Steve Waugh retires November 26, 2003

The most influential man of the last decade

Stevev Lynch on the retirement of Steve Waugh, the most influential cricketer of the last decade
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Steve Waugh: so many career highlights
© AFP

Waugh declares (well, we might as well be the first to say it). It's official: nothing lasts for ever. For as long as most people can remember, Australian batting wobbles have been stabilised by an unprepossessing man in a battered baggy green cap (or matt-green helmet). Steve Waugh wasn't a stylist, like his twin Mark, or a battering ram, like Matthew Hayden, but he was astonishingly effective in nearly 20 years of international cricket.

And now, at 38, Waugh has announced that the forthcoming series against India will be his last. His timing - often his strongest suit, as a succession of perspiring bowlers will testify - means that, barring accidents, he will sign off at his beloved Sydney Cricket Ground, where his dad took him as a boy (and where he was once sconed by a meat-pie while watching a day/nighter from the Hill). It will be quite a sendoff, if it's anything like his last Test at the SCG, when he stopped the whole of Australia in its tracks - and even persuaded Channel 9 to delay its usually immovable six o'clock news - with that last-ball-of-the-day century against England.

Waugh also knows that his Australian side are hot favourites to polish off India, so he should go out on a high. He's decided not to try to remove the only medium-sized blot from his record, that 2-1 defeat in India at the start of 2001. Australia are due to go to India next October, but that would have meant him padding up for another season. We'll probably never know whether the selectors had a quiet word and explained their plans for 2004 and after - unless Waugh's next blockbuster (his regular diaries have already made him one of Australia's best-selling authors) spills the beans, of course.

Waugh will, in all probability, bow out with a Test average of over 50, always the benchmark of true greatness. His signature shot, the shovelled drive, is his alone: there's also the rasping cut, hopping onto the back foot. But even more than that, it will be Waugh's eyes, cold, compressed and calculating, that will burn longest in the memory.

There have been so many career highlights. World Cup wins in 1987 and 1999 - and, if Waugh had had his way, another in 2003: few people jettisoned by a one-day side on age grounds have tried so ferociously to reverse the ageing process and get back in. There was that nose-to-navel "discussion" with Curtly Ambrose in a Test in the West Indies. And lots and lots of runs against England over the years. In his last Test in England, at The Oval in 2001, Waugh shouldn't really have played - he had torn a leg muscle badly at Trent Bridge, and the hurried healing process brought on a dangerous bout of DVT when the team eventually flew home. But Waugh did play at The Oval, in a move seen by some as sticking his tongue out at some of the England players who had dropped out with less-serious injuries earlier in the series. Early on Waugh strained the injured leg again, but he just gritted his teeth and carried on. Oh, and finished up with 157 not out ...

He will retire with a phenomenal captaincy record - he's won 40 of his 53 Tests in charge already, an unmatched number of victories. He was handed a pretty useful line-up by his predecessor, Mark Taylor, but nonetheless under Waugh the team underwent a further transformation: they lost less, drew less, won even more, and scored even faster than before. That's why, although Waugh might rank behind Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara as batsmen pure and simple, when you add in the captaincy and the character you come up with the most influential cricketer of the last decade.

Steven Lynch is editor of Wisden Cricinfo.