Some cricketers are so hugely talented that they have greatness thrust upon them from the moment they begin their international career. Steve Waugh was not one of them. Several months into his career, Waugh was thought to be a moderately talented player - a gutsy middle-order batsman and a useful medium-pace bowler with a huge heart and excellent temperament. What he achieved in his 18 years in international cricket far exceeded those expectations, which is a huge credit to Waugh's skills and his resilience.
Greg Chappell, a national selector when Waugh made his Test debut, admits that Waugh wasn't ready for top-flight cricket when he was first selected, but by the time he finished, he was a run-machine in the mould of the finest batsmen to ever play the game, becoming only the third one to touch 10,000 Test runs, and finishing with an average of 51.06. His ODI stats pale slightly, but only when compared to his Test numbers. He was a member of two World Cup-winning teams, and saved his best for crunch occasions in both tournaments.
Just how consistent he became in the second half of his career can be gleaned from the fact that in nine of his last 11 years, his annual Test average exceeded 49, and in seven of those years it was more than 59. (Click here for Waugh's career summary in Tests.) However, he was much more than merely a batsman: as captain, he moulded Australia into a ruthless unit for whom winning became such a habit that they won a record 16 Tests on the trot. Under his leadership, Australia went from being a very good team to one of the all-time great ones.
As a batsman, his was a career of two parts. In his first seven years, his stats were strictly passable, with an average touching 36 in 46 games. His medium pace was a useful option, fetching him 46 wickets, but at a fairly high average. The only time his performances reached truly remarkable levels was in that famous 1989 Ashes, when he scored 506 at an astonishing average of 126.50; at one stage in the series he had scored 393 runs without being dismissed even once, racking up unbeaten knocks of 177 and 152 at Headingley and Lord's. Both those knocks came in huge wins which set the tone for an utterly dominant Australian performance through the series.
That series was widely expected to kickstart Waugh's Test career, but it didn't quite transpire that way, as the next three years were largely forgettable. That 1989 series was one of three instances - out of the 13 series he played before 1993 - when his series batting average exceeded 50. Exclude that Ashes high, and Waugh's average during this period was an uncomfortably low 29.64, with two centuries in 40 Tests. Not surprisingly, he even had to make way for his twin brother, Mark.
In 1993, another Ashes tour beckoned. Steve Waugh got another chance, he made it count, and then never looked back. His displays in 1993 were almost as good as four years ago - 416 runs at 83.20 - but what transpired thereafter was a huge contrast from what had happened four years back. There was no slump; in fact, Waugh used that as a launching pad to truly show his talent on the world stage, scoring runs in South Africa, Pakistan and West Indies, apart from doing well at home.
The watershed was the tour of the West Indies in 1995, a time when West Indies were still the best team in world cricket. In the third Test, on a trecherous surface in Port-of-Spain, Waugh refused to back down in the face of a fearsome onslaught by Curtly Ambrose, scoring an unbeaten 63 even as the entire team was bundled out for 128. That was to be the only half-century of the match, though West Indies ended up winning the match by nine wickets to level the series. In the last Test, in Kingston, Waugh played arguably his greatest Test innings, scoring 200 and helping Australia clinch a convincing win which sealed the series, and ended West Indies' reign as the best Test team. Waugh ended the series with a tally of 429 runs at an average of 107.25. The next-best for Australia was Mark Waugh, with 240 runs at 40, while the best performer for West Indies was Brian Lara, with 308 runs at 44.
Waugh got used to ODIs much faster, scoring an unbeaten 73 in his third innings and 81 in his sixth. The big difference between the first and second parts of Waugh's ODI career was the amount of bowling he did: till 1992 he bowled nearly seven overs per match and averaged close to a wicket per game; after 1992 he averaged only about three overs per game and took a wicket every three matches.
During his peak years in Tests - from the beginning of 1993 to the end of his career - Waugh had a staggering average of 56.88, which was next only to Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. After scoring only three centuries in his first 46 Tests, he scored 29 in his next 122. Of the 14 Man-of-the-Match awards he won in his career, 13 were during this period of his career. He was clearly a lesser force as a bowler, but that was a trade-off Australia would have happily accepted.
Throughout his Test career, Waugh relished the challenge of playing traditional rivals England. The two outstanding series in his early years came against them, in 1989 and in 1993. In all he scored 3200 runs in Tests against them, which, among all Australians, is next only to Don Bradman and Allan Border. Waugh's average of 58.18 against them is second only to Bradman's among those who scored at least 2000 runs against them. Of the 32 centuries he scored, ten were against England, including his first two. Fittingly, he signed off with a hundred too, scoring 102 in his last Test against them, in Sydney in January 2003.
