The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Waughs get Healy thumbs-up

Sydney: Steve and Mark Waugh have a great deal to offer Australian cricket and the fans should have faith in the selectors’ judgement ahead of the Ashes Series against England, former Test wicketkeeper Ian Healy said on Thursday.

Skipper Steve has gone 16 Test innings without a century, a sequence that has eased his average below 50, while Mark has scored just 245 runs in nine innings this year.

The Waugh twins are under pressure to perform heading into the third Test against Pakistan, starting in Sharjah on Saturday.

But Healy, who lost his Test place to Adam Gilchrist ahead of the 1999-2000 Pakistan home series after 119 matches, said the Waughs brought a wealth of experience to the Australian team and warned it was too early to cast them aside.

Healy, now a TV cricket commentator, believes the long-term future of Australian cricket will suffer if they were axed for the up-coming Ashes Series that gets underway in Brisbane on November 7.

“My opinion is that it’s a whole package they offer the team now,” he said. “We can accept a diminished batting performance by them so that all their other traits get instilled into our young players.

“By ‘diminished batting performances’ I mean, rather than 50 we could tolerate 40 from Steve, 35 from Mark — but make sure the rest of the package is right on top.

“The ability to concentrate, the ability to relax — these are things that even the Ricky Pontings and Justin Langers can learn from the Waughs and improve on,” Healy said. “That all goes into the one package and it would be a shame to throw that away without utilising it to its best.”

Healy blasted speculation claiming the Waughs’ Test careers were over. “I’d rather the media were more traditional and more sentimental and trust the selectors are communicating well with the players.

“The stupid thing about it is that one good score gets everyone off your back and that’s a bad thing as well, it proves that it is not constructive. I am sure the team don’t think as lowly of the two Waughs’ presence in the team as the media do at the moment.”

Healy said a player’s age — the Waughs are 37 — should have no bearing on selection, a point backed up by West Indies legend Sir Garfield Sobers and England ’keeper Alec Stewart.

“I will never believe that age has anything to do with ability. I believe that if a player is still performing it doesn’t matter how old he is, as long as he’s performing,” said Sobers, here promoting his book.

Stewart, who has defied the critics and is embarking on his seventh Ashes Series aged 39, described the Waughs as “two guys (who) have probably done more for Australian cricket than the majority in recent years”.

England will put up fight: Sobers

Sobers also believes England would give Australia a sterner test than most people expect. But the world record-breaking allrounder stopped short of predicting that Nasser Hussain’s team would beat the world champions, saying the best they can hope for is to give the Australians a real contest.

“Don’t be too surprised if they really give the Australians a bit of a fight,” Sobers said on Thursday. “England this year will give Australia problems, (but) I’m not saying they will win.”

Sobers, 66, said he was impressed by England’s batsmen, saying they were playing more confidently and aggressively recently.

“I have watched them in England and I think they are a different team,” he said. “To me, they seem now to put bat to ball, instead of putting pad to ball. I think that is a great improvement.”

Sobers also forecast a rapid improvement in the fortunes of Caribbean cricket. West Indies dominated world cricket in the 1970s and 1980s but have slipped down the pecking order in the past decade.

“The West Indies cricket team has a lot of players that have a lot of ability. It just needs to be brought out,” Sobers said. “I think that in two or three years you will see a very, very strong West Indies team again.”

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