Cricket: Extraordinary Waugh scales new heights

Henry Blofeld on the achievements of the Australian vice-captain
Click to follow
The Independent Online
The glamour in this Test match has been provided by the wrist spin of Shane Warne, who has shown that he is still very much a force to be reckoned with at this level. But the two outstanding performances of the match came from Steve Waugh.

In becoming the third Australian to score two centuries in a Test match against England, he batted for nearly 10 and a half hours on an awkward pitch with a selfless discipline and determination which was extraordinary.

For much of that time, too, he was batting with a badly bruised bone at the base of his thumb and every time the ball hit the bat a sharp jarring pain shot up his arm. After almost every stroke in his second innings he quickly snatched his bottom hand from the bat after contact had been made to try to lessen the pain.

Waugh batted in both innings with only one thought in his mind, which was to take Australia to a big enough total to beat England and obliterate the memory of the defeat at Edgbaston. Technically, it was impossible to fault him. He has, too, cut out all the strokes which might get him into trouble.

He is a brilliant driver off the back and front foot, he square-cuts outstandingly and plays the ball off his legs as well as any contemporary batsman. It is these four strokes which bring him almost all his runs.

Waugh constructed the style of his batting to suit the needs of the pitch. In his two innings he did not play a single hook - he seldom does. With the uncertain bounce, it was anyway too dangerous a stroke and the Englishmen were given the chance to absorb and follow his example. They did neither and Mike Atherton, in the first innings, and Mark Butcher, in the second, perished hooking.

Waugh's devotion to duty was inspiring. Late on Saturday when Ian Healy was his partner and was keeping the score moving along, Waugh stayed virtually strokeless at the other end for 45 minutes to lend stability. When Healy was out he started to play his strokes while his partner settled in, but when Warne began to hit the ball about Waugh again concentrated on making the other end safe. Then, if Warne had got out, he would still have been there to control things.

He is a remarkable, cool customer and his batting is completely free from emotion and any form of histrionics. He gets on with the job with a ruthless and admirable single-mindedness. It could be many years before a batsman again plays two such wonderful innings in the same Test.