The Challenge of Australia


The Web


Home > Cricket > The Challenge of Australia > Column > John Mehaffey

Waugh leaves imperishable legacy

January 06, 2004

Wearing his beloved Australian cap and allowing himself a rare smile, Steve Waugh has left the Sydney Cricket Ground with an imperishable legacy to the international game he graced for 18 years.

Waugh's singular contribution was to blend both ancient and modern in an Australian team who at their peak could plausibly claim to be the best in history.

Also Read

Waugh shines in drawn Test

Images: Day 5 fourth Test

Ancient was one appropriate word for a cap threatening to fall apart when the Australian captain finally retired on Tuesday.

The battered, baggy green represented a conscious effort to connect the modern generation with their predecessors who had built and nurtured their nation's summer game.

Typically Waugh went even further in his efforts to instil a sense of tradition into team mates who were still small children when he made his international debut in 1986.

For the first Test of the new millennium -- against India in Sydney on January 2, 2000 -- the Australians donned replicas of the skull caps worn by Joe Darling's 1901-02 side.

Again, typically, Waugh was not content with mere symbolism.

En route to yet another successful Ashes defence in England a year later, Waugh took his team to the Gallipoli peninsula.

There they re-enacted a 1915 photograph showing Australian soldiers playing cricket towards the end of their tragic eight-month campaign in which nearly 9,000 Australians perished.

"Even this morning I was in the shower and it started trickling," commented Waugh at the time.

"I was standing there thinking the damm shower is no good and then I thought these guys were freezing in the trenches and fighting for eight months so what have I got to complain about?"


Back in the modern world, Waugh also successfully challenged the cultural barriers which prevent so many teams from performing at their best on the Indian sub-continent.

Instead of retreating to their air-conditioned hotel rooms or seeking refuge by the pool, Waugh urged his team mates to embrace the local culture and welcome rather than reject diversity.

Again there was substance behind the rhetoric. Waugh helps support an orphanage in India. He has also raised money for leper sufferers.

Golden ages by definition exist in the past with time and nostalgia softening their harsher contours.

But well before Waugh had finally disappeared from sight on Tuesday, cricket fans around the world realised they had been privileged to live in an extraordinary era for Test cricket, possibly the most exciting ever.

Pushing back the boundaries in his sport as he had in his life, Waugh persuaded the Australian team to embrace a policy of all-out attack with astonishing results.

Three hundred runs a day was once thought an impossible dream. Waugh's Australians made it a norm.

In the series against India, Waugh's last, both teams often averaged four runs an over. An extraordinary 1,747 runs were scored in the final drawn Test and with 90 overs a day now guaranteed, 400 runs is the new target.

Brisk scoring rates are not new.

Attack was the watchword of the Edwardian age and Don Bradman scored fast as well as prolifically in the 1930s.

In the 1960s, largely a drab decade for cricket in contrast to the prevailing social and musical ferment, West Indies extended the boundaries of the possible with some exhilarating stroke play.

At the 1996 World Cup, Sri Lanka redefined one-day cricket by attacking from the start to take full advantage of fielding restrictions and batsman friendly pitches.

But it is the present Australia side containing Matthew Hayden, the new captain Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist who have changed the game irrevocably with their relentless pursuit of quick runs.

Just as sub-four minutes miles became commonplace once the barrier was breached 50 years ago, all countries now strive, often successfully, to match the Australians.

"For most of the past 126 years, Test cricket was conducted at a leisurely pace," noted last year's Wisden almanac.

"The occasional burst of frenzied activity only emphasised that the standard tempo was sedate. Nowadays, the longest form of the game -- of any game -- rattles along like a good television drama...Test cricket may be more entertaining now than it has ever been."

Waugh has now gone but his legacy will endure.

Article Tools
Email this article
Print this article
Write us a letter

Related Stories

Factbox on Steve Waugh

Steve will be the real winner

Waugh wants runners banned

© Copyright 2003 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

The Challenge of Australia: The Complete Coverage | More Columns

Copyright © 2003 India Limited. All Rights Reserved.