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In his Down Under View, Lynn McConnell pays his tribute to Steve Waugh
December 2, 2003
Steve Waugh: the greatest influence in modern-day cricket
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Things must be getting a little jittery up in the Channel 9 commentary box. Richie Benaud, the chairman, has said that he will finish up soon, still in a position to regard himself as the greatest exponent of commentary on television. But the other longtime members of the panel - Bill Lawry, Tony Greig and Ian Chappell - are not getting any younger either.
Steve Waugh's retirement has opened up new possibilities for the commentary box, which already has Mark Taylor, Ian Healy, Simon O'Donnell and, occasionally, Shane Warne on its cast list. Is the changing of the guard going to be even greater than we might have expected? Certainly in another five years' time it is reasonable to imagine a very different look to the Australian commentary team.
So much has already been written about Waugh, not only in the days since he announced his retirement, but since his Australian side started to carry all before it. It is a given that he has been probably the greatest influence in the game of the modern generation. Warne, Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Muttiah Muralitharan have been up there as well thanks to their playing skills, but Waugh has been a notch above them because of all that he brings to the game in terms of attitude, leadership and understanding.
New Zealanders may have had cause to be frustrated with him over the years, probably never as much as in that third Test at Perth in 2001-02 when he was given not out in the second innings as they were seemingly en route to what would have been an exciting victory. But it was typical of Waugh that he did everything to deny New Zealand their chance.
Yet he would have also enjoyed the fact that his opposing captain, Stephen Fleming, had created a situation straight out of the Waugh textbook. He established a powerful first innings, and kept the pressure on Australia right until the end. That Fleming should have proven so adept would not have been a surprise to Waugh: after all he had been a big influence on Fleming's development. And given the suspicion that New Zealanders have had toward Australian cricket, for the way they ignored the game on the other side of the Tasman Sea for so long, that has to be another plaudit to add to those already heaped on Waugh.
But all cricketers should revel in the fact that Waugh has done so much to bring out an appreciation of the game's history. It was such an old idea it was almost new. Of course, it wasn't, but it was clever to invoke the past as a means of pride and inspiration to his already all-conquering side. He turned the wheel around full circle much more quickly than it had been moving.
History is part of cricket, one of its greatest elements. Yet it is so often downplayed or, worse still, ignored. Waugh has been around long enough to appreciate the worth of some of the records which have come, and still may come, his way before retirement. By so doing he has ensured that his side's feats will be duly placed among the game's performance records.
It has also proved the worth of the older hand. Too often players with so much to offer are discarded before they are ready to go. Time gives them an appreciation that comes only with experience. Waugh has shown that history is relevant, and that may yet be his greatest gift to the game.
New Zealanders, who have heard their All Black rugby coach say that history is irrelevant in the modern area, will appreciate the significance of what Waugh has done. For as they contemplate another failed World Cup campaign, and all the baggage that follows it, they will understand that if, as John Mitchell said, history is irrelevant, then so too is All Black tradition.
New Zealand rugby may well be set to seek a Messiah with a Waugh-like view to find the path back to rugby righteousness. In the meantime, as Fleming becomes the holder of the mantle of the most experienced current captain in Test cricket, it will be interesting to see how he handles the legacy left by Waugh. Cricket's history is not so rich in New Zealand, in terms of results anyway, but there is enough for Fleming still to make his own huge impression in the game.
The standard has been set by Steve Waugh, and his influence may run for some time yet. He has been a gift to the game, and New Zealanders should join in saluting his outstanding achievements.
Lynn McConnell is editor of Wisden Cricinfo in New Zealand. His Down Under View will appear every Tuesday.
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