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Why Mark Waugh was the world's best against the West Indies

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Roar Guru
18th October, 2021
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I have drawn up four tables as a comparison between all Australian batsmen who faced the fearsome four-pronged West Indian pace attacks tween 1979 and 1997.

For this analysis, I am eliminating five of the six dead rubber Tests that occurred between the two sides in this period. These are the fifth Test in Kingston in the 1984 series, the fourth and fifth Tests in Melbourne and Sydney in 1984-85, and the fourth and fifth Tests in Sydney and Adelaide in the 1988-89 series.

As this comparison deals primarily with impact in winning series, the aforementioned matches have no relevance in rating players’ performances when it actually matters.

The fifth match of the 1991 series in Antigua will be included because it was a watershed victory for Australia for three important reasons.

Firstly, it was their first individual Test match victory in the Caribbean in 13 years and three series.

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Secondly, unlike the Sydney Tests of the previous two West Indies tours down under in 1984-85 and 1988-89, it did not rely exclusively upon the one-dimensional conditions of a sharply turning pitch, but in fact was achieved in the opposition’s own home conditions.

Thirdly, and probably most importantly, unlike the previous three series between the two teams, Australia had actually competed on a near even footing in the previous four Tests for large periods of time while the series was actually alive.

Table 1 below shows a breakdown of first and second innings scores for all Australian batsmen for the period 1979-97 for non-dead rubber Tests only. The scores of the batsmen who played in the aforementioned 1991 Antigua Test are not shown in this table, but will be factored into Table 4 a little further on.

Player Series First innings Second innings
Rick McCosker 1979-80 14 33
Bruce Laird 1979-80, 1981-82 92, 16, 52, 4, 14, 2 75, 69, 36, 64, 38, 78
Greg Chappell 1979-80, 1981-82 74, 19, 0, 0, 12, 61 124, 22, 31, 6, 0, 7
Kim Hughes 1979-80, 1981-82, 1984, 1984-85 3, 4, 34, 100*, 16, 5, 18,
24, 20, 24, 4, 34, 0
130*, 70, 11, 8, 13, 84,
0, 33, 25, 29, 37, 4, 2
David Hookes 1979-80, 1984 43, 32, 23, 30, 51 37, 10, 21, 9, 29
Peter Toohey 1979-80 10 7
Julian Wiener 1979-80 40, 3 24,8
Ian Chappell 1979-80 2 4
Rod Marsh 1979-80, 1981-82 3, 0, 5, 21, 17, 39 19, 7, 23*, 2, 38
Allan Border 1979-80, 1981-82, 1984, 1984-85, 1988-89, 1991, 1992-92 1, 17, 54, 4, 53*, 78, 5, 98*,
38, 98, 15, 17, 21, 4, 6, 0, 31,
47, 43, 29, 73, 110, 74, 19, 0
7, 15, 24, 66, 9, 126, 54, 100*,
8, 19, 6, 24, 18, 41, 26, 20,
34, 27*, 0, 17, 4, 1, 0
Graeme Wood 1981-82, 1983-84, 1984, 1984-85, 1988-89 3, 63, 5, 68, 6, 20,
41, 6, 111, 12
46, 7*, 6, 20, 56,
3, 19, 0, 42, 7
John Dyson 1981-82, 1984 28, 1, 0, 13, 8 127*, 10, 30, 21, 5
Dirk Wellham 1981-82 17 2
Kepler Wessels 1984, 1984-85 4, 4, 13, 0, 98 20, 4, 0, 61, 70
Wayne Phillips 1984, 1984-85 16, 4, 120, 5, 22, 44 76, 0, 1, 22,16, 54
Greg Ritchie 1984 78, 1, 57, 6 3, 26, 0, 23
Dean Jones 1984, 1988-89, 1991 48, 1, 28, 0, 34, 21, 22 5, 11, 18, 3, 39*, 37
Graham Yallop 1984-85 2 1
Steve Smith 1984 3, 10 12, 7
David Boon 1984-85, 1988-89, 1991, 1992-93, 1995 11, 12, 10, 80, 23, 109*,
7, 27, 0, 48, 46, 76,
39*, 44, 20, 21, 18, 17
51, 9, 12, 4, 20,
2, 29, 57, 111, 11,
63*, 0, 52, 67, 9
Geoff Marsh 1988-89, 1991 27, 20, 36, 69, 94, 10, 12 2, 6, 1, 22, 12, 0
Steve Waugh 1988-89, 1991, 1992-93, 1995, 1996 4, 91, 42, 26, 2, 10, 38,
100, 42, 13, 65, 15,
63*, 200, 66, 58, 26
90, 26, 3, 4, 20,
1, 4, 0, 65*, 21, 37
Mike Veletta 1988-89 37, 11 10, 13
Ian Healy 1988-89, 1991, 1992-93, 1995, 1996-97 27, 8, 4, 0, 53, 9, 2, 17,
24, 36*, 0, 0, 74*, 14, 8,
6, 161*, 44, 36, 12
28, 52, 8, 47, 0, 18, 8,
0, 27, 26, 0, 45*, 22*, 0
Mark Taylor 1991, 1992-93, 1995, 1996-97 58, 0, 61, 26, 7, 13, 20, 1,
55, 37, 2, 8, 43, 27, 7, 11
15, 2, 76, 34, 42, 46*,
7, 16*, 5 30, 36, 16, 10
Greg Matthews 1991, 1992-93 10, 1, 30, 79 16, 0
Damian Martyn 1992-93 36, 7, 0, 13 15, 67*, 31
Justin Langer 1992-93, 1996-97 20, 10, 12, 19 54, 1, 0
Greg Blewett 1995, 1996-97 14, 11, 17, 69, 69, 62, 99 19, 2, 47*, 7
Michael Slater 1995 18, 41, 0, 27 20*, 5, 15
Matthew Elliott 1996-97 0, 29 21, 78 Retired Hurt
Michael Bevan 1996-97 0, 16, 85 no 20, 52
Matthew Hayden 1996-97 5, 125 0
Ricky Ponting 1996-97 88, 9 9, 4
Mark Waugh 1991, 1992-93, 1995, 1996-97 39, 64, 71, 20*, 39, 112, 57,
0, 9, 40, 4, 2, 126,
38, 19, 0, 82
31, 3, 60, 16, 26, 21,
61, 7, 57, 67, 19