Surprisingly, Waugh the batsman was far more effective against England in England than at home: in England, he averaged 74.22 in 22 Tests; in Australia, that average came down to 47.48 in 24 matches. His best Test against them also came in England, in 1997 at Old Trafford, when he scored 108 and 116 in a low-scoring game in which no other batsman scored a hundred, and only one made more than 55. More importantly, that performance completely swung the momentum of the series Australia's way - trailing 1-0 at the time, they levelled at Old Trafford and ultimately wrapped up the series 3-2.
England remained a favourite venue for him in one-day internationals too: in 25 ODIs in England he averaged 54.13, which is his highest in any country.
Through most of his Test career, Waugh batted at No.5 - 142 out of 260 innings came at that position, as did almost 62% of his total runs. His average of 56.28 is the highest among batsmen who scored at least 3000 runs at that position. And his aggregate is the highest too: Shivnarine Chanderpaul is next more than 2300 runs behind him.
Apart from No.5, Waugh also played plenty of times at No.6 - 79 innings, 3165 runs, at an average of 51.04. All those innings at Nos. 5 and 6 also meant Waugh batted lots of times with the lower-order batsmen - Nos. 8 to 11. In all he added 4065 runs with them in 161 partnerships, thus making him the only batsman to score more than 4000 runs with the last four batsmen.
Through much of the best part of his career, Waugh was a part of a very strong Australian side. It was a team that was very successful, and Waugh played his hand in those victories, averaging almost 70 in wins. Among batsmen with at least 4000 runs in wins, only three have a better average.
Waugh has also been a part of 86 Test triumphs, which is third in the all-time list, after Ricky Ponting and Shane Warne. In fact, the top eight players in the list are all Australians, which tells the story of their domination quite eloquently.
Forty-one of those 86 wins came during Waugh's captaincy, which makes him the second-most successful captain in terms of number of victories, after Ricky Ponting, who has 47. In terms of the win-loss ratio, though, Waugh is right on top: Australia lost only nine of the 57 matches in which he led, giving him a win-loss ratio of 4.55, which is the highest among those who captained in at least 25 matches. (Mike Brearley is next with 18 wins and four defeats.)
In almost all the tables listed above, Waugh is at or near the top of the pile. However, there was one area of his game that was surprisingly poor - his record in fourth innings of Tests. For someone who relished a challenge and enjoyed batting when the odds were most stacked against his team, Waugh's fourth-innings stats are surprisingly poor. Given Australia's domination during most of his playing days and his position in the line-up, he didn't need to bat in the last innings of a Test that often, but on the few occasions when he was required, he didn't do a lot. In 31 fourth innings, he scored a mere 613 runs at an average barely touching 25, and scored only two fifties. Among batsmen who've scored at least 500 fourth-innings runs - and there are 92 of them in this list - Waugh's average of 25.54 is - hold your breath - the poorest of the lot. In those 31 Tests, Australia lost 13, and in those games Waugh scored only 170 runs. In the 29 matches they won, his average was 30.33. For some reason, batting in the fourth innings was one challenge Waugh could never master.
His overall ODI numbers are significantly poorer than his Test stats, but there were several occasions when Waugh stamped his ruthless presence on games, with both bat and ball. Australia won two World Cups when Waugh was around, and on both occasions he played significant roles. In 1987 he played a bigger hand with the ball, nervelessly bowling the last over in tight run-chases twice: against India in Madras, against New Zealand in a shortened game in Indore (when New Zealand needed seven runs with four wickets in hand and managed only three). In the semi-final against Pakistan, he did his final-over trick with the bat, scoring 18 runs off Saleem Jaffer, which was exactly the margin of victory. In the final, Waugh's bowling again made a huge difference as England, needing 19 from the last two overs, managed only two runs off the penultimate one, bowled by Waugh.
In the 1999 World Cup, Waugh bowled only 18 overs in the entire tournament, but batting and his captaincy were immense. The stand-out performance of that tournament, and Waugh's best inings in ODIs, came in the Super Sixes match against South Africa, a game Australia had to win to qualify for the semi-finals. Needing 272 to win, Australia were struggling for 48 for 3 when Waugh scored a magnificent unbeaten 120 off 110 balls in a stunning display of controlled aggression under pressure.
Overall, Waugh's World Cup record was much better than his overall ODI stats: in 33 World Cup games he average 48.90 with the bat and 30.14 with the ball; he is also one of only four allrounders to score more than 500 runs and take more than 25 wickets in World Cup matches.