There was no mistaking the dejection in Steve Waugh's voice as we spoke on the opening day of the Old Trafford Test. Australia had made fairly serene progress in the first session, but the batting meltdowns at Trent Bridge and Lord's had made him wary. As did the nature of the pitch. "It was very different back then," he said, harking back to the surface on which he made two hundreds to transform the 1997 Ashes.
On a pitch that started off as a seamer's paradise before brownness and scarring played into Shane Warne's hands, Waugh played what he called his finest Test innings, 108 out of a total of 235. In the second innings, batting with a badly bruised right hand, he made 116. England tallied 162 and 200 to lose by 268 runs.
Waugh won eight of the nine Ashes Tests in which he led - the Sydney loss in 2003 came with Australia 4-0 up - but his approach to the contests was shaped by his first experience of them, in 1986-87. He scored 310 runs and took 10 wickets at 33.6, but England won 2-1 on Australian soil. The scars from that defeat would serve as inspiration for the rest of his career.