Cricket: Waugh the best wager for captain

Shane Warne may be considered too big a gamble to lead Australia
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The Independent Online
AN AUSTRALIAN government survey revealed last week that most of the population could not name the country's first Prime Minister. It could have been much worse. They might have been unaware of the identity of their first Test captain.

Not knowing Edmund Barton became head of the Federation in 1901 was cause for some momentary soul-searching. If it was ever disclosed that mass ignorance existed of Dave Gregory's leadership in the inaugural 45-run win against England in 1877 it could bring a nation to its knees.

The name of the 40th man to hold the post will be announced this week. He will lead Australia on their tour of the West Indies next month. It is all but certain the anointed one will be either Steve Waugh or Shane Warne.

The personalities of the two candidates have been constantly dissected and reassembled. Between them, they have been conducting extremely polite but deliberate election campaigns.

Waugh is the favourite as the older man and senior player but Warne has been doing himself favours with his captaincy of the one-day side in the Carlton & United triangular series. There is no unanimous opinion on who would be the better candidate but everybody is agreed each would bring different qualities.

It is more than a decade since Waugh first entered the Test arena and over that time he has become the world's leading Test batsman. As speculation about the captaincy has increased, doubt has been expressed about his communication skills and motivational powers. Waugh has had success as a leader. He was made skipper of the national one-day side last year when the selectors dropped Mark Taylor. Under his stewardship the remodelled team have had tournament wins in Australia, India and Pakistan.

Waugh has rejected the suggestion he has spent too long as a Test player dealing with his individual contribution. Waugh's main strength as a batsman is his doggedness. He is an implacable, rock-steady foe, he never gives his wicket away easily and it can be assured that he would lead by example.

There is no question he is a deep thinker. He is also a rarity among players in being engrossed by cricket's history and traditions. Waugh is 33 and he would be the oldest captain of Australia to be chosen since Ian Johnson succeeded Lindsay Hassett at 37 in 1954.

At 29, Warne may be considered a more appropriate age. There is also no doubt that he is blessed with a considerable cricketing brain. While he has not been an especially successful captain of Victoria he has exhibited formidable qualities in the one-day series. He has flair, vision, is prepared to take a gamble (literally).

Warne's life is also embroiled in controversy. It was revealed a few weeks ago that he had received a cash gift from an Indian bookmaker on Australia's tour of Sri Lanka in 1995. He was fined for this but Australian Cricket Board decided to keep the affair secret. More important may be Warne's form. He is still regaining fitness after the operation which kept him out of the game for nine months.

The captain is not appointed by the selectors. They name their squad for the West Indies tour today and the ACB committee vote on the captain on Friday. Expect it to be Steve Waugh. Expect the entire nation to know.