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Waugh rates Australia as among best in history

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    Waugh rates Australia as among best in history

    Australia's cricketers finished the 20th century where they started -- on top of the world -- after crushing India by 180 runs to win the second test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

    Australia's emphatic victory was their sixth in a row and finished a remarkable year which included winning the limited-overs World Cup in England.

    Australian captain Steve Waugh now believes his team deserves to be rated among the finest in history.

    ``There have been lots of other great players but as a collective unit, I think this is probably the best side I've been involved in,'' Waugh said.

    ``We're pretty relentless. Once we get on top, we don't relax.''

    By beating India on Thursday, Waugh's side became the first Australian team in 79 years to win six tests on the trot since Warwick Armstrong led his players to eight in a row from 1920-21.

    Waugh's side began their sequence against Zimbabwe in October before last month's 3-0 series clean sweep against Pakistan.

    They thrashed India by 285 runs in Adelaide a fortnight ago before making it six in a row at Melbourne.

    With the third test against India starting in Sydney on Sunday and three tests to follow against New Zealand in March and April, Waugh believes his side is poised to challenge the world record of 11 consecutive wins set by the West Indies during the mid 1980s.

    ``I think we're playing very good cricket at the moment,'' Waugh said.

    ``I'd back us against any side from any era. If someone's going to beat us they're going to have to play very well.''


    Any thoughts that Australia might loosen their grip on world cricket following the retirements of Mark Taylor and Ian Healy have been and well and truly dashed since Waugh inherited the captaincy this year.

    The 34-year-old has introduced a new level of toughness to the side that was missing in previous seasons.

    Australia's reputation for choking when chasing fourth innings totals was blown away under Waugh's leadership when they made 369 batting last -- the third biggest succesful chase in the game's history -- to beat Pakistan in Hobart last month.

    They also shrugged off their habit of losing ``dead rubbers'' by thrashing the Pakistanis by an innings a week later in Perth.

    Waugh has also challenged some of the game's traditional conventions, electing to bowl after winning toss even though the accepted practice is always to bat first and experimenting with different ideas.

    When Australia needed quick runs to set up an early declaration against India on Wednesday, Waugh unhesitatingly promoted wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist up the order. Gilchrist made 55 in 73 balls.

    When he needed wickets on the final day, he threw part-time seamer Greg Blewett and occasional off-spinner Mark Waugh into the fray. Both got wickets in their first over.

    He was also instrumental in getting rookie paceman Brett Lee into the test side despite his relative inexperience at first-class level.

    Lee responded with match figures of seven for 78 in his test debut to suggest he is a star of the future.

    Waugh said Lee's intimidating speed would add a new dimension to the Australian team as they head into the new millennium, a sobering thought for other cricket-playing nations.

    ``He will do to quick bowling what Shane Warne did to leg spin bowling,'' Waugh forecast.