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Mark Waugh was far better than his Test average would suggest

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Let’s start with the stats – let’s get most of them out of the way from the start.

More than 8,000 runs in both Test and one day cricket – one of only two Australians to achieve this double. He retired as Australia’s highest run scorer in one day cricket and our third highest in Test cricket.

He was the sixth Australian to make 20 Test tons and retired with the most international centuries by any Australian, since surpassed by only three (Ricky Ponting, Matt Hayden and Dave Warner).

Of his 20 Test tons, 15 were in winning causes, only one when losing and this was a dead rubber anyway. Four were in draws, but none of these were dead rubbers – in fact three of them enabled Australia to turn a series provisional lead into an uncatchable lead, and therefore immediate series win, while the fourth ensured the series was not lost.

Only five of his Test tons were in dead rubbers, and I shall return to examine these later for a little context. 11 of his 20 Test tons were in non-dead rubbers that were won and four of these sealed a series win.

All in all, seven of his 20 Test tons were in a Test that sealed a series win. I will discuss his limited overs performances a little later on.

I have deliberately left his Test average until the last of the stats: 41.8. I left it until last because it is far and away the least significant of his stats.

Mike Atherton averaged only four runs less, as did Jeremy Coney, but neither could hold a candle to him. Atherton could perhaps sit in the same parish, but probably not in the same church, and certainly not on the same pew.

Atherton, while a very gutsy opener, and a genuinely very good batsman, played only one innings that can be termed ‘great’ – his epic 185 not out to save an unsaveable Test in South Africa against a rampant Allan Donald and company.

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Shane Warne celebrates with Steve and Mark Waugh

Australia’s 1999 World Cup win was set up by a blistering start in the final against Pakistan. (Photo by Neal Simpson/EMPICS via Getty Images)

Nassar Hussein is a similar story: average of 40.4 but really only one genuinely great innings, his 207 at Edgbaston to kick off the 1997 Ashes, and the only Ashes Test England won for eight straight series when the destiny of the Ashes was still undecided.

Then there is Mudassor Nazar. He averaged only three runs less than Mark Waugh, but his average is propped up by one series when he made four tons and over 700 runs at home against a weak Indian attack, and two of those four tons were after the series had already been won, and both were in tame draws.

Take out that series and Mudassor’s average drops to 32 and his other 70 Tests saw only six centuries. I could list a multitude of players who could match, or almost match Mark Waugh’s average, but very few of them could even come close to matching his impact – including the four I have mentioned.

Mark Waugh made runs when it mattered against the strongest attacks of his time – and they were very strong attacks indeed: the West Indies, Pakistan and South Africa. He also made runs when it mattered in Ashes battles, always the pinnacle of all Test matches for Australian players, irrespective of England’s strength – and they had some more than decent bowlers in Waugh’s time in any case, Darren Gough and Dean Headley for example.

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From the moment he arrived at the crease for his debut Test innings, with Australia in trouble at 4 for 104, and then slumping to 5 for 124, Mark Waugh’s trade mark was to play effortlessly, and gracefully, and brilliantly to get Australia out of trouble to seal a series win.

This match was eventually drawn, but Australia led 2-0 going into it with only one still to play after it. He had scored 95 in the post tea session on that first day before his skipper Allan Border insisted the batsmen at the wicket accept the umpire’s offer of bad light.

In Australia’s next assignment, a five-test series in the Caribbean, Mark Waugh topped the aggregates and averages for his team against Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Patrick Patterson and Courtney Walsh to the tune of 367 runs at 61.

He made 64 and 71 in the first two Tests, which were drawn and lost, before his brilliant century in the final Test enabled Australia to win their first Test match victory in the West Indies since before the World Series revolution way back in the 1970s.

It was certainly a dead rubber, but, as noted, he had made runs earlier in the series and this win laid the foundation for a much more competitive bout when the West Indies returned to our shores 18 months later, and of course our eventual triumph back there in 1995.

Mark Waugh’s batting would be instrumental in both of these aforementioned follow up Frank Worrell Trophy home-and-away series.

In the second Test of the 1992-93 series, in Melbourne, the score was 4 for 115 when his skipper Allan Border joined him. They put on 204, and Border and Mark Waugh’s centuries were crucial in Australia winning their first non-dead rubber Test against the mighty West Indies for five series.

In the first Test in Brisbane, which Australia should have won, he had made 39 and 60, sharing excellent partnerships with David Boon in both innings, Australia’s rock of the early 1990s. A year later, the two would surpass the Chappell brothers’ Australian record of six century partnerships in Test matches.

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Most people rate Mark Waugh’s 126 in Kingston in 1995 and his 116 in Port Elizabeth in 1997 as his two greatest performances in Tests, but there is a much less remembered third effort which, for mine, rates just as highly: I am talking about his 117 in Karachi in late 1998.

