Cricket World Cup History: Mark Waugh, the epitome of elegance
If ever there was a batsman whom one would have gone miles out of the way to watch, it would have to be Mark Waugh. The epitome of elegance, his batting was about timing, placement and sheer skill. He never seemed to hit the ball, just caress it, like a loving tap on the bottom of a cute child. Not that he could not make big hits; he was capable of smacking the ball a long, long way into the stands. But his hallmark was a silken smooth touch, almost casual, making batting look so very easy.
Twin Steve preceded Mark into the Australian side and it was only in the 1992 World Cup at home that he first appeared in the tournament. Cricket can be a strange game, and the fifth World Cup was an unhappy one for the reigning champions. Many of the Australian players did not perform well, and for Mark Waugh, it was a modest showing amid all the disappointment.
As New Zealand upstaged Australia in the opening fixture, Mark Waugh made an undistinguished beginning, and then sat out three matches. He was back in the game against Sri Lanka and played himself into some degree of form as his side registered an easy win. He played another couple of cameos, but in between came a high point.
In their quest to build up a big score off the Zimbabwe bowling, Australia were 144 for four when Mark was joined by Steve Waugh. And the twins flayed the bowlers in a memorable display. They scored at nearly 10 runs an over, smashing 113 off just 69 deliveries. The sweet rhythm of their run-getting rose to a crescendo when they took just 17 balls to score the half-century between 200 and 250. Steve left at 257 but Mark remained unbeaten with 66 off a mere 39 balls with 5 fours and 2 sixes, a splendid maiden half-century in the World Cup. Thereafter Zimbabwe were never in the game, and Mark Waugh snapped up two smart catches at first slip to cap a satisfying performance.
It was in 1996 that Mark Waugh really came into his own. He enchanted the vast, delirious crowds in India with his delightful strokeplay. After the forfeited match against Sri Lanka, the Aussies played first-timers Kenya in the south-eastern port city of Visakhapatnam. The amazing twins again got into the act, belting the hapless innocents from Africa all over the ground. The early reverses were quickly put behind as the Waughs turned it into a one-sided encounter. Mark played his exquisite drives, cuts, pulls and sweeps, and those oh-so-delectable flicks off his pads, to a nicety. A flurry of strokes took him to his fifty, and the century partnership was raised off 18.1 overs.
The siblings continued their splendid association in contrasting styles, Steve the efficient, functional half, and Mark in his artistic, endearing role, to complete a pretty picture. Mark sailed effortlessly to his century off just 109 balls in 137 minutes of the most elegant batting possible. The third-wicket partnership crossed the double-century figure, bettering the World Cup all-wicket record of 195 between the Caribbean duo of Gordon Greenidge and Larry Gomes against Zimbabwe in 1983.
Mark played a weary shot to be caught for 130 from just 128 deliveries, the top-score for Australia in the showpiece event. He hit 14 fours and a six in his enthralling display. The twin act realised 207 runs off just 193 balls to re-write the World Cup scorebooks. This mark was to remain until Rahul Dravid erased their third-wicket record in tandem with Sachin Tendulkar and then set the bar higher for any wicket in alliance with Sourav Ganguly, in 1999.
Back in 1996, local idol Tendulkar was poised to delight his legion of fans in his principality of Mumbai. Mark Waugh, already in prime form, stole the limelight. With skipper Mark Taylor he put on 103 for the first wicket in 21.5 overs. After Taylor’s departure, it was Waugh all the way. He smashed Venkatapathy Raju for two sixes before pulling Javagal Srinath for a third one. He struck eight fours besides, as he became the first to score two consecutive centuries in the World Cup. When he was run out for a breathtaking 126 off 135 deliveries he had enchanted all who were lucky enough to witness the epic.
All of Tendulkar’s skills could not take away the limelight from Mark Waugh on this day as he bagged his second Man-of-the-Match award in a row.
Waugh was unstoppable as Zimbabwe discovered to their chagrin. Faced with a meagre target of 155, he led Australia to an effortless win. He hit a charming unbeaten 76 off 109 balls with 10 boundaries, bringing up victory in 36 overs. He raised 92 with Taylor, and another 58 for the second wicket with Ricky Ponting.
With the West Indies desperate to salvage a place in the next round, the Aussies were put in the shade for once. Mark Waugh was subdued, scoring 30 off 62 balls and sharing a 62-run stand with Ponting. Even his three wickets for 38 off 10 overs with his gentle off-spin was not enough to stop the indignant West Indians.
But by now Australia had coasted to the quarter-finals. The confrontation here was with Antipodean kid brother, New Zealand, and for a large part of the game, it seemed that the big boys might be upstaged - until Mark Waugh took over. Faced with a huge Kiwi score of 286 in extremely humid conditions, albeit on a batsman’s paradise of a wicket, the Aussies were under immense pressure. As Mark Waugh played serenely, his partners deserted him steadily. Taylor left early, Ponting stayed on to add 65, and Shane Warne played a breezy knock befitting his role of a pinch-hitter.
