Cricket: Waugh revels in role of captain

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WHEN STEVE Waugh heard that he had been confirmed as the next Test captain of Australia, it was 8.42 in the morning and he was watching Sesame Street on television. This homely image is not the sort normally associated with the toughest customer around.

"I'm used to seeing it as my daughter, Rosalie, watches it every day," he said, a few hours later, enhancing the cosiness. It embodied the difference between Waugh the professional cricketer and Waugh the good bloke. Playing the game is his job (and mercifully his passion) and he brings to it all the hard-nosed cussedness necessary to win.

If it was the old West, Waugh would be the gun-slinging hombre you would least like to meet on the dusty main street. You might not turn around to run but your mouth would go dry and you would pray there was an afterlife. It is like that for bowlers when he makes his flat-footed, broad-beamed way to the crease, his gaze immovable, his spirit unbreakable. He will bring that sort of approach to his captaincy.

"I guess it's a bit like when I first got picked for the Australian side as a 20-year-old," he said. "I guess I was overwhelmed there, and a bit anxious and frightened of what lay ahead. I'm really excited. I know my cricket is in good shape."

It was natural in the way of these things that when he was paraded officially for the first time as the 40th captain of his country, he was asked when he might be thinking about retiring. His answer might have sent shivers down bowling backs.

"At the moment I get a real buzz out of going into bat if the team is in a bit of trouble at 30 for 3 against good bowlers and on a wicket that's doing a bit. I get really excited about that. I love to go out and fight in that situation. If I go out there one day and the team really need me and I'm not fired up or ready for the situation it's time to walk away, and that might be next year, it might be five years or never." It did not sound like it would be tomorrow.

This was Waugh the cricketer talking, and while he is a different character from his predecessor, Mark Taylor, he will give a similar amount of change to the opposition. No change at all, that is. He said he would not have to alter much because Australia had a winning formula, although he did think they might have drawn matches they had lost and could be better in second-innings run chases.

Waugh will lead the side for the first time on their tour of the West Indies, upon which they embark next week. His vice-captain will be Shane Warne, the only other realistic candidate for the leadership, who has done a splendidly adventurous job in the Carlton & United triangular one- day series this past month while Waugh has been recovering from a hamstring injury.

"We're looking forward to working together and I think we complement each other pretty well," he said, immediately calming any fears that they would no longer be pals. "He's pretty flamboyant and outgoing and I guess I'm a little bit the other way."

Waugh also gave the broadest indication that the leg-spinning debate on whether Warne should be picked ahead of the new kid on the block, Stuart MacGill, would be pretty brief in his selection meetings. Warne has taken 315 wickets in 68 Tests at 24.97 and MacGill has taken 47 in eight at 21.78. Of Warne he said: "People tend to forget he has taken 315 Test wickets at over five per match and he has been a great bowler. I always think form is temporary and class is permanent. We should remember that. He's a great bowler and he's not going to let you down.

"Stuart MacGill has been tremendous in his first few Tests. He's coming on in leaps and bounds. I think he's going to turn into a great Test bowler. You've got to take into consideration who's bowling well and whether somebody has got a psychological advantage over the opposition."

Waugh has already made plans to deal with any crises over poor form, which dogged Taylor for long periods while he was captain. Sometimes Taylor would cut short his own practice to deal with his other responsibilities. Perhaps, Waugh suggested, his form suffered. Waugh intends to have a word with his senior players (brother Mark, Ian Healy, Glenn McGrath) and delegate if he feels he needs more practice. "If you're smart you learn from those sorts of people."

While his stern demeanour conceals it during play, Waugh is an old romantic about the game. Why, you can almost see a tear in that steely eye when he talks about the baggy green cap which he always wears and likes to see the other players wear during the first session of matches.

"Growing up as a young kid I always thought of playing for Australia. That was my dream. I'm still rapt by being the 335th player for Australia. I never dreamed of being captain." And he will not be dreaming in Trinidad next month either.

Darrell Hair, the Australian umpire, was the subject of two press releases from the Australian Cricket Board yesterday. The first revealed that his hearing on charges of bringing the game into disrepute had taken place. He was found guilty on two charges while another two were dismissed.

Hair was charged under the International Cricket Council's Code of Conduct after making certain allegations about the Sri Lankan spin bowler, Muttiah Muralitharan in his book, Decision Maker. He gained notoriety for no- balling the off-spinner seven times on Sri Lanka's tour to Australia in 1995 and in his book he describes the bowler's action as "diabolical".

However, Hair has escaped punishment because the ACB's code of conduct commissioner, Judge Gordon Lewis, could not identify a penalty process in the ICC's code relating to umpires. The ICC's chief executive, David Richards, said yesterday that the judge's views will be referred to the council's solicitors, and that the ICC would look at reviewing their regulations in light of the decision.

The second press release merely stated that Hair - yes, the man guilty of two disrepute charges - would be Australia's umpiring representative on the World Cup panel of umpires.

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