Mark Waugh from Australia

Mark Waugh from Australia celebrates. DIGITAL IMAGE Mandatory Credit: Sean Garnsworthy/Getty Images

Not having won a series in Pakistan for 39 years, and leading the current series there 1-0, Waugh entered the second innings fray of the deciding third Test at 2 down, and leading by only 163 to replace his skipper, Mark Taylor. The only other half century maker of the innings, Justin Langer, left him with the lead extended only as far as 180. Wasim Akram and Shoaib Akhtar were right in their element, and there was also debutante Shahid Afridi to negotiate, and he had run rings around Australia in the first innings with 5 for 52. His brother Steve made only 28, Darren Lehmann 26, while first innings second top scorer Ian Healy perished for just 3. Gavin Robertson stayed with him long enough to enable him to reach an incredible century, in heat and humidity stifling enough to cause Mark Waugh to remove his helmet in favour of a floppy hat for only the third time in his international career. By the time he was 7th out, the lead was 385, and a series win was assured – it was only now a question of when Mark Taylor would declare.

Probably the only conservative moment of his captaincy career, Taylor opted to bat on until bowled out, but Australia should still have won the series 2-0, since they had Pakistan 4 down for only 70 odd at lunch on the third day. However, a stubborn partnership in the middle session meant they had to settle for 1-0, but it didn’t really matter.

Only six months earlier, Mark Waugh had made his highest Test score, an unbeaten 153 to propel Australia to it’s first Test match victory in India for 28 years. Like Antigua 1991, it was a dead rubber, but it went a long way towards ensuring Australia’s near success in India three years later, and then eventual success in late 2004. Even though Australia heartbreakingly lost the deciding Test in 2001 by a mere two wickets, no blame can be attached to Mark who made 70 and 57, more runs in the game for Australia by anyone bar Matthew Hayden.

In January 1999, Australia had already wrapped up the Ashes, but a dismal collapse a few days earlier in Melbourne had left the door open for England to square the series. Step forward Mark Waugh to score a typically elegant century on the first day, and of course the match and series was won. And let’s also not forget the 1997-98 home series against South Africa.

After the visitors had wriggled free with a draw in the first Test in Melbourne, Mark, in partnership with Steve (who made 85), weathered a fearful storm from Allan Donald to make a typically brilliant even 100 to give Shane Warne plenty of runs to weave his magic.

Then in the third and final test, he made that epic unbeaten ton to ensure a draw, in a game Australia could not win, to ensure the series lead was preserved. In fact back in early 1994, Mark had also made an unbeaten 113 on the final day to ensure our first series in the Veldt in 24 years was not lost.

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Also worth mentioning is the 1996-97 home series against the West Indies. With Messrs Ambrose, Walsh and Bishop out to avenge the 1995 defeat, Mark topped the aggregates for both sides with 370 runs. He didn’t score a ton, but only five were scored in the whole series, and only two by Australians. However, three of his four half tons that series were scored at crucial times in the three Tests Australia won to once again take out the Frank Worrell Trophy.

Now to one day cricket. Prior to the 1993 Ashes series, he scored 113 to enable Australia to successfully chase down a 280-odd target, an extremely rare achievement by Australian teams at that point in time.

One down in the finals of the 1993-94 world series cup, he scored 107 off only 111 balls against a powerful South African attack to ensure Australia squared the ledger, and then chipped in with 60 off 54 balls to help snatch the trophy in the deciding third final.

On the Pakistan tour in late 1994, he responded indignantly to an approach by Salim Malik to perform poorly for money by making 121 off only 134 balls to propel his team to a big total. Unfortunately, on that occasion, Pakistan had a ready reply in the form of a century to Saeed Anwar and a brutal 91 by Inzamam-ul-Haq.

At the 1996 World Cup, he became the first player in history to make back-to-back World Cup hundreds and later that same tournament the first to make three tons in any same (World Cup) tournament. The second of those was against favourites India in what had been pre-billed as the match of the tournament, and the third was in an epic, rare successful chase of nearly 300 in the quarter-final. In 1999, he became the first player to make a fourth World Cup hundred.

To this day, the only other Aussie to have four World Cup hundreds to his name is Ricky Ponting. In that 1999 tournament, he saved his best form for when it mattered, the super six phase in which Australia had to win every match. Without his 83 and century against India and Zimbabwe respectively, his brother’s epic Headingly ton would have been meaningless.

There are other performances in both forms of the game to speak of, but I will begin my wrap up by pointing out the following: in mid-1996, when he had played 54 of his eventual 128 Tests, and made 10 of his eventual 20 Test tons, his combined (Test) average against England, South Africa, Pakistan and the West Indies was above 50, compared to 44 overall against all comers.

Eight of those aforementioned 10 tons were also against these same opponents, three extremely high-quality attacks plus our most important traditional rival.

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But average counts for little with Mark Waugh because he was much better than just average. He was one of two star batsmen, along with brother Steve, for a team that dominated Test cricket for much of the 1990s and simultaneously one of two star batsmen, along with Michael Bevan, in a team that dominated international limited overs cricket for most of the same period.

After successive home-and-away defeats to Australia in 1997 and 98, then South African captain, Hansie Cronje, said “To beat Australia, you have to beat the Waugh twins”.

In six series against South Africa, the Waughs were never defeated. Mark never tasted Ashes defeat in four and a half series and he was one of the two or three key batsmen in finally bringing down the West Indies.

There was, among Australians, also none better at playing the spinners in India and Pakistan. His only blemish was two forgettable series in Sri Lanka. True, he didn’t perform in two Tests in New Zealand in early 1993 either, but that was early in his career when he had not yet learnt how to motivate himself against lesser opponents that the rest of the team could easily take care of.

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