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February 12, 1999


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This is your captain speaking!

Harsha Bhogle

So Steve Waugh is to be Australia’s new cricket captain. There is no surprise there, and that is just as it should be. Like a kingdom knows its next ruler, a country should know who its next cricket captain is going to be. You can’t slip him in from backstage. Surprise, in a situation like this, is always accompanied by a shortage of dignity.

You can throw a new man in. You can’t throw a new captain in.

Australia couldn’t have looked at a better man, and it is an indicator of the strength they possess that after losing a man who I believe was one of the two best captains in the last two decades, they have a personality like Steve Waugh to fall back on.

Waugh is quintessentially Australian. He’s a fighter, and they love such men there. But he takes over from a man whom all of Australia fell in love with. They thought he defined the art of captaincy and at least for the first year, anything Waugh does will be weighed against the best of Taylor. Not the worst of Taylor but his best -- for when a loved man retires, his defeats retire with him. And that will not be easy for Waugh, because winning has become par for the course and a team cannot do more than win.

Taylor was luckier. He inherited a great side, but one that was more defensive than attacking. He inherited Shane Warne when his curve was rising, and he did not have to tell his team to stop losing. Allan Border had done that. That is why Dean Jones told me recently. “AB was God, he created the team. Mark is a prophet, he only carries the message.”

Still, it was a message that was carried brilliantly, and so Waugh’s best bet will lie in not rocking the cradle; in not shifting gears. He still has a very good side at his command, but he might just feel the odd shortfall when he analsyses his bowling options. Warne might just have plateaued, MacGill is exciting but erratic and there is little high quality support for Glenn McGrath, who is one of the great cricketers of the nineties. An injury to him would be a nightmare for Waugh.

But Waugh is respected and admired, and those are qualities that a leader hopes his men see in him. He has waded into difficult situations and he has conquered them; not through the effortlessness of genius but by squabbling and fighting for every run and every ball. He has been the soldier, not the pilot, and so he has qualities that his teammates can relate to.

He may not be as forthcoming with his views to the media as Taylor was, and he may not emerge as generous in defeat. But he is not as sullen as the world makes him out to be, and he has interests beyond the game; an aspect whose importance escapes so many young men. He has a great feel for the history of the game, and he may actually emerge as a traditionalist in much the same way Taylor did. He is a very good traveller and before the Australians came to India last February, had a little talk to the team on what to expect; on the need to overcome rather than complain.

He is that kind of person.

The pressure on him will be enormous, and we might just see a Taylor-like situation emerging where Waugh remains captain of the Test team and relinquishes the one-day job after a while. He is clearly a better Test batsman than one-day batsman today, and since he stopped bowling, he can no longer claim the all-rounder’s job in the team. A spate of recent injuries must leave him suspect in the shorter form of the game, where he really needs to bat no lower than number four.

It might also be part of Australia’s strategy of prolonging Test careers. Mark Taylor owed his last two years to being away from one-day cricket, and Ian Healy thinks he will go on for much longer than he had imagined. It is a strategy that is only really possible in Australia and South Africa, for on the sub-continent we play too little Test cricket for someone to be a specialist and in England, they are only just realising the need to play one-day cricket.

Waugh will also continue the era of stability in Australian cricket. Between them, Border and Taylor led the side for 14 years and Waugh looks good for another two or three at least. Unless those dodgy hamstrings strangle him.

I think he will fight them.

Harsha Bhogle

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