Waugh set to depart the only way he knows: as a winner

Legendary captain will end 19 momentous years with Australia after the fourth Test against India in Sydney starting tomorrow
Click to follow

After 19 years on the road together it is difficult to tell which has aged better, Steve Waugh or his beloved "baggy green" cap. In their later years both have begun to look a bit weathered but since his Test debut at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1985 the pair have been inseparable.

After 167 matches each has a great deal to be proud of. Australia, under Waugh's aggressive leadership, have changed the nature of Test cricket, while his cap has became the symbol of Australian domination.

Their historic journey comes to an end this week in his home town, Sydney, when the pair will be on official duty for the final time. A series against India is there to be won. Waugh rarely fails to get what he wants.

Determined, intense, competitive, dedicated, courageous, proud, loyal, ambitious, traditional, ruthless: there are many ways to describe Stephen Rodger Waugh. There were not as many ways to get him out.

His was not a pampered childhood. He was raised in Bankstown, a southern suburb of Sydney, where you had to be tough to get on in life. His parents played tennis and squash to a high level and sport was always on the menu.

Steve did not have to travel far to find a more gifted sportsman than himself. Mark, his twin brother, was the Waugh with elegance and style. To compete with him in the backyard, Steve needed to play hard. It is a characteristic that has remained with him throughout his career.

Like the former Australia captain Allan Border - who would have had a profound influence on Steve when he was young - he did not really care what he looked like at the crease. A poor shot seldom affected his concentration. All that counted was the next delivery. That the ball went to the boundary off his outside edge did not concern him - the runs were in the scorebook.

There were times when his desire to win overstepped the mark. There is no place in the game for premeditated sledging - or "mental disintegration", as Australians call it - and the catch he claimed in 1995 in Barbados to dismiss Brian Lara in the gully, when it clearly hit the floor, put him in a poor light.

Breaking down the career of a player who has achieved almost every honour the game has to offer is impossible, but to me the last year has defined Steve Waugh. Twelve months ago, his career appeared to be coming to an ignominious end. Australia took just 11 days to retain the Ashes but former players and sections of the media felt that the 37-year-old no longer merited a place in the side.

This mood bewildered those of us who had watched Waugh ruthlessly expose the shortcomings of English cricket for 13 years, but a closer inspection of his form backed up the sentiment. In the 15 Tests since he scored 157 against England on one leg in 2001, Australia's most capped player had made only 452 runs at an average of 22.6.

Waugh refused to become embroiled in the matter, though the criticism hurt. He has always been a private man and he kept his views to himself. That did not prevent the issue coming to a climax during the festive season of 2002. In the build-up to the fourth Test in Melbourne speculation about his position intensified. It was suggested that if he failed to retire he would be dropped after the fifth Test in Sydney.

The possibility of it being the last time he played at the MCG swelled the Boxing Day attendance to over 64,000. There are always big crowds for this fixture but they normally turn up to watch "The Aussies" stuff "The Poms". But this time they came to show their appreciation for a man whom many feel epitomises all that is good in Australia.

Waugh's credibility in the series had not been helped by the actions of Nasser Hussain, the England captain. The pair are equally hard-bitten and every time Waugh arrived at the crease Hussain set fields designed to get his opposite number on strike. This enabled England to get after Waugh immediately but many Australians felt these tactics were disrespectful. Setting the field back so the established batsman can take an easy single is usually used when tail-end batsmen are at the crease, not against a player with almost 10,000 Test runs to his name.

Throughout Waugh's career it has been felt that he did not fancy the quick stuff, and his arrival in the middle would often lead to the recall of a team's fastest bowler. A leg-gully and a short-leg would be positioned and the instructions from the captain were simple; bowl short and at his chest.

The decision not to take on the short ball was conscious. It had got him out almost on too many occasions when he was young and went for his shots with greater freedom. It was in England in 1989 that he reaped the benefits of a tighter technique and wiser shot selection.

Although Waugh looked ugly against the short ball, I never agreed with this theory since it seldom dismissed him. I felt he was susceptible to fullish deliveries early in his innings. It always took him time to get his feet moving and I thought this gave you chances of trapping him lbw, caught behind, or bowled.

