I have been granted special minimal powers to slightly alter cricket history in order to elevate Mark Waugh into the echelon of Australian batting greats – the top ten to a dozen, no less.
These are the restrictions that have been placed upon me:
1. I may muck with a maximum of eight innings that he played.
2. I may not alter the result of any match.
3. I must ensure minimal damage is done to other Australian batsmen’s stats – both their aggregates and averages.
4. I may not alter the team scoresheets for any opponent in the matches in which the aforementioned maximum eight Mark Waugh innings were played.
5. I may not touch Mark Taylor’s immortal 334 not out in any way.
6. I may retire Mark Waugh early from Test cricket but his finishing aggregate may not be less than his actual 8029 runs.
So where on earth can I find these extra runs to get this average into the great area of 50 or more? The obvious place to start is the high scoring, mundane bore-fests, but apart from Peshawar, 1998, just how many are there available?
Let’s start with that Peshawar Test. It was absolutely diabolical that Waugh wasted such a priceless opportunity to silence his eternal critics by racking up a massive score, simultaneously driving his average up a few runs.
Given Taylor’s 334 is untouchable, I will have to ask Justin Langer to postpone his maiden Test ton until the following home Ashes series. I need Waugh at the crease 100 runs earlier than he was, so Langer will have to leave the wicket with the score on 195, rather than 295.
I will deduct 40 runs from his score, but I will compensate him by giving him an extra run in Adelaide against the West Indies seven years later to take that latter score from 99 to 100. This will mean that Langer still retires with 23 Test tons. Langer’s final stats will be adjusted from 7696 to 7657, with his average falling from 45.27 to 45.05.
I am going to get Australia to 599 with only two wickets down, rather than four, so now, in addition to those 40 of Langer’s runs, Waugh is going to have (apart from his own 43 from that innings) Ponting’s 76. This will leave him unbeaten on 159 at stumps on Day 2. But that is not enough, so Taylor will actually have to bat on the next day to allow Waugh to reach 200.
However, Taylor will have to retire hurt, publicly citing some mystery illness, from which he will have recovered by the time Australia take the field. This will benefit Taylor immensely, as now he won’t be saying publicly that he deliberately declared level with Bradman’s (then) record, but instead the wider media will disseminate that speculation for him.
Steve Waugh will let Ponting come in ahead of him, to minimise the damage to Ponting’s overall stats. Since Steve scored one and 49 not out, forfeiting those runs (as well as the associated sole dismissal) will not affect his average one little bit, as Mark is having those 49 in the second innings.
Australia still want to declare as soon as possible, so Ponting will have to feed Waugh the strike as much as possible. Ponting can score 24, while Waugh gets the extra 41 runs to get to 200. So the declaration comes 20 overs into the morning session of Day 3 at 2-669.
In the second innings, Australia make 3-219, rather than 5-289, for Pakistan’s 9-580 cannot be tampered with, under playing condition number four above. Here Taylor will have to be the fall guy, so his 92 will now be 22 – he missed Graham Gooch’s world record match aggregate by 30 runs in any case, so no harm done, and his average will only fall from 43.5 to 43.1. He even stays 33 ahead of David Boon’s aggregate, so Taylor still gets to retire as his country’s second highest Test run scorer.
So, coming in at around 2-35 in the second innings, Mark Waugh absolutely dominates, scoring the 43 he scored, plus his brother’s 49 plus Ponting’s 43 to finish 135 not out, scored from 184 while he was at the crease, a similar ratio to his 138 out of 191 on his debut almost eight years earlier. Because he didn’t get a bat in the first innings, Ian Healy comes in at number five and scores his 14 not out.
So, at the end of the game, Waugh’s unconquered 335 runs in the match take his aggregate up by 250 to 8279 with his average rising by 1.6 points to 43.4. Forfeiting 94 runs in the match along with his sole dismissal means that Ponting’s average takes a minor hit by 0.21 points to finish on 51.69. However, most importantly, he stays well above 13,000 Test runs. Ponting was persuaded to make this sacrifice when I offered him, as compensation, to right a particular wrong from an earlier point in his career.
