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The terrorist

Steve Waugh: Captain of the year

Steve Waugh's captaincy, like his batting, has grown from unpromising beginnings. Four years ago, when he was Australia's one-day captain only, Melbourne's leading newspaper, The Age, published an article by some idiot arguing that the selectors, while right to split the captaincy, had picked the wrong man to run the one-day side. Waugh was too old, too set in his ways; Hansie Cronje was running rings around him. I remember it well. I was that idiot.

By the end of that tournament, Waugh had bounced back and shown two of his defining strengths: the ability to learn, and the ability to turn it on when it mattered. South Africa duly choked. Eighteen months later, his team won the World Cup - having again started like a teenage party. Even then, Waugh's genius didn't seem to be of the tactical variety. He drove Australia forward by force of will, and by making that great hundred at Headingley as South Africa choked again. He was just a leader by example. Wasn't he?

He was, but he isn't any more. The first sign that he had changed came on October 23, 1999, when Australia were in Zimbabwe. In a one-dayer at Harare, Zimbabwe collapsed early on to Damien Fleming. By the time the tailenders came in, Waugh had all nine of his fielders in an arc next to Adam Gilchrist. There was no telling where the slips ended and the gullies began.

The press were not sure what to make of it. Some thought he was taking the mickey, others detected arrogance. News agency AFP was so taken aback, it gave the credit to his brother: "With Zimbabwe humiliated, captain Mark Waugh showed either his disdain or a sharp sense of fun by forming a ring of nine slips and gullies for the tailenders." The incident made a good picture, as Steve Waugh, who takes pictures himself and likes to chat to photographers, was no doubt aware. But it was soon forgotten as he went back to doing things more or less normally. Until June 14 this year. Australia were playing England in a day-nighter in Manchester. The pitch and the air were both damp. Australia slumped to 27 for 3 before recovering to 200-odd; you can guess who top-scored with a gritty 64. England's innings was delayed by rain, which freshened up the pitch even more. In case it rained again, Waugh made sure McGrath and Gillespie were fully armed - with four slips and two gullies. It was common sense. But sometimes in cricket, especially one-day cricket, that's not common at all.

England were soon 40 for 6. They lost every game in that series, and the first three Tests too. In one ruthless hour in the Old Trafford twilight, Steve Waugh shaped the whole summer. Mate, it was brilliant.