South Africa's battles against Steve Waugh

Thanks for the memories

Neil Manthorp gives a South African slant on the retirement of Steve Waugh

Neil Manthorp

January 6, 2004

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Neil Manthorp gives a South African slant on the retirement of Steve Waugh:

No more Waugh: South Africa can finally move on
© Getty Images

In all his great and glorious career, Stephen Waugh failed to provide a single happy memory for South African supporters. Even the one isolated occasion when victory could be celebrated, it was not of South Africa's making.

Other sporting icons have had their moments against South Africa, but they have also experienced the bitterness of defeat. David Campese, for example, may be the world's leading try-scorer in rugby union, but he only scored one against South Africa in some seven Tests.

And while we're on rugby, what about the supremely talented John Eales - did he have it all his own way against the Springboks? Mostly, but not in 1998 when South Africa won the Tri-Nations and equalled the world record of 18 consecutive international victories.

Every moment of triumph against Australia since South Africa returned from 21 years of isolation has, somehow, had nothing to do with Steve Waugh. Or rather, he had nothing to do with them. Where was he in the famous New Year's Test of 1994, when Fanie de Villiers bowled South Africa to a historic six-run win? He wasn't playing.

On South Africa's list of dramatic and hurtful losses, however, Waugh features like a rash. His breathtaking 120 not out in a do-or-die pool match at the 1999 World Cup still hurts South Africans today, and the wound shows few signs of healing. But what hurt more than any individual innings were the labels he handed out. When he pasted the one marked "chokers" across South African foreheads the anger he created came close to paralysing his opponents. Which was, of course, exactly how he planned it.

For the last seven or eight years South Africa's finest cricket brains have been working overtime trying to figure out whether we are indeed chokers. What is a choke, anyway? Whatever it is, it became firmly entrenched under South Africa's cricketing skin, and only with Mr Waugh's passing into retirement will we be able to move on.

A generation of wonderful cricketers has already gone by in this country without knowing what it feels like to beat Australia in a series (does this sound familiar, England?). The after-effects of Waugh will probably determine the likelihood of Kallis, Gibbs, Boucher, Ntini and Pollock joining Kepler Wessels, Brian McMillan, Jonty Rhodes, Dave Richardson and Andrew Hudson on the "never-been-there didn't-get-the-T-shirt" sidelines.

As for what Waugh called his mental-disintegration tactics, most South Africans coped pretty well, although there were times when he got it badly wrong - in our humble opinion. If it is the Waugh way to destroy a young man's career with deeply personal (however "clever") chirps then he is welcome to keep it. But it wasn't necessary, because the victims now plodding their sensitive trail in domestic cricket were never, ever good enough to pose a threat anyway.

No matter. His mistakes were small, and will be quickly forgotten. In South Africa Steve Waugh will be remembered as the greatest opponent we ever faced. Tougher, even, than that Allan Border.

In moments of acidic desperation, we can call upon one moment of triumph when Australia didn't get its own way - and it even led to Waugh's sacking as captain of the one-day team.

It was the final match of the one-day series Down Under in 2001. Australia needed to beat South Africa and collect a bonus point at the WACA. They played an extra batsman in Darren Lehmann and, at the halfway point, things looked good with Australia posting 283 for 7.

Then, horror of horrors, South Africa downgraded their target to ensure they did not lose badly enough to give the Aussies the point that would have seen them make the final. Some Australians called it gutless, to accept defeat and gift a place in the finals to New Zealand. But for the South Africans it was regarded as just the kind of clever move Steve Waugh would have been proud of (didn't something similar happen against West Indies in the 1999 World Cup?). But although South Africa thrashed New Zealand in the final there was still the nagging memory that Australia had beaten SA in three of the four pool matches. Yes, it did feel hollow. Especially when Waugh was sacked a few weeks later.

No matter. When Stephen Waugh walks onto the SCG for the last time, and when he walks out to bat, and when he walks off the field for the last time, all South Africans will be cheering - and many will have a tear in their eye. Not because we're glad to see the back of him, but because it will be time to admit that he was better than us. And only now can we look back at a decade of competition against him and start appreciating the memories.

Neil Manthorp is a partner with the MWP Sport agency in South Africa. Round The World, from a collection of different writers worldwide, will be appearing here every Tuesday from now on.

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Neil Manthorp Neil Manthorp is a writer and broadcaster based in Cape Town where he started the independent sports news agency MWP Media in 1992. He has covered more than 40 tours and 120 Test matches since South Africa's return to international cricket and Zimbabwe's elevation to Test status. A regular commentator for SABC radio, Neil has also joined the host radio teams in West Indies, New Zealand, Australia and England - where he preferred Test Match Special's pork pies to their chocolate cake. He recently completed Gary Kirsten's biography.
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