It was when twin Steve joined Mark Waugh that the team began looking somewhat secure. They brought all their experience into play as they went about compiling runs in a reassuring manner. They added 86 for the fourth wicket in 18 overs. By then Mark had achieved the unique distinction of scoring three centuries in a single World Cup. Having already suffered a bout of cramps, he finally departed for 110, leaving Steve and Stuart Law to accomplish the task. He had faced just 112 deliveries, stroking 6 boundaries and 2 sixes. Mark’s knock was top-drawer stuff and left no one in any doubt that he would win his third Man-of-the-Match award in this tournament.
Mark Waugh also broke the record for the highest aggregate in a single World Cup, notching up 472 runs from 5 innings, just ahead of Graham Gooch’s 471 in eight outings in 1987. He was surpassed by the end of the tournament by Tendulkar, but Waugh had already left his stamp on the competition. His unprecedented run of scores so far were 130, 126, 76 not out, 30 and 110. He simply loved the Indian grounds: “Over here the wickets are so good and the outfield so fast, you don’t really need to go for big shots. Just stroke the ball and hit it in the gaps and it goes for fours anyway. Just really bat positively. No big hits, just pick the balls to hit for fours.”
He then left centre-stage, being trapped leg-before by Curtly Ambrose off the second ball of a humdinger of a semi-final at Mohali where Australia just squeaked through. Waugh was unable to regain the magical touch in the final as the inspired Sri Lankans walked away with the honours. In a way that summed up Mark Waugh, simply breathtaking on his day, but faltering sometimes when it mattered.
Australia had a soft opening match in 1999 as they faced rookies Scotland. Waugh had a new partner, Adam Gilchrist, who did not stage a successful World Cup debut. But Ponting again joined Waugh in an 84-run second-wicket partnership. There was no rush and Waugh took his time to score 67 off 114 balls with 5 fours. It was perhaps the easiest Man-of-the-Match award that he ever won.
Thereafter the team stumbled awhile. Having lost to New Zealand, they faced Pakistan’s formidable total of 275. Waugh forged yet another alliance with Ponting, putting on 91 for the second wicket. There was a mini collapse after Waugh fell for 41 off 49 balls with 6 fours. Eventually, Australia lost by 10 runs.
Mark Waugh and Gilchrist put up their first partnership of substance in the World Cup when they knocked 98 runs off the Bangladesh bowling. Waugh played a relatively subdued role, scoring 33.
Then Ambrose dismissed him cheaply again, even though the West Indies were trounced easily this time.
It did not take long for Waugh to be back at his best. He attacked the Indian bowling in the first super-six match, putting on 97 with Gilchrist, and then another 60 with Ponting. By the time Waugh holed out, Australia were on their way to a big total. He scored 83 off 99 balls with a six and 8 fours.
Facing the Zimbabwean attack next, Waugh became the first non-Indian to score a century in this World Cup - after Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid (two), Sachin Tendulkar and Ajay Jadeja - as he carved out a vintage 104 from 120 deliveries with 13 hits to the fence. Ponting was now a regular aide, and he helped put on 56. After Darren Lehmann retired, it was Steve Waugh’s turn to renew his ties at the crease with Mark. The siblings added 129 this time.
There were failures for Mark Waugh in the two close encounters with South Africa in the run-up to the final, though he had a hand in Allan Donald's eventual run out that resulted in the heart-stopping tie in the penultimate stage.
Pakistan set the lowest-ever target in a World Cup final. Waugh stayed till the end to ensure that his side did not falter at the last post for the second time running. His stand with Gilchrist was worth 75, after which the team cruised towards the big prize. He returned unbeaten with 37 to the delight of his teammates on the Lord’s balcony.
After the heartbreak of 1996, this was a sweet victory and Mark Waugh played his part in it as stylishly as ever. One of only eight batsmen to notch up 1000 runs in the World Cup with an average above 50, he scored rapidly too, as his strike-rate of 83.04 testifies.
Observers have often bemoaned that he was not as consistent as a batsman of his class should have been. That may be right, but you could not find too many batsmen who were so delightful to watch. Many cricketing cliches came to mind while watching Mark Waugh at the crease. His batting was poetry in motion; that his bat gracefully striking the ball was music to the ears; that one would go miles to see his elegant strokeplay. But one thing is certain: you cannot teach anyone to bat like Mark Waugh. Either you have the ability to play as late as he did - letting the ball find the bat rather than the other way round - or you don’t. Only the rare ones do.
Mark Waugh’s World Cup batting and fielding record:
Matches: 22, Highest Score: 130, Runs: 1004, Average: 52.84, Strike-rate: 83.04, Hundreds: 4, Fifties: 4, Catches: 11