Cricketer of the Year, 1989

Steve Waugh

In the history of Somerset cricket, there has perhaps not been a more serious controversy than that which involved Viv Richards, Joel Garner and Ian Botham in the winter of 1986-87. Whatever the merits of their case, the feuding had to be stopped, the bad blood dissolved, and the West's worst dispute since the Monmouth rebellion laid to rest. In the summer of 1987 this was largely done when Martin Crowe batted as a highly impressive overseas player, and Somerset enjoyed a moderate yet substantial revival.

This progress continued until the morning of June 1, 1988. Crowe, after a long overnight drive from Old Trafford, where he had played another match-winning innings, woke up in Southampton to find that his back had given way. He had already hit two first-class centuries and Somerset's young, frail batting remained as dependent upon him as ever. This back trouble, involving stress fractures of the spine, ruled Crowe out for the rest of the season at almost exactly the time Botham was admitting to the same complaint. Somerset would have been in serious trouble if they had found themselves without a top overseas player; the whole controversy had, after all, turned upon Crowe and his future with the county. Most for fortunately for them, Stephen Waugh came instantly to their rescue.

Summoned from Smethwick, where he was acting as a professional in the Birmingham and District League, the young Australian drove to Southampton and arrived just before lunch on the first morning. Soon he was going in, at No. 7, to confront a semi-crisis. He made a hundred against Hampshire, 115 not out, and in the dressing-room afterwards asked in his drily humorous manner: "Do you reckon I might get a game at Bath next week?" Waugh was almost as keen to play county cricket as Somerset were to have him.

After taking over from Crowe, and before his premature exit to prepare for Australia's tour of Pakistan, Waugh passed 1,000 runs in eleven completed innings and finished second in the national batting averages with six hundreds. In his three previous games for Somerset, in 1987, he had scored two centuries, which gave him eight in 30 first-class innings for the county. Not even Crowe, or Richards, had achieved such a level of consistency. What is more, Waugh had made only two other hundreds in first-class cricket to that point, for New South Wales in 1985-86.

STEPHEN RODGER WAUGH was born in Sydney on June 2, 1965, in the western suburbs. He and his twin brother, Mark, were soon involved not only in cricket but most sports, and Stephen was selected for Australia's youth football team. In batting ability there was little to choose between them: Mark was the more stylish, Steve the more quietly competitive, while a younger brother, Dean, watched admiringly and was not without talent of his own. It was Steve who won an Esso Scholarship to play for Essex Second XI in 1985, when he hit a century for Ilford against Chingford off 28 balls. On returning to Australia he found opportunities awaiting him, even though he was only twenty. Dennis Lillee, Rod Marsh and Greg Chappell had retired together; a rebel touring party of Australians had been signed up for South Africa. After just nine matches for New South Wales, Waugh was pitched into the Test team on the grounds of promise alone, making his début against India at Melbourne in December.

In such a deep end, only a man of great self-possession and talent could have avoided sinking. There was no luxury of apprenticeship. He had immediately to learn to bat in Test matches, one-day internationals and day/night internationals - and how to bowl his well-varied medium-pace. "I wouldn't have had it any other way," says Waugh. At times, however, he must privately have envied his twin - and Stan McCabe, to whom Steve is compared - for not having had to play over 50 internationals by the age of 22.

Far from being embarrassed, Waugh developed during this crash-course an extraordinary sang-froid. The last few overs of a one-day international are dreaded by most bowlers; they fear they will turn out to be the clown more often than the king. For this job, Waugh volunteered. In Australia's successful World Cup campaign, he bowled the final over against India and ensured that his country won their opening match by 1 run. When Australia reached the semi-final in Lahore, Waugh turned an overflowing crowd to the silence of stone by taking 18 runs off his side's last over and presenting Australia with a match-winning total. In the final, when England wanted 19 off two overs, two slower balls from Waugh, followed by his dismissal of Phillip DeFreitas, extinguished their challenge.

Nevertheless, Waugh by then had not got round to fulfilling his principal function of scoring Test match hundreds for Australia, which is why he accepted so keenly the chance offered by Somerset. He had to form the habit of century-making, and by batting at No. 4 - not No. 6 as he had for his country - he was able to do so (Indeed, Somerset could not have given him greater scope as their batting was, without Crowe or him, beyond dispute the weakest in the Championship). Waugh hit two centuries during the Bath Festival and never looked like doing otherwise. His 161 against Kent at Canterbury helped to give Somerset a startling innings victory over the Championship leaders. In general he found English pitches agreeably similar to those at the Sydney Cricket Ground; in fact, the lower the better, for the later he can play.

"Steve relishes responsibility in a way which an Englishman of his age wouldn't," said his new county captain, Vic Marks. "He plays his one-day innings so that he is in for the last five overs, and he expects to bowl 'at the death'." Somerset, unsurprisingly, are eager for Waugh's return in 1990. By then they are expecting him to have succeeded Allan Border as the foremost Australian batsman of his generation.

© John Wisden & Co