Steve Waugh was an efficient batsman and unflappable captain who led an almost invincible combination. He goes, with people asking why and not when
Compared to the careers of most cricketers, Steve Waugh has had a long innings. His stay at the crease has been unruffled and without any fuss whatsoever. Yet he has been one of the most successful captains and batsmen of contemporary cricket. His unflappability and his ability to be successful in a crisis became Waugh’s hallmarks. Whenever the Australian team was in a crisis, one expected Waugh to pull them out of trouble. And he nearly always did. Many of his 32 test centuries were scored against the tide when the opposition bowling appeared to be on top. Similarly in one-day internationals. Witness the innings he played against South Africa in the 1999 World Cup. Waugh was by no means an attractive or a flamboyant batsman like his brother, Mark. Neither was he technically perfect like Gavaskar. Nor did he have the ability to tear a bowling attack to pieces. But he was always dependable. His temperament made him a much better batsman than he actually was in terms of technique and stroke production. Yet, he was a superlative cutter of the ball and extraordinarily powerful off the backfoot. He took few risks and played none of the showy shots like the hook or the lofted straight drive. He collected his runs and left the aesthetics of batting to others who were more talented than him.
Waugh’s captaincy was much like his batting, cold and efficient. He marshalled his resources to suit the occasion, and the Australian team under him looked invincible till India broke voodoo on home turf. Much of Waugh’s success as a captain, like Clive Lloyd’s in the Eighties, was due to the team he had. Waugh had bowlers like McGrath, Warne and Lee; he had Adam Gilchrist behind the stumps; Mark Waugh and Ricky Ponting to catch and field; and the likes of Hayden to bat. This was a winning combination if ever there was one. Waugh himself contributed with the bat, broke the occasional partnership and was superlative at gully, short extra and short midwicket.
“What do they know of cricket who only cricket know'” asked the great cricket-writer and historian, C.L.R. James. Waugh agreed with this through his actions. He has devoted himself to the care of homeless children. He began his work in this city, which he continues to visit regularly, and he has taken his work to other parts of India. Thirty per cent of his annual income is given to charities. This is remarkable in the annals of sports. It is difficult to think of any other sportsman — definitely no other cricketer — who has shown this kind of commitment to the underprivileged in society. Waugh obviously believes in playing cricket on and off the field.
The only major disappointment in Waugh’s cricketing career was his failure to trounce India on Indian soil. He had the option of prolonging his playing days to have a second go at the Indians in India. But he chose not to do this and announced his retirement. It is typical of the man that he refused to put his ego above good sense. Waugh goes, with people asking why and not when. Under the green baggy cap was a brain that ticked all the time.