Fired up by the holiday crowd, the position he was in and Hussain's plan, Waugh came out at Melbourne with all guns blazing. The 77 runs he scored should have eased the pressure on him but his display in the second innings completely undermined this.

Australia needed only 49 runs to be 4-0 up in the series when Waugh strode to the crease. With nothing to lose, Andrew Caddick and Stephen Harmison ran in hard and peppered him with a succession of short balls. He looked hopelessly out of his depth and his knock of 14 appeared to confirm the viewpoint of his critics.

At the post-match press conference Waugh did not look very well but few believed him when he said his batting had been affected by a migraine. To many, this seemed the last defiant act of a man who did not know when he was beaten and was now in danger of making a fool of himself.

With almost everyone in Australia now believing the fifth Test in Sydney would be the last time they would see him play for his country, the match became known as "The Steve Waugh Test". Australia bowled England out halfway through the second day and, following the loss of three quick wickets, Waugh was in.

The first standing ovation, on one of the most amazing afternoons of cricket imaginable, was even more heartfelt than in Melbourne. It made the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Judging by the way Waugh rushed to the wicket it looked as though the reception had got to him too. It was as though he just wanted to get it over with.

Predictably, Hussain brought Harmison back into the attack and there was a nervous, eerie feel around the SCG as Waugh took guard. Cheers of relief greeted his first run but it quickly became apparent that the significance of the occasion had affected England's bowlers more than the "Iceman". Waugh raced to a half-century off 61 balls and received a second standing ovation. He did not have to wait long for his third, which arrived when he moved to 69. He had become the third player to score 10,000 runs in Test cricket.

The arrival at the crease of Adam Gilchrist increased the scoring rate but Waugh lost the strike and it appeared he had missed the opportunity to complete a remarkable century before the close of play. However, his predatory instinct has consistently told him when it is the right time to pounce, and he knew this was the moment.

In the penultimate over of the day he again upped the tempo and moved from 88 to 95. On strike and facing the off-spin of Richard Dawson, he now needed five runs off the final over of the day. He blocked the first three balls but square drove the fourth ball for three. It took him to 98 but he had lost the strike.

Gilchrist scampered a single and this left Waugh needing two off the last ball of the day. In an effort to put pressure on the batsman Hussain chatted with Dawson and the pair altered the field two or three times before dangling a carrot. They brought deep mid-wicket up and left it open for the slog.

Waugh, however, had his eye on another unprotected area and drove the ball through the covers for four.

The SCG exploded as its favourite son raced down the pitch with his arms in the air. I and many others stood numbed by the experience. To watch a player rise to a challenge and handle a situation like that in such a manner was awesome, truly awesome.

If this was not enough to silence those who dared to doubt him, Waugh then proceeded to score three further centuries in 2003. These performances allowed him to determine his own fate, rather than the selectors, some of whom he did not have a great deal of time for.

Waugh has consistently said he does not believe in fairy tales. However, few would be brave enough to bet against this distinguished cricketer finishing his career on the ultimate high.

STEVE WAUGH CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

1965: Stephen Roger Waugh born 2 June.

1985: Makes Test debut.

1989: Scores maiden Test century, 172 not out against England at Headingley. Averages 126.5 for Ashes series.

1990: Dropped by Australia and replaced by his twin brother, Mark, who scores century on debut. Spends 18 months on Test sidelines.

1992: Returns for series against the West Indies. Bats at No 3.

1994: Registers best Test bowling figures with 5 for 28 against South Africa at Newlands. Named vice-captain to Mark Taylor.

1997: Breaks thumb, but still scores two centuries against England at Old Trafford. Appointed one-day captain.

1999: Succeeds Taylor as Test captain. Drops Shane Warne for last Test in stirring drawn series in West Indies. Leads Australia to World Cup victory in England. Breaks nose in collision with Jason Gillespie while fielding in Sri Lanka. Plays in next game.

1999-2001: Leads Australia in 15 of world-record 16 consecutive Test wins.

2002: Replaced as one-day captain by Ricky Ponting. Passes 10,000 Test runs.

2003: Announces in November that home Test series against India will be his last.

2004: Plays final Test against India in Sydney. At start of play he has amassed 10,807 runs in 167 Tests - second only to Allan Border (11,174 in 156).

Comments