A team man all the way

STEVE WAUGH has his undoubted place among cricket's all-time greats. Not just for the mountain of runs he scored in both forms of the game, or for his astonishing stint as Australia's captain, or for figuring in the most number of Tests by any player, but for the qualities with which he enriched the game.

STEVE WAUGH has his undoubted place among cricket's all-time greats. Not just for the mountain of runs he scored in both forms of the game, or for his astonishing stint as Australia's captain, or for figuring in the most number of Tests by any player, but for the qualities with which he enriched the game.

The foremost among them was his commitment to the team's cause. The 38-year-old Steve Waugh will forever be remembered as an unselfish player, who put his best foot forward when his side needed him the most.

Times without number he orchestrated a revival, when Australia was on the brink. If the Aussies were 50 for five on the first day of a Test match, you could be sure that Steve Waugh would be out there in the middle, rallying with the lower order.

He loved the sniff of the battle, and crunch times only lit the combative spark in him. Waugh made 10927 runs in 168 Tests at a highly creditable 51.06, and a majority of these runs surfaced when his team required him to dig in deep.

Steve Waugh, whose twin brother Mark had the gift of timing, would have to be given his due for making the most of his limitations as a batsman, and turning them into his strengths. And any lack of natural talent was compensated by an overdose of courage and character.

Not too many cricketers have lasted 19 years in international cricket, and still finished on a high note. When the New South Welshman first wore the baggy green in the mid-80s, Australia was a struggling outfit under Border, and when Waugh left the scene on a heady day in Sydney, the Aussies, despite being held to a 1-1 draw by a resurgent India in a four-Test series, were the World Champions.

Waugh's remarkable fitness levels, strength of mind, fierce focus and the ability to adapt to the different conditions enabled him graduate into a dependable, resilient, match-winning batsman from being a run-of-the-mill player in the middle-order, who was considered suspect against short-pitched deliveries in the early stages of his cricketing journey. When he took his final bow, Waugh was among the gutsiest players of fast bowling.

Waugh's achievements as a captain are out of the ordinary. The Aussie's 41 wins in 57 Test matches make him the most successful skipper ever, and he, along with coach John Buchnnan, need to be complimented for devising an aggressive strategy that aimed at rattling up more than 325 runs in a day, providing the Aussie bowlers enough time to bowl out sides twice. However, Waugh lacked the natural flair of a Richie Benaud, an Ian Chappell or a Mark Taylor, who were innovative, having the ability to create something out of nothing. Waugh's limitations as a captain were visible in his last series at the helm, when, with a depleted injury hit attack, he was unable to stem the flurry of runs from the Indian batsmen. The inspirational moves were clearly missing.

There is no denying that it was with his never-say-die approach as a batsman that he managed to turn things around as a captain. The blood and guts hundred in the Super Six clash at Leeds in the 1999 World Cup marked the turning point in Waugh's captaincy.

Add his World Cup triumph in England to his astonishing Test record as Australia's skipper and you will get a rather complete captaincy record, only the conquest of the Final Frontier — India — eluding him. What he might have lacked in terms of tactical skills, Waugh made up to a large extent with the ability to motivate his men, and lead from the front.

Let's not forget for a moment Waugh's contribution with the ball — 92 and 195 scalps in Tests and ODIs respectively. Known as the Ice Man at the Death in the limited overs contest, Waugh's clever, nerveless seam bowling in the sub-continent was instrumental in Australia's win in the 1987 World Cup; it was another victory that came about at a vital time in the nation's cricket history. And his integrity to the game shone like a beacon during those dark days, when the match-fixing scandal threatened to consume the cricketing world.

Waugh was easily one of the most influential cricketers of our times for he could so easily cut across barriers, reach out to the masses. Among the most popular players to have visited the country, his spontaneous participation in charitable causes meant the people of India could relate to him for reasons other than cricket.

Not even Waugh was blemishless though. He was among the worst sledgers during the first phase of his career, and till the final legs of the captaincy, allowed his men to indulge in this menace. But then, no sportsman can lay claims to being perfect. Steve Waugh will have his seat in the pantheon of the all-time greats ... and for plenty of right reasons.