Cricket’s Commanders-in-chief: Steve Waugh
Waugh took the throne for the first time when he led the Australian side in an ODI in 1997, after Mark Taylor was unceremoniously dropped from the side. Under his captaincy, Australia started preparing a stable team for the 1999 World Cup. A captain’s dexterity is generally judged by his fielding and bowling decisions. But Waugh was known for shuffling the batting order to meet the situation’s demand. Whether it be promoting Gilchrist to open the innings or sending a middle-order batsman down the order, his decisions were always astute.
A goal-oriented captain, he adopted the means best suited for his country, irrespective of the furore they created. A notable instance happened during 1999 World Cup. In order to improve Australia’s chances of qualifying for the “Super Six Stage”, Waugh and Bevan deliberately batted at a slower pace. This affected NRR which, when coupled with further permutations of results, would result in elimination of either New Zealand or West Indies, keeping Australia safe. These tactics were forgiven as soon as Australia lifted the World Cup under Waugh’s leadership.
Such instances showed that Waugh was a pro-active captain and not a reactive one.
“You’ve just dropped the World Cup”, Waugh said to Gibbs in the do-or-die match for Australia against SAF during the last match of the Super Six stage. A master of mind games, he made the opposition agonize over their mistakes. This was the match when Waugh played a captain’s innings, scoring 120* which enabled Australia to chase down 271 and qualify for the semi-finals. His 56 was instrumental in the famous semi-final between Australia and RSA. Waugh led Australia to their second World Cup win.
Like Waugh said, “All good things must come to an end”, his stint as the ODI captain ended in 2002 following the failure in the VB series. Before this, Waugh had already led Australia to 67 wins in 106 matches with a win percentage of 65.23.
Steve Waugh is the most successful Test skipper for Australia. Waugh led Australia to 41 wins in just 57 games. He is best remembered for leading the side in 15 matches out of their 16 consecutive Test wins, a world record which still stands today. Though his form with the bat regularly came under scrutiny, his position as the captain was never questioned until the very end of his career. Many critics opine that Waugh had the star-studded team created by Allan Border and Mark Taylor at his disposal. But the teams under Border and Taylor lacked the ‘killer instinct’. It was Waugh who prioritized wins above all. Waugh inculcated the winning attitude in the side. As a captain, he always attacked the opposition’s weakness. At the same time, he made his team work hard to overcome their weaknesses and employed his strengths with perfection.
Leading a pack of stars in never easy. Waugh created a team which was next to invincible. Waugh emphasized the role of tail-enders with the bat. Under his leadership, the contributions from the lower order steadily increased which made a huge difference in Test matches.
A master of mind games, Waugh regularly hit the headlines before the start of any series. During the fag end of his career, he called the tour to India ‘The Final Frontier’. India remains the only country where Waugh couldn’t win a Test series as a captain.
A transformational leader, Waugh created a platform on which Australia dominated under the captaincy of Ricky Ponting. In Waugh’s words, “You’ve got to have dreams to keep you going”, can be easily accepted as the motto of his leadership. Waugh picked up bits and pieces, consolidated them and made a whipping stick which spanked the world of cricket for a decade.
Waugh’s contribution as a captain, not only to Australia but to the cricket universe, will remain immortal in the pages of history.Published 17 Feb 2013, 21:25 IST