For the purpose of this whole analysis, the following Australian innings in the non-dead rubber Tests in this study will be excluded.

• The third innings in the second Test in Melbourne 1979-80
• The third innings in Antigua 1984
• The third innings in Perth 1984-85
• The third innings in Brisbane 1984-85
• The third innings in Brisbane 1988-89
• The third innings in Guyana 1991
• The third innings in Perth 1992-93

Batsmen’s scores in these innings are listed in Table 1 but will not be factored into Table 4 later because these were all completely lost causes with Australia already doomed to defeat, and therefore nothing any batsmen did in any of these innings ever had any even remote capacity to influence the outcome of the match.

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These innings from the non-dead rubber Australia v West Indies Tests from 1979-97 will also not be factored into Table 4 later.

• The fourth innings in the third Test in Adelaide 1979-80
• The fourth innings in the second Test in Perth 1988-89
• The fourth innings in the third Test in Melbourne 1988-89
• The fourth innings in the fourth Test in Barbados 1991

Batsmen’s scores in these innings are listed in Table 1 but will not be factored into Table 4 later because these were all completely lost causes with Australia already doomed to defeat, and therefore nothing any batsmen did in any of these innings ever had any even remote capacity to influence the outcome of the match.

This innings will also not be factored into Table 4 later.

• The fourth innings in the third Test in Adelaide 1984-85
Different to the four previously listed fourth innings above, this was the one occasion that Australia could reasonably have been expected to successfully bat out the remainder of the match to ensure a draw. On this occasion, the Test should definitely have been saved.

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As this innings also fell into the category of being set an unreachable victory target, no runs scored hold any numerical relevance whatsoever in determining any batsmen’s impact in winning Frank Worrell Test series, whether they succeeded in hanging on for a draw or not.

These innings from the non-dead rubber Australia v West Indies Tests from 1979-97 will also not be factored into Table 4 later.

• The third innings in the third Test in Trinidad 1991
• The third innings in the third Test in Sydney 1992-93

Both these games were rain ruined causing the match to already be doomed to a draw by the time Australia began the third innings of the match so there is zero impact involved for any of the five Australian players that ended up batting across these two innings in question.

Finally, the fourth innings in the second Test in Sydney 1981-82 will only be factored into Table 4 later as an innings played for each of the six players who batted, and all will be treated as 0 not out. This was one of only two occasions against the West Indies during the entire 1979-97 time-frame under discussion that Australia successfully batted out a significant amount of time to force a draw in a match they could not possibly hope to win.

