Waugh the younger

HAS anyone ever made bowling and fielding look easier than Mark Waugh? Mark has a touch of genius in everything he does, the sort of player who is always an absolute delight to watch even when you feel he may be squandering a little bit of his talent.

Never, never dull as a fieldsman, Mark has the incalculable advantage of having the softest hands in the business, a cushion which gives with the ball and rarely allows a chance to escape.

If he gets a hand on a half chance at slip, he can usually hold the rebound because the ball never bounces far out of his grasp; in the outfield, he has a relaxed body which allows him to adjust even when the ball bounces awkwardly. Even on the roughest outfield, you seldom see him fumble.

Mark moves very quickly for a big man, has a strong arm and rarely wastes a second in getting rid of the ball. Like his twin Steve, Mark has a lot of sleight-of-hand tricks and when they decide to get competitive it is one of the great delights of the game.

He has made a huge reputation as a first slip fielder and whenever he stands in the cordon, he has the old-fashioned virtue of letting the ball come to him rather than offering his hands to the ball. This trait means he can take the ball late and enables him to hold on to chances very wide of his body, and sometimes behind him.

As a bowler, Mark has had the versatility to make himself adept at pace or spin.

When I first saw him he was a real tearaway with quite a lot of pace. In fact, in his first season in first class cricket, in 1985-86, I had him opening the bowling for New South Wales and he could send them down as quickly as anyone in the side.

Mark loved to bowl bouncers and would take on any batsman regardless of his reputation. He also has the knack of looking like a lucky bowler, but I don't think luck has much to do with it.

Like Ian Botham at his best, Mark bowls with a lot of imagination and variety and often gets batsmen out with a tricky, though often innocuous looking delivery.

In recent years Mark has struggled with a niggling back injury, but he has also stopped a gap in the structure of the Australian side when we went into matches with only Shane Warne as a spinner.

Consequently, he turned his hand to bowling off-spinners in 1995-96, another skill he has always had in his armoury.

When I first saw him bowl offies in the nets I was struck with the naturalness of his style. And the easy way he flighted and looped the ball.

It is not simply that he can bowl different styles but he can bowl them well; I am sure that if he had been a less-accomplished batsman he could have made an international career out of his bowling and fielding skills.

Unlike his brother, Mark was not rushed into the international scene. Instead, he made good use of the opportunity to polish his game so that he was equipped for the challenge of Test cricket when it came.

Steve Waugh, a bit like Ian Healy, had to learn a lot about cricket while actually playing at Test level and that is very tough.

The selectors never doubted Mark's cricket destiny, but some felt he lacked consistency and was prone to get out to soft shots.

This was probably true (and sometimes still is) but there comes a time when you have to back sheer ability and Mark, like Doug Walters before him, is one of those rare players who can win a match off his own bat.

By the end of 1995-96, Mark was averaging a respectable 40 plus in Test cricket. He averages the same today and still frustrates his admirers as well as entertains them.

I do not see him as a huge recordsman, but I do see him as a match-winner; they are few and far between and they deserve a bit of special consideration.

When Mark enjoys and expresses himself it is as though the game has gone into slow motion - nothing ruffles or hurries him.

He is the longest hitter in the side and when he savages the ball over the top and out of sight, he does it with style.

Mark's style is easy and pleasing to the eye, so much so that it often looks as though he has been dismissed in a matter-of-fact way.

There are those ready to claim that he lacks Steve's killer-instinct or the concentration necessary to be successful, but I don't believe it. They both have enormous ambition to do well in the game, but express it differently.

Steve's ambition might have a more public face, but Mark's is just as strong.

While many will only remember the free-flowing relaxed style of the younger Waugh twin, I will also remember the steel that enabled Mark to win more matches off his bat that any batsman since the great Sir Donald Bradman.

That is a record to be very proud of.