The Test against Sri Lanka in Perth in late 1995 presents a very easy target. Rather than be fourth out for 111, with the lead already 234, Waugh was persuaded to put his head right down and continue to flog the haplessly defeated Sri Lankan attack. He is to be given the 56 runs that Stuart Law scored on debut, but wait – there’s a twist …
When the score reaches 617, Ponting is not given out for 96 on debut, but is allowed to hit one last boundary to join the elite minority of Australians to reach three figures in their maiden Test innings. Then he is given out for 100 to make the score 4-621.
Now here’s the thing: that Test was finished just before the end of the fourth day, so it is criminal for Waugh to waste the extra time. Stuart Law will come in after all, and he and Mark Waugh will bat an extra session for an extra 106 runs for the team total, based on the scoring rate per over to that point. The extra four runs given to Ponting will be deducted from Stuart Law by dangling the carrot of him being given out in order to have a Test average, and what an average to finish on too – 52, to go down as one of the greats!
All of this tinkering gets Mark Waugh to 211, not out of course, and now his average rises to 44.1, his aggregate to 8379. Those priceless extra four runs give Ponting’s final average a very healthy boost by 0.01 to 51.7. Australia’s new total of 6-727 increases the victory margin from an innings and 36 to an innings and 146 – why merely beat the opposition when you can absolutely crush them!
The next innings that stood out for bloating was the 111 he made in Hobart in late 1993 against the pop-gun Kiwi attack of the time – what a priceless opportunity he missed that day. At first glance, I thought I would have to ask David Boon and Michael Slater to give up 50 runs apiece, just so Waugh could come in at two down for 200, rather than 300, but then I realised that this was completely unnecessary – with still 150 overs of playing time left in the match (after the hapless Kiwis are bundled out for 161 twice in a row), why doesn’t Allan Border refrain from making his overly bold, aggressive declaration at 544, and just bat on, for at least another session or two?
Instead of Waugh throwing his wicket away with the total on 485, he can score another 100, to finish 211 not out, and the total at that point will be 4-652, based on the ratio of team runs Waugh scored during his original 111. Border still falls for 60, when the score reaches 501, but Steve Waugh finishes on 50, and this all occupies another 28 overs based on scoring rate per over during the actual innings.
On the other hand, why stop there? Bat for another session, and the game will still be over by the end of Day 4, and this will enable Waugh to march onwards to that magical 300 number. So now the declaration will made at 6-803 – an Aussie record that will stand for all time.
Steve was dismissed for 75, which counterbalances the runs he gave up in Peshawar, so he is all square on his final stats with nothing changing. Healy still makes one, Reiffel makes 23 not out and the victory margin increases to an innings and 481 runs. Waugh’s 300 not out takes his aggregate to 8568, and his average, now up over 45, edges ever close to that 50 hallmark of greatness.
Where to next? What about the Test against South Africa in Adelaide in late January 1998? Is there anything Waugh could have done to improve upon his match aggregate of 178 for once out? What if we make Australia’s first innings 7-577 declared? Mark Taylor can be out for 175, so his career average won’t be affected. Waugh can have all the second innings runs of Matthew Elliott, Greg Blewett, brother Steve, Ponting, Healy, Andy Bichel and Shane Warne, a total of 98 to give him 276 not out in this aforementioned mammoth team total.
Warne’s average will not suffer on account of him forfeiting four not out, Ponting’s average will improve a further 0.11 to now stand at 51.72, and his career aggregate will still be 13,240, down only slightly on his original 13,378. By not being dismissed for 34 in the second innings that now doesn’t happen, Steve’s final aggregate will now be 10,893, with his average rising by 0.04 to 51.14. Mark Waugh, of course, now has 8666 Test runs and his average has just broken through the 46 barrier.
