| Mark Waugh at a press conference in Sydney Monday. (AFP)
Sydney: Mark Waugh announced his retirement from international cricket on Monday within hours of being dropped from Australia’s team for the first Ashes Test against England in Brisbane starting on November 7.
One of Australia’s most elegant and accomplished batsmen of all time, Mark told a packed news conference he would continue playing first-class cricket but accepted his days as an international player were over.
“I’d like to take this opportunity to announce my retirement from international cricket. Having been left out of the current Test team and the one-day team earlier this year, I feel my chances of playing for Australia at age 37 have led me to this decision,” he said.
“While I feel very disappointed not to be playing for Australia again, I’ve been extremely lucky to have played for so long in such a great era of Australian cricket.”
Despite being one of Australia’s finest batsmen, Mark had been under pressure to hold his place in the team after a lean run over the past year.
He averaged just over 30 in his last 12 Tests and had not scored a century since the last Ashes Test against England 14 months ago.
“I’m a fairly realistic person and I knew I needed to score more runs,” he said. “There’s not much chance of a recall and I’m smart enough to work it out, so now’s the right time to go.”
Mark said he was not surprised when Australia’s selection chairman Trevor Hohns telephoned him on Saturday to say he had lost his place in the team to South Australian captain Darren Lehmann, the all-time leading run-scorer in the domestic interstate championship.
Mark and his twin brother Steve were both dropped from the one-day team earlier in the year and speculation was rife that their Test careers were also under threat.
Steve secured His test spot with an unbeaten century in last weekend’s third Test win over Pakistan but Mark’s position remained doubtful after he managed just 80 runs in the series.
Looking relaxed in an open-neck shirt and black sports jacket, Mark said he spent the weekend contemplating his future but had no regrets about his decision.
“It’s actually a bit of a relief,” he said. “There’s been a lot of pressure on me in the last year and I haven’t really enjoyed my cricket as much.
“It’s been a bit emotional for me but I’ve had a great career. It’s got to come to an end and there are a lot of people worse off than me, so I’m really grateful for what I’ve achieved.”
Selectors said the decision to drop Mark was extremely difficult, but necessary for the continued success of the world No. 1 Australians.
“Those sort of decisions are never easy, particularly when you’re dealing with an established player and someone who has been a fantastic player for Australia over many years,” Hohns said.
Mark made his Test debut against England in 1991, scoring a century on his first appearance after being called up at the expense of his brother, and has held the No. 4 batting spot almost ever since.
He went on to play 128 Tests, scoring 8,029 runs at 41.81, including 20 centuries and, as a brilliant slip fielder and part-time bowler, he also took a world record 181 catches, plus 59 wickets.
Mark was also effective in one-day cricket, where he was mostly used as an opener, scoring 8,500 runs at 39.35, including 18 centuries. He was a key member of the Australian team that won the 1999 World Cup, one of the highlights of his career.
A beautifully balanced player who made batting look easy, Mark was sometimes criticised as lazy for occasionally throwing his wicket away when bigger scores beckoned.
But the lowest point in his career was undoubtedly in 1998 when he was fined along with Shane Warne after admitting taking money off an illegal Indian bookmaker in exchange for information about pitch and weather conditions.
He was investigated, then cleared, by the sport’s Anti-Corruption Unit and survived widespread calls for his sacking from the team, but the experience upset him deeply.
Mark plans to play for New South Wales this summer, and has also received offers from counties in England to play at the end of the Australian domestic season.
ACB chief executive officer James Sutherland said Mark was one of the finest batsmen Australia has produced.
“On behalf of the chairman and directors of the Australian Cricket Board, I congratulate Mark on his outstanding international career. His 14 years at the elite level have been studded with records and he will be remembered as one of the finest cricketers this country has ever produced,” he said.
Sutherland said Mark would be honoured at the fifth and final match of the Ashes series in Sydney.
“The ACB is currently looking at ways to honour Mark’s career, allowing cricket fans to congratulate him on a job well done. At this stage our plans are that it will take place at Mark’s home ground, the SCG.”