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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 January, 2004, 11:58 GMT
Australia hails sporting icon
By Phil Mercer
BBC Sport in Sydney

It was a gift not even several Father Christmases or the Pope could deliver at the SCG.

Matthew Hayden and Jason Gillespie carry Steve Waugh
Waugh was carried shoulder high to receive the crowd's acclaim

Supporters came dressed as the weird and famous as they urged on Steve Waugh's Australians in their mission impossible to snatch the most dramatic of victories.

The soap opera of the final Test against India - the end for a veteran warrior - was matched by those in the stands.

They sang, drank, got sun-burnt and turned up in record-breaking numbers to make this a memorable send-off for Steve Waugh.

Yabba's Hill once again proved to be the heartbeat of the SCG, where the beer run was the closest many came to any real exercise.

Never has so much fun been had by so many with plastic cups. Some of the biggest cheers were reserved for monstrous snakes fashioned from hundreds of empties, held aloft to be admired and applauded.

The self-proclaimed 'Fanatics' paraded what they claimed was the country's largest Australian flag and ragged versions of 'Advance Australia Fair' were followed by disjointed renditions of 'Waltzing Matilda.'

No-one seemed to mind. This was a time to be unashamedly patriotic.

The Mexican Wave even managed an enthusiastic surge through the members' pavilion. They felt lucky to be there and such was the demand for tickets that many others were locked outside.

Lynette and Sterve Waugh and their children
The family was out in force to say 'Well done, Dad'

For those in the cheap seats, bleached and reddened under the summer sun, this was a fairytale good-bye for Waugh, who thrilled the crowd with a typically gritty innings of 80.

"I think we're all proud of the game he played and it was fantastic to be here," Juliete from Sydney told the BBC.

"We had fun and like always he entertained us," said another happy fan, Neil, whose friend Donna lamented the final sporting acts of a national great: "It's sad to see him go but what a great way to end it all."

This was the most popular Sydney Test for more than half a century. It attracted a posse of politicians, actors and generals.

Prime Minister John Howard was a guest commentator for ABC radio. "Don't give up your day job," was the advice from one wag as the PM departed.

He may have to as a general election is likely to be held in 2004.

It was, however, another wizard of spin that captivated the crowd.

Australian supporters at the SCG
Aussie fans made their feelings crystal clear

Australian cricket just hasn't been the same without Shane Warne, banned for a year after taking prohibited drugs.

'Return of the Spin - February 2004' declared one banner.

Enjoying a quick cigarette, Warnie may not have looked like the coiled spring his fans - and the Australian selectors - will expect him to be should his international career be revived next month.

But it was the past and not the future of the national sport that concerned Australia as the Test drew to a close.

One banner held high at the SCG summed up the way millions of Aussies feel about their former Test skipper.

It said simply 'Super Steve'.





Links to more Aus v Ind stories


 

WATCH AND LISTEN
Australian captain Steve Waugh
"I couldn't have envisaged a better ending"



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