Steve Waugh has told the cricketing world that he wants to play for at least another 18 months.
Unfinished business awaits in India and he does not like to leave a post before the job has been completed to his satisfaction. Throughout his career it has been necessary to drag him from the wicket, a removal often
accompanied by baleful backward glances. Some of us had made livings from his stubborness at the crease and reluctance to leave it. As with Bob Dylan, Waugh cannot be understood unless the inner comedy is grasped. It is not a
laugh a minute but it is not as serious as it seems either.
Waugh's declaration, almost the first of his career, puts the ball in the court of the selectors and pressure on himself to score the runs. Since Waugh has always backed himself to survive he will not be worried about the
need to bat convincingly. In his mind, and give or take an occasional bad patch, he's been in form for 20 years. Not that Australians are ever inclined to give ground or brag. Batsmen hereabouts are either " hitting them well," or " hitting them well in the nets,"
Waugh could point out that he has contributed strongly in 3 of Australia's last 4 Tests and that it has taken ripper catches and deadly deliveries to bring him down. Malcolm Knox's point about his record in adversity also holds water. Waugh has been a great man in a crisis and his team is not having any .Regardless, he has been batting well enough to hold a place in the side. Every time an aging creature coughs someone starts digging a hole. Moreover Waugh has never been the most vulnerable batsmen in the line-up, a cap worn by Darren lehmann since the departure of his twin brother, a move that has not improved Australia's catching around the bat.
The Australian captain has sharpened up sufficiently in the field to execute a run out and take a driven catch at gulley. he has even been bowling as in days of yore, an indiactiojn that the wheel is turning full circle because it was as an all-rounder that Waugh first secured a place in the national side. He has looked fit and athletic and plainly wants to challenge for a spot in the 50 over team , reckoning that he can roll over his arm as well as other contenders and knows a thing or two about batting under the gun.This ambition will not be fulfilled because Australia is loathe to go backwards Soon the squad for the World Cup will be announced and Waugh's name will be missing. That he knows this does not mean he will make it easier for the selectors. It is not in his nature to back down. Cussedness and Waugh walk side by side through this vale of tears.
Of course Waugh realises that the crunch has come which is why he is speaking openly about his ambitions. He does not want to sound like a man clinging to power for its own sake, with nothing left to achieve. Spent forces do not last long. Accordingly he is oloking forwards, and doing so publicly . Partly it is politicking. Waugh has been around a long time and naivity does not count amongst his foibles. Partly it is a simple statement of truth by a straightforward man. Waugh can get cheesed off more quickly than a motorist in a jam and wants to challenge the consensus that he is past it before it attaijns universal acceptance.. Hence his frustration at Butcher's blinding take at point in Adelaide and a delivery from Alex Tudor in Perth that came like a nugget in a pile of charcoal. Those hundreds were needed and almost delivered.
Significantly Waugh had the nerve to attack in these innings, confirmation that he realises that chiselling out runs against thin attacks is not going to be enough. He has played a iwde range of shots, though not the hook . One journalist is refusing to cut his hair till Waugh hooks or goes and he is starting to resemble Mr. Leo Sayer.He -waugh not Leo- has batted quiten well. It is important to remember that he never was a fluent player or a genius. He has always been a grafter and even in his prime, presumably past, he drove the aggressors to distraction.
Waugh is a maker of runs. His heart and head have been his strong points. of couse he has instincts too but they fing expression in his captaincy rather than his work at the crease. It is no use expecting a pragmatist to become a cavalier at this late stage. Waugh can only keep winning, trying to score runs and wait. Like all players he does not trust the selectors.It is not their job to be popular or close with any Australian cricketer, no matter how distinguished. Over the years Australian selectors have acted early rather than late and it has been a strength. Waugh must fear that they will tell him before Sydney that the game is up.
Observers believe that he has already been given the nod that this Sydney will be his last but his fighting talk suggests otherwise.If retirement was on the cards , or sacking, he could hardly have looked so far ahead . Throughout his career Waugh has been master of his own fate. Suddenly he is at the mercy of the guardians of australian cricket. he is doing his best, on the field and off it, as batsman and captain, to convince those reponsible that he is not on his last legs. Results help and are easily understood.Nor will the selectors want to drop 2 batsmen before an overseas tour, and Lehamnn remains vulnerable.
Have the selectors made up their minds? Waugh hopes not and will try with every power at his disposal to ensure that he takes the team to the West Indies this winter. But the Ashes and the World Cup are tempting cut off points, a fond farewell in Sydney and then the empowerment of a young leader already earning his stripes. Waugh is fighting his last battle. He desperately wants to go to the Carribean and India and sense it will be both or neither. The decision on his future will be taken in the next fortnight, presuming it is not already set in stone . meanwhile waugh must watch the 50 over team as it trounces al-comers and dream of returning to Bridgetown and Eden Gardens, the scene of so many triumphs and misfortunes. He hopes it is not over and will not go down without a struggle. Nor should he.