
Langer reached his own century in similarly emphatic style, hitting Dawson for a four and a six to reach three figures and celebrated by punching the air in delight even before the ball had landed in the great Southern Stand.
All-rounder Craig White briefly lifted England’s spirits when he firstly removed Ponting when he chopped onto his stumps before Martyn was caught low at first slip by Marcus Trescothick.
But that merely signalled Waugh’s defiant innings and despite a potentially controversial moment when he appeared to edge Caddick’s sixth delivery with the new ball low to Mark Butcher at slip – over-ruled by the third umpire after lengthy discussions – he finished unbeaten on 62 while Langer had progressed to 146.