While the Test remains a draw, it’s kind of a shame that we are deprived of the tension and drama of that great final day match- and series-saving hundred… but we are talking 276 not out, rather than 63 and 115 not out. Right?
From here the next logical place to go is that famous Sydney Test of early 1993 – you know, the one where Brian Lara made 277. What I’m going to do here is rid Australia of its second innings of 0-117 and make its first innings 5-620. Mark Waugh will be unbeaten on 257 when the declaration comes, so Lara can still upstage him.
Taylor will make 66 rather than 20 and 46 not out so that his average doesn’t have to drop below 43, while the ones to take the fall this time will be Boon, Border and Greg Matthews. Healy will bat ahead of the latter two mentioned and will still make 36 not out, but Merv Hughes, 17, and Warne, 14, don’t bat, their combined 31 being absorbed into Waugh’s aforementioned 257.
We have to tinker with the batting order slightly in order to make this work: Damien Martyn and Steve Waugh will swap places in the order, so that Martyn makes his duck at first drop and Steve his even 100 at number five – this enables Mark Waugh to still go in at 2-160 and score his 257 out of 460 while at the crease.
Waugh’s aggregate is now 8866 with his average now 47.4, while Boon’s aggregate reduces to 7359 with his average dropping by 0.06 to 43.54. However, he still retires as Australia’s second highest run scorer in Test cricket, while Border still becomes the first player ever to reach 11,000, with his average dropping a mere 0.1 to 50.5.
For the final match, I had in mind Australia’s run-athon at Lord’s in 1993 – I thought maybe grant Waugh another double ton instead of his 99, but this is quite impossible. You see, when inspecting the scoresheets, I see that the game ran almost the distance, with some 460 overs bowled, which indicates faster than normal over rates, but we can surely put this down to the high volume of overs bowled by Australia’s spin twins, Warne and Tim May.
I wasn’t willing to ask Taylor or Boon to sacrifice further runs off their own stats to aid this very worthy cause, and so far, no player’s stats have been adversely affected, all the major team members during Waugh’s career have only had a tiny, minuscule percentage of a solitary run shaved off their respective averages.
However, there is another way: playing condition number six allows me to retire him early, as long as his career aggregate does not drop below his actual 8029. It has always been, and shall always remain, my firm conviction that the magical Waugh should have retired after the 2001 Ashes series.
He played 12 Tests beyond that point, without a ton, and only four more half tons, and he was a mere shadowy reflection of the player he had been between 1993 and 2001. His last genuine impact in one-day cricket had also been earlier that same year (2001), and even then, three of his final four tons in the shortened form of the game that year had been against pop-gun West Indian and Zimbabwe attacks.
Retiring at that point will cut off a mere 574 runs along with the associated 18 dismissals, and this will take his alternate fantasy statistics to 116 Tests, 8292 runs, with the Holy Grail average of…. damn! I can only get his average to 49.4 despite gaining an extra three centuries (and what monsters they are!) in the amounts of 257 not out, 200 not out and 135 not out, while his unbeaten 115 and pair of 111s are increased in volume to absolute colossal innings of 300, 276 and 211, all unbeaten.
However, this now means that instead of four not outs in 20 tons, he has nine not outs in 23 tons, and his average in innings he scored tons increases from 150 to 246, one more than Bradman’s.
Seriously though, even if falling 0.643 runs shy of a 50 average deprives him of the greatness tag, I ask you fellow Roarers, do you honestly believe that such tinkering with seven innings in five Test matches (from a reduced by 12 number to 116), without altering the result of any of those five matches in any way, makes him a better player than he already was? Has his impact on any of those five matches increased to any genuinely significant degree?
Are any of those alternate fantasy unbeaten scores in descending order of 300, 276, 257, 211, 200 and 135 actually better than any of his remaining 18 tons (eliminating his two 111s in Hobart 1993-94 and Perth ’95-96 respectively)? Tell me what you think in the comments, but please be sure to justify.