John Dyson’s unbeaten 127 in that particular instance is, in pure numerical terms, completely meaningless. However, what is absolutely priceless in such a situation is the 321 deliveries that didn’t dismiss him which accounted for more than 50 per cent of the 612 deliveries the opposition bowlers had in total at their disposal to take the ten Australian wickets to win the match.

A fourth innings back to the wall effort is different to a third innings back to the wall epic, such as Allan Border’s unbeaten even 100 in Trinidad 1984. In the case of a third innings (other than a lost, doomed cause), runs have priceless numerical value because erasing a deficit and then getting far enough in front actually aids the cause of staving off defeat.

In the aforementioned Trinidad example, Border had made his team safe from defeat by the time his own score had reached the 80-85 range.

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Unfortunately, there is no way to quantify (in terms of runs) a successful match saving knock in an unwinnable fourth innings situation in terms of measuring overall impact across a batsman’s whole career, it can only be qualified in any individual occurrence.

In the 1991 series, none of Australia’s second innings in the four Tests that it took to decide the series had any relevance or impact to the result of any of those matches. Table 2 below shows the achievements of Australia’s top six in (the first innings of) those four matches.

Player Runs in
first innings
Dismissals Higest Score 50s
Mark Waugh 192 3 71 2
Geoff Marsh 185 4 94 2
Allan Border 150 4 47 0
Mark Taylor 145 4 61 2
David Boon 143 4 109* 1
Dean Jones 77 4 34 0

What must be remembered in regards to Table 2 above is that the other five Australian batsmen had a combined prior total of 42 Test matches against the West Indies alone, whereas Mark Waugh had only two Test matches in total against anyone under his belt coming into this series.

Table 3 below shows what the leading Australian batsmen between 1979 and 1991 had done in first innings of non-dead rubber Tests against the West Indies to this point in time. Batsmen are listed in the order of their first innings averages to the end of the 4th (and deciding) Test of 1991, though the averages themselves will not be listed.

Player Runs in
first innings
Dismissals Highest score 50s
Mark Waugh 194 3 71 2
Geoff Marsh 268 7 94 2
David Hookes 179 5 51 1
Mark Taylor 145 4 61 2
Bruce Laird 180 5 92 2
Greg Ritchie 142 4 78 2
Wayne Phillips 211 6 120 1
David Boon 279 8 109* 3
Allan Border 649 19 98* 6
Greame Wood 334 10 111 3
Steve Waugh 165 5 91 2
Greg Chappell 166 6 74 2
Kim Hughes 306 12 100* 1
Kepler Wessels 119 5 98 1
Dean Jones 154 7 48 0
Ian Healy 103 7 53 1

With the exception of Dean Jones, players who never reached 50 in a non-dead rubber against the West Indies of this period have been left off, in order to condense the table.

For reasons stated previously regarding his excellent match saving innings in Sydney 1981-82, John Dyson was also left off.

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Two things stand out at this interim point: 1. Mark Waugh’s mean number of runs per dismissal to this point in time was 64.7 which was 1.7 times the next highest of 38.3. 2. His percentage of 50 plus scores per number of dismissals to this point was 67 per cent, which is 1.34 times the next best of 50 per cent.

Table 4 below fuses everything together up until the end of the 1996-97 series, the last time the West Indies had a powerful attack in a Frank Worrell Trophy series. The list is limited to batsmen who played in a minimum of seven innings within the set parameters.

Meaninful
innings
First innings
average
Meaningful
average
Strike rate 100s 50s
Mark Waugh 26 45.1 46.6 52.6 3 8
Steve Waugh 23 53.2 44.9 45.4 2 6
Bruce Laird 10 30 44.1 32.9 0 5
Allan Border 37 40.2 40.2 36.6 2 10
Greg Blewett 10 48.7 36.7 48.5 0 4
David Boon 27 38 36.6 40.3 2 3
Kim Hughes 20 25.5 33.5 46.6 2 1
Wayne Phillips 10 35.2 32 53.3 1 1
Graeme Wood 14 33.6 31.4 40.1 1 2
Greg Chappell 10 27.7 31 44.9 1 2
Geoff Marsh 7 38.3 30.6 36.8 0 2
Ian Healy 30 31.5 27.9 46.8 1 3
Mark Taylor 26 23.5 27.5 35 1 3
David Hookes 9 35.8 27.1 51 0 1
Dean Jones 9 22 26.7 39.3 0 1
Greg Ritchie 7 35.5 24.4 53.8 0 2
Michael Slater 7 20.7 20.7 43.7 0 0
Kepler Wessels 7 23.8 20.4 45.5 0 1
Rod Marsh 8 14.2 15.6 38.1 0 0
John Dyson 7 10 10 19.2 0 0

