Cricket: Waugh's weakness undermines Australia

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ENGLAND'S BOWLERS v India's batsmen is quite a match - but it is only the second most mouth-watering prospect in the World Cup this weekend. At Old Trafford tomorrow, Australia meet the West Indies. It's not just a crunch game but a battle of the ex-giants.

The two most memorable matches of the first World Cup, held in England in 1975, were both between these teams. In a group game at The Oval, Dennis Lillee, then the world's greatest fast bowler, hurled bouncers at Alvin Kallicharran, a tiny man in a floppy hat, who thrilled West Indies' many supporters in south London by hitting 35 off 10 Lillee deliveries. Twenty- four years on, bouncers are called as no-balls and (despite this) only masochists and madmen wear floppy hats against fast bowlers. Kallicharran is the beleaguered coach of Kenya, and Britons of Caribbean descent are seldom seen in numbers in cricket grounds, driven away by high prices and a short-sighted bias in favour of people who are prepared to pay by credit card months in advance.

Australia recovered to reach the first World Cup final, where West Indies were waiting for them again. I was there with my dad, and it was the most exciting game I have ever watched, or was until the 90th minute in Barcelona on Wednesday night. This time it was a tall man in a floppy hat, Clive Lloyd, who toyed with Australia's great bowlers, and a little-known batsman, Vivian Richards, who snuffed out their reply by pulling off three run- outs, including both the Chappell brothers. Today, Lloyd is the West Indies' manager, and Richards, in one of those strange twists of fate, has overcome his reluctance to get involved again by standing in for the indisposed Malcolm Marshall as coach.

Lloyd and Richards won the trophy again in England in 1979, without having to play Australia. But the teams met again, twice, at the group stage in 1983. At Headingley, West Indies won by a street because Winston Davis took 7 for 51 - one of the few World Cup records that were not broken by Rahul Dravid and Saurav Ganguly last Wednesday. Davis is now a tetraplegic, paralysed when he fell out of a tree while doing a favour to his local church in St Vincent 18 months ago. He was just well enough to put in an appearance at a benefit match in his honour last Sunday, at Finedon in Northamptonshire; Viv Richards came out of retirement to make a rapturously received 20. (If you would like to make a donation, please call Mark Henson on 01933 682440).

That West Indian team met Australia again at Lord's, conceded 273 and still won by seven wickets - Richards 95 not out, Gordon Greenidge 90. Greenidge is now the somewhat exasperated coach of Bangladesh, whom Australia swept aside, with great aplomb, on Thursday. Sic transit gloria etc, etc.

So Australia have never beaten West Indies on English soil. And if they don't manage it tomorrow, they will be on their way home. What has gone wrong? Not a lot. They are a good team, rightly considered one of the favourites before the tournament started, and wrongly pushed out to 9- 1 now. They have two outstanding one-day batsmen in Mark Waugh and Michael Bevan, and two more who are on their way to that description in Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist. Ponting is also one of the world's top three fielders, just behind Jonty Rhodes, level with Herschelle Gibbs, perhaps ahead of both of them for dead-eye throwing. The bowling consists of the best spinner in history (Shane Warne), a great fast bowler (Glenn McGrath) and a very decent supporting cast. Where, exactly, is the weak link?

At the top. This is a team that has the wrong captain. Steve Waugh is a phenomenal Test cricketer, but the qualities that have made him - single- mindedness and bloody-mindedness, self-restraint and the ability to eliminate risks - are not qualities at all in the one-day game.

Waugh is a more rounded person than most cricketers - his tour books are done without the aid of a ghost, he has even published a book of photographs, he gives a better press conference than any recent England captain, he cares about the game's history, and he does good works with street children in India. But somehow he takes none of this with him when he goes on to the field. His body language is hopeless, his bowling changes are mechanical, his fielding is suddenly elderly, and he doesn't like to gamble - except with the bat, where he is out of form and over-inclined to employ his one concession to the one-day game, the sweep-slog to deep midwicket's right hand.

In Australia they proudly tell you that they pick the team and then the captain. That was why Mark Taylor had to go at one-day level. At the time, with Ian Healy being dumped as well, it seemed as if the selectors might be overdoing the ruthlessness. Now we can see that they didn't go far enough. Any reservations about those two applied just as much to Waugh, who has now made more than 250 one-day appearances for his country, despite averaging only 30 with the bat and being, these days, an occasional and fairly ordinary bowler. If they were really picking the team and then the captain, the captain would be either Tom Moody, who has led Western Australia to umpteen Sheffield Shields, or better still Warne, who showed in the one-day series last winter that he has more natural flair as a captain than anyone since Taylor.

Waugh should never be written off, however. Last time I wrote a piece arguing that he was the wrong one-day captain, for the Melbourne Age in December 1997, he and his team bounced back from a dismal start to beat South Africa in their one-day series. Like Imran's Pakistanis in 1992, they are dangerous when cornered. They just might be more dangerous if they had the right captain.

Tim de Lisle is editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly.