Another feather in Steve Waugh's cap

IT was a wonderful moment for cricket when Steve Waugh became the most capped player in Tests (157 appearances) in the recent Georgetown encounter against the West Indies. The honour could not have gone to a more fitting individual.

K. SRIKKANTH

What has stood out throughout Steve Waugh's career has been his ability to handle pressure. Few batsmen respond as well when the chips are down as Steve does. — Pic. AP-

IT was a wonderful moment for cricket when Steve Waugh became the most capped player in Tests (157 appearances) in the recent Georgetown encounter against the West Indies. The honour could not have gone to a more fitting individual.

It was fitting too that he set the mark in the Caribbean. The land that has been a witness to several of his stirring knocks. Cricketers like him come rare and he does have the attributes that will take a player far. Qualities that have made him what he is.

I was in Australia with the Indian team in the mid-80s, when I first saw Steve Waugh. At that time he did not look more than an average cricketer, a limited batsman who could be useful with his seamers.

In fact, we saw a lot of him with the ball, and at that point we certainly didn't imagine that he would emerge as one of the most successful players in cricket history.

There were some who said he had a problem against short-pitched bowling from the quicks, but Steve Waugh took the criticism in his stride and emerged a much stronger cricketer.

Steve Waugh's career shows what hard work can do to a cricketer. He practised hour after hour at the nets, ironing out the chinks, single-minded in purpose and thought.

Steve Waugh's mind-boggling number of Test appearances reflects his durability. He may be on the wrong side of the 30s, but is someone who has worked extremely hard on his fitness.

And fitness points to work ethic and discipline. Steve Waugh has them all. He is a complete cricketer.

What has stood out throughout his career has been his ability to handle pressure. Few batsmen respond as well when the chips are down as Steve does.

In fact, adversity appears to bring the best out of him. He is a remarkably cool customer, and we first had a glimpse of this trait during the 80s when he would bowl cleverly, varying his pace towards the end in limited overs contests.

With the bat, he is even more intelligent, tiring out his rivals mentally and physically. Towards the second phase of his career, he blossomed into a batsman who could play all kinds of shots, make runs on all kinds of pitches, whether the ball seamed and swung or spun.

His ability to adapt to the conditions, and go about his job in a professional, often ruthless way, marks him out as one of the finest batsmen of our time.

Steve Waugh must have learnt a lot from his first Aussie captain Allan Border, another cricketer with loads of ability. Border was a fighter, first and last, and guided Australia through a very difficult period, when several uncomfortable questions were asked about the team and its future.

Border too was a man for the crunch situation, though he may not have been the most attractive of left-handers. This ability to handle pressure time after time, marked him out as a very special cricketer.

Like Border, Steve Waugh is an inspirational captain. Such are his deeds, that his men are bound to be inspired. How can they let down such a leader?

Steve Waugh alone would know the right time to leave the international arena. He must be given the opportunity to do so in glory, such has been his contribution to Australian and world cricket.

Talking about Allan Border and Steve Waugh, my mind travels to Sunil Gavaskar, who was as great as they come, one of the legends of the game.

Like the Aussies, Gavaskar was extremely fit, and was durable. Technically brilliant, Gavaskar had loads of concentration and could drive the best of bowlers to despair.

What could they do when their most lethal deliveries met the middle of Gavaskar's blade? Gavaskar, like Steve Waugh, was an exceptional reader of the mind game.

Even if there were plans to get him, he would know in a jiffy. Gavaskar's final Test innings was an epic, against Pakistan, on a minefield of a surface.

However, when Gavaskar was batting, you could hardly have said that there was something wrong with the pitch. Such was his technical purity. He left in glory and he deserved to.

Gavaskar kept himself very fit — a common trait among all durable cricketers — and mentally appeared to be fresh at any stage of the game. I used to marvel at his powers of concentration.

Now to another legend from the sub-continent, who will go down as one of the greatest battlers, Javed Miandad of Pakistan. Another cricketer with a long and eventful Test career.

Here was a man who would actually provoke bowlers like Dennis Lillee, taunt them, and then get pumped up. We have talked about how Steve Waugh, Allan Border and Sunil Gavaskar, would revel in crisis.

Miandad could do the same. He kept chatting at the crease, and one got the impression that he was geeing himself up. If the situation got tense, you could be sure that Miandad would be trying something apart from displaying his enormous batting skills.

The fact that he could work the ball around effortlessly meant Miandad would reach 30 or 40 almost unnoticed. Then he would play the big shots. He could pick the flow of the match, and adjust his game accordingly.

Pacing an innings came naturally to him, and he could easily raise the tempo of the game, when the occasion demanded. A combative batsman no team could afford to leave out.

Back to Steve Waugh. It must have been terribly disappointing for him to have missed the World Cup. After all, he was the captain of the side that triumphed in '99, and he played a major part with the willow as well.

It is to Steve Waugh's credit that he managed to put that setback behind him. There must have been a temptation to quit, but the Australian, wisely, decided to continue his Test career. The game is better off for that.