The end of an era

Tariq Engineer

It was only fitting that Stephen Rodger Waugh ended his test career battling to save Australia from defeat. He may have turned the Australian team into an all-conquering juggernaut, but the image of Waugh himself remains that of the last man standing. Though blessed with less talent than his two most illustrious peers, Tendulkar and Lara, Waugh used grit and determination to become the best batsmen in the world. Time and again he walked out to bat with Australia hanging on the precipice, and time and again he dragged the team back from the edge. His was a fierce loyalty to the baggy green. Not to give one’s all on the field of play was to insult not only the spirit of the game, but one’s own country. He retires with 10,927 runs scored (second all time), 32 centuries (second all time) and an average of 51.06.

But it is as Australia’s captain that Waugh leaves his greatest legacy. When Waugh succeeded Mark Taylor as captain, he did so because he was the best player in the team, and not necessarily the best captain. Thus there were question marks about his ability as captain. Waugh answered the questions in emphatic style.

He blended the ruthlessness of Allan Border and the thoughtfulness of Mark Taylor with a killer instinct of his own. He eschewed the possibility of a drawn test, choosing to grind his opponents into submission. He made it a habit to bat first after winning the toss, with the team committed to scoring as many runs as possible, as quickly as possible. Waugh’s team then had the luxury of having enough time to bowl the opposition out twice. Victory in 41 out of 57 test matches, a success rate of 71.93, while losing only 6 matches makes Waugh the most successful test captain of all time.

Such success also points to Waugh’s ability to transmit his single-minded approach to the entire team. It is hard to imagine a group of players more dedicated to a shared vision. But that era is now over, and all we are left with is the memory of a man the like of whom cricket may never see again.