I'm not too proud to confess that I shed a tear on the day that Mark Waugh announced his retirement from international cricket. He'd been the object of a great deal of speculation for some time. When would he retire? When would he be forcibly dropped from the Australian Test side? The One Day side? When would the Chairman of Selectors see common sense and accept that Waugh, ME would never be the cricketing equal of his twin, Waugh, SR.? Sure, Steve did not possess the same silky skills as Mark, the lightning fielding abilities, the laconic demeanour, the sublime cover drive or leg glance. Ask anyone who they'd rather have batting for their life. Bet you a tenner they'd answer "Steve."
But then ask almost any cricket fan which of the current crop of players they'd choose to watch compiling a century, and some of them would say Sachin Tendulkar. The rest would say Mark Waugh.
Was there any shot he couldn't play? No, probably not, although there were a number he chose not to play. The hook, for example. He didn't much like the short ball, and always wore a helmet, even to the spinners. He understood his weaknesses.
But of the shots he did choose to play, three stood out. The leg glance or push through square leg is a miracle of hand-eye coordination. Many players manage to execute it well, but few do so with the exquisite timing of Mark Waugh. The square cut and square drive are flurries of aggression. In an interview on "The Panel" following Waugh's retirement, Rob Sitch asked him what it was about his follow-through that made his square cut so instantly recognisable to the cricket fan. Waugh didn't know. He wouldn't. It's doubtful that he ever bothered to analyse it that closely.
The third of Mark Waugh's memorable shots was the on-drive. Many consider this the most difficult shot a batsman can play. It was also Mark Waugh's best. No fanfare, no flying dust, no theatricals, just a crisp flick back past the despairing bowler.
When Mark Waugh retired it was a little like going to the wake of a popular recluse, only to discover that everyone else there thinks they were his only friend. The accolades began, the sycophantic interviews, and for a while it seemed as if we'd just sentenced a national treasure to death for not caring enough.
Mark Waugh says that even though he used to yawn occasionally while he was in the middle, even though he was regularly dismissed shortly after reaching 100, he was trying as hard as anyone else, really he was. He cared, he loved what he did, and in the weeks following his retirement he must have wondered where all the fans had been when he was still playing.
For mine, the cricket commentator and former Test player Terry Jenner summed it up best. He said that he'd rather watch Mark Waugh make 35 than most other batsmen make 100.
I couldn't have said it better myself.