108 and 116!
These scores reflect one of the historical performances in the Ashes. On July 6, 1997, Steve Waugh did something that was not done in the last 50 years.
Australia under pressure
Australia were white-washed in the three-ODI series. They lost the opening Test of the Ashes at Birmingham. They failed to equalise after the second match ended in a draw at the Lord’s. Both the teams, England and Australia, next head to Old Trafford for the third Test. Low in confidence, Australia’s captain Mark Taylor won the toss and had chosen to bat first. The pitch was green but moist with bare patches at either end and batting first seemed a foolish decision initially but at the end, it turned out to be a bold call by the Aussie skipper.
The touring party had a pathetic start to their innings when they lost two of their top-order batsmen for single-digit scores. On the other hand, England’s new debutant Dean Headley, who was the third generation of his family to play Test cricket for England, had a remarkable start to his career. He was brought into the action immediately and in his opening over, he struck Australian captain, Mark Taylor’s helmet with a bouncer. In Headley’s third over, he squared Taylor with a blazing ball that was edged by the batsman and caught at first slip. Suddenly, the Australians were 9 for 1 and under immense pressure.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man
The situation got worsened when Australia slipped to 42 for 3 and that’s when Steve Waugh entered the ground. He joined Matthew Elliott in the middle and helped Australia recover from there. However, he failed to receive ay support in the middle and the visitors were miserable at 160 for 7 and Paul Reiffel was the new man in. When Reiffel was on 13, he was dropped, the result of a break due to bad light. Steve Waugh and Reiffel went on to pile up 70 vital runs for the 8th wicket and that partnership brought Australia back into the contest.
At the end of the opening day, Steve Waugh recorded his score in triple digits, calling the knock as one of the finest innings of his career. He resumed with the same character and skill on the second day. His batted as elegantly as ever with his lucky red handkerchief flying from his trouser’s pocket. He stuck around for four more hours; by then Australia had reached 235 before he had to depart. The last man, Gillespie, also was dismissed soon after that and not a run was added since Waugh’s dismissal. Considering the conditions at the Old Trafford pitch were testing, a total of 235 after an early collapse was highly commendable.
When England came in to bat, they had no idea about what Shane Warne had in store for them. The green field of the previous day had been altered into a brown strip, already scratched by footmarks. If Warne was in a vicious form, the pitch would only enhance his superiority with the ball. While Glenn McGrath did the first honours by removing the English Skipper Mike Atherton early in the innings, Warne took no time to take the charge for Australia. He ended with figures of 6 for 48, his first haul of five or more since he took 7 for 23 against Pakistan at Brisbane in November 1995. England were restricted to 162 and when Australia came out to bat again, they led the hosts by 73 runs.
Australia’s first dismissal in the second innings was similar to their previous innings. Headley was with the ball and Australian skipper Mark Taylor threw away his wicket cheaply. The duo of Headley and Croft cleaned up Australia’s top-order for just 39 runs. Enters, Steve Waugh! He came in when Australia struggled at 39 for 3 and once again, Steve Waugh, entered as his team’s saviour. He had his brother, Mark, with him in the middle. Both the Waughs together brought Australia back to safe waters. Mark batted for more than two hours and chipped in with crucial 81-ball 55. While, his brother was often seen cringing in pain as he took his bruised right hand away from his bat, held firm for more than six hours. In the meantime, Steve Waugh became the first batsman, in 50 years, to record twin centuries in an Ashes Test. And he also had become the third Australian to score a century in each innings against England in 288 Tests.
After lunch on Day three, Mark Taylor declared Australia’s innings at 395 for 8 and set the hosts a whopping target of 469 runs to win. Courtesy of three wickets apiece from Warne, McGrath and Gillespie, England were trounced and humiliated at home by 268 runs.
Prior to the Manchester Test, Australia 0-1 in the six-Test series. Their massive comeback in the Test was largely inspired by Steve Waugh’s twin centuries. The inspiration was so strong that Australia eventually triumphed 3-2 in the Ashes 1997. Waugh has had an excellent record against their arch rivals England. Of the 32 centuries he scored, 10 came against England, including his first two. He signed off with a century too. He scored 102 in his last Test in January 2003 in Sydney and coincidentally it was against England.