Stephen Roger Waugh
Mention Steve "Tugga" Waugh and the images that flood your memory are those of a man defying the opposition and fighting for his team when all of his team mates had given up. Not for nothing did he get the nickname "Tugga" which is derived from "Tug of War". To know Steve by his statistics is to not know him at all. Sure, he averages in the 50s in Test cricket, joining an elite group of batsmen. To know Steve is to know of his grit, determination and mental strength. It is said that a mentally stronger player never graced the cricket fields and who am I to argue? Time and again he has shown character and fought for his team as if his whole life depended on it. The biggest compliment however must be the statement by his peers who say that when he walked in to bat you could virtually see the Australian flag fluttering proudly behind him.
Its been two days now since the great man retired and its still hard to believe that the name Waugh will not be present on another scoreboard. His twin brother Mark Waugh had retired a few years earlier and one knew it would not be long before Steve hung up his boots as well. But when it came there must have been a lump in every cricket lovers throat be it Aussie or Indian or anyone.What a time to end his career as well. He decided the series he would end with would be with his bitter rivals India. What followed was a fitting tribute to Steve Waugh. In one of the finest displays of cricket by a touring team to set its feet on Australian shores India fought every match with a tenacity and grit that so embodies the man. They drew the first test and came back from behind to win the second one. India were now one up in the series and Australia was shaken. Australia came back hard in the third test on Boxing Day and won it but not before India fought every inch of the way. The stage now shifted to the Sydney Test Ground for Waugh's final test and what was to be the decider of the series. India batted first and piled on a mammoth 706 for 7 declared on the back of a sterling 241 not out by the little master Sachin Tendulkar and a fine performance by V.V.S Laxman who had proved to be Australia's nemesis.
For all the sterling cricket India played in the first innings the match will be remembered best for the innings Steve Waugh played (yet again) on the last day of the test with his team battling to save the test. The chips were down when Steve Waugh strolled onto the SCG one last time for Australia. The ovation and chanting by some 40,000 crazed cricket supporters Aussie and Indian alike was worthy of the man. It would be enough to say that when he went Australia were out of the woods and had saved the Test series. In more ways than one this innings was a synopsis of almost every Test innings of note that Steve has played. Coming in at his No.6 position he inevitably came in when Australia were on a sticky wicket and needed to shepherded to safety and more often than not Steve would do it
What is admirable about the man is that for all his achievements he was only moderately talented. He did not possess the silken touch of his brother Mark, nor did he possess the great hand-eye coordination of a Sachin Tendulkar but he possessed something that is as vital to the success of a man as talent, a big heart. He did not play the short ball all that well but he would not give his wicket fending the ball away. Rather he would take the ball on his body happy to endure the bruises than face the pain of letting his team down. Some of the memories that will always bring tears to a cricket lover who has seen that series will be the sight of a young Steve standing up to a battery of fearsome West Indian pacers in Ambrose and Walsh on a minefield of a pitch . On the pitch where his illustrious seniors in the team had fallen, literally and figuratively, to the pace of one of the most feared bowling partnerships stood a young man taking blows to his body and knuckles and not flinching. Not once did he show pain as ball after ball thudded into his body. He stood tall and punished the bad balls and saw his team through. The next match at Jamaica saw him bat for 9 and quarter of an hour to score a double hundred that broke the will of the West Indians. His coach described later that portions of Waugh' s upper body,elbow, lower arm, wrist and hand were a patchwork quill of puce after the punishment it had endured at the hands of the pacemen.
Asked about the battering afterwards, he shrugged and said: “That's Test cricket. If you want to take up an easy sport. try netball.” Thats Steve Waugh for you.
As great a batsman he was, he was a great captain as well. The Australian team scaled new heights winning 16 Tests in a row and winning many more one day games. His legacy to Australian cricket is a team that is undisputably the best in the world
If at all any criticism is to be levelled at the man its the behaviour of his team during his tenure as captain. The boorish behaviour of his team was partly attributed to Steve Waugh and his well publicised campaign of "Mental Disintegration" of opponents even before they took the field. His comments before the match and the sledging that took place during the match was an unwelcome addition to cricket in the eyes of most. However, it seemed to pay dividends as Australia won series after series in every test playing nation with the exception of India. Waugh had often called India his final frontier. It was in India where the theory of "Mental Disintegration" and the subsequent capitulation of the opposing team came unstuck. Faced with an equally abrasive captain in Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly the Indians replied in kind in one of Test cricket's greatest series. In one memorable match at Eden Gardens the tide changed during the course of an unbelievable partnership and India never looked back. They had stopped Australia's winning streak at 16 and won the series 2-1.
For all of Waugh's great attributes on the cricket field it his off field demeanor that further enhance the worth of the man. He built a number of schools and houses for orphan children in India. He makes it a point to fly down regularly to oversee this work. His other charity works makes him a special human being. For all his toughness on the field he is indeed a soft man off it. His regular visits to cancer patients giving them heart and inspiration is the mark of a great man.
It is then not surprising that as the shadows lengthened at the Sydney Cricket Ground (his homeground) on 6th January 2004 and a legend crossed the boundary ropes a whole nation and a whole sporting fraternity rose as one to applaud him. The thirty odd thousand Australian fans had come waving red rags, similar to the one he had carried with him on the field for the major part of his career and the ever impassive face of Stephen Roger Waugh showed for the first and last time emotion. As his teammates took turns carrying him on their shoulders on a lap around his ground you could see hardened men cry and the outpouring of emotion across the length and breadth of a great cricketing nation as it stood to give one of its favourite sons a fitting farewell.
Goodbye Steve "Tugga" Waugh and thank you for all those memories
His statistics read 168 Tests played scoring 10,927 runs at an average of 51.06. However, to judge Steve by this is to not judge him at all. As C L R James, that remarkable Caribbean intellectual, posed the question in his book, Beyond the Boundary "What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?". Indeed school children are encouraged to play cricket for it was said it built character. It taught young boys what it means to fight and battle through personal problems. It taught young men the meaning of team spirit, camaraderie and most importantly the respect that had to be given to peers and opponents alike. If ever cricket and cricketers needed an idol here was one.