This table serves as providing genuinely relevant statistics relating to each batsman’s true impact in the (mostly fruitless) endeavour of beating the West Indies in Test series between 1979 and 1997. Just to reiterate, it includes only non-dead rubber Tests in this period plus the fifth Test of the 1991 series, and includes all first innings scores, but only second innings scores that had any real potential to impact upon the outcome of that particular match.

The following innings have been capped, as runs beyond this figure were not especially needed by the team in each respective case.

• Greg Chappell 124 in Brisbane 1979-80 and 100
• Kim Hughes 130 not out in Brisbane 1979-80 and 100 not out
• David Hookes 37 in Brisbane 1979-80 and 25
• Allan Border 100 not out in Trinidad 1984 and 85
• Mark Taylor 144 in Antigua 1991 and 100
• Mark Taylor 16 not out in Barbados 1995 and 5
• Michael Slater’s 20 not out in Barbados 1995 and 5
• Steve Waugh 65 not out in Antigua 1995 and 50
• Steve Waugh 200 in Jamaica 1995 and 150
• Mark Waugh 57 in Brisbane 1996-97 and 50
• Mark Waugh 67 in Sydney 1996-97 and 50
• Greg Blewett 47 not out in Sydney 1996-97 and 25
• Ian Healy 22 not out in Sydney 1996-97 and 10
• Mark Waugh 82 in Adelaide 1996-97 and 50
• Greg Blewett 99 in Adelaide 1996-97 and 50
• Matthew Hayden’s 125 in Adelaide 1996-97 would also have been capped at 100 had he played the minimum of seven innings within the set parameters.
• All six players who batted in the second (fourth) innings in Sydney in 1981-82 are treated as a meaningful innings for the first column of the above Table 4, though they are not factored into any of the other five columns of that same table. They are simply treated as 0 not out and there is a need to come up with some sort of authentic way as treating such innings as a type of statistical annex when reviewing a player’s performance through meaningful analysis.

Mark Waugh

(Credit: Shaun Botterill/Allsport/Getty Images)

Summary

The Waugh twins stood head and shoulders above all other Australian batsmen against the West Indies during the 1979-1997 period and there is little to separate them from the final Table 4 above.
• Mark Waugh has a fractionally, but not significantly higher meaningful average than Steve, though his strike rate is more than 15 per cent higher.
• Mark made a score of 50 or more in meaningful situations once every 2.4 innings, and this is significantly better than Steve’s own 2.9.
• Mark had a chance to convert nine of his 11 half-centuries into centuries; his team needed him to do so on four occasions and he did so on three out of those four occasions of need.
• Conversely, Steve had a chance to convert six of his eight half-centuries into centuries; his team needed him to do so on three of those occasions and he did so on two of those three occasions of need. This amounts to a meaningful successful conversion in need rate of 75 per cent for Mark and 66.7 per cent for Steve.

However, the main reason I rate Mark fractionally higher than Steve in terms of their 1988-97 performances against the West Indies is because he was far more instantaneously successful against them than Steve was.

Mark did outstandingly in his first one and a half series against them, while Steve was patchy and struggled in the majority of his first two and a half (series against the West Indies).

They were near equal as keys to winning or losing in 1995 and then in 1996-97, their impact was also fairly equal, despite overall statistics of raw aggregates and averages for both those series leaning, misleadingly, towards one or the other.

Thereafter, the West Indies attacks were no longer feared and by 1999 Mark was coming to the end of his prime years, whereas Steve continued in his for an extra couple of years up until the end of the 2001 Ashes, though Mark’s own decline until that same point was also gradual rather than rapid.

The only time in his first four series against the West indies (when their bowling was still powerful) when Mark can be said to have failed and let his team down when it really mattered was at the back end of the 1992-93 series, after he had been arguably our best batsman over the course of the first three Tests which saw us leading 1-0 at that stage, the first time we had led the West Indies after three Tests for 17 years.

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