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Opinion

Comparing the Waugh twins against South Africa

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Roar Guru
20th October, 2021
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We have seen how the twins were comfortably the best performing Australian batsmen against the West Indies in the 1979-97 period when they had their fearsome four-pronged pace attacks, but how did they compare to each other against the other extremely powerful bowling attacks of the 1990s when the two of them were easily their country’s two best batsmen?

South Africa and Pakistan, like the West Indies, also had outstanding pace bowlers, and Pakistan also had excellent spinners.

Using the same parameters as my previous investigation, the table below shows their performances against South Africa in the 1993-94, 1994, 1997 and 1997-98 series, including the Centurion Park dead rubber in early 1997.

Meaningful innings First-innings average Meaningful average Meaningful strike rate 100s 50s
Mark 18 28.6 35 49 2 2
Steve 14 78.3 57.2 48.2 2 4

For context, meaningful strike rate is directly linked to meaningful average.

Dead rubbers are not as big an issue in this analysis regarding South Africa and, later, Pakistan – seven of the eight series Australia won Tests in were still alive at the time, and the Aussies lost only three live-series Tests against both countries combined.

There was only one dead rubber played against each of South Africa and Pakistan; Australia lost both but on each occasion had already claimed the series. This is in contrast with results against the West Indies, against whom Australia mostly won dead rubbers after losing a series, with the one exception being in 1995. Mostly the green and gold got absolutely thrashed.

Nevertheless, as I like series-winning performances, dead rubbers do have to be downplayed somewhat, although in a dominant team there is always a desire and often opportunity for a clean sweep.

In this analysis we will discover that each of the Waugh twins performed on one of the single dead-rubber matches, with this article focussing on the South African match.

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The following table shows the same four series as the previous data set but excludes the aforementioned dead rubber of the third Test at Centurion Park.

Meaningful innings First-innings average Meaningful average Meaningful strike rate 100s 50s
Mark Mark 17 31 37.1 49.2 2 2
Steve 13 79.6 56.3 47.9 2 3

The reason Steve Waugh’s numbers virtually don’t change is that the dead rubber in question involved him scoring 67 and 60 not out. The second innings was a third-innings lost cause and so was always disregarded in any case, while the first-innings score was below his first-innings average, so this actually helps his numbers.

The reason Mark’s meaningful average is down compared to his West Indies result is threefold.

Firstly, I have disregarded the brilliant 84 he made in his first innings of the first series between the two countries after South Africa’s readmission because it was in a completely rain-ruined Test that went nowhere from the very beginning, with scores of 7-342 declared and 3-258 in reply. Shane Warne went in as nightwatchman at 1-57 in the first innings of the match, and Australia’s first and only dig lasted until the fourth day.

The second reason is his 115 not out in Adelaide in January 1998 has been treated as zero not out. As outlined on previous occasions, when not chasing a set target in the fourth innings, running up and down the pitch after hitting the ball into gaps does not impact the ultimate result of the match in any way, shape or form.

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The third reason is his unbeaten 113 to save the third Test, and therefore the series, in Durban has been capped at 70, as the match was already effectively safe by the time his score reached the 65 to 70 region. All in all, this amounts to 239 runs for one solitary dismissal.

The reason Mark’s first innings average is so low is twofold: the omission of the aforementioned 84 and also the five successive Tests thereafter with first-innings scores of only seven, two, 42 (run out after looking good), seven and 43.

Meanwhile, Steve, who had missed the first two of those Tests through injury – including the first, in which Mark made the 84 – had returned for first-innings scores of 164, 45, 86 and 64 in the following four Tests before Mark came good with the vital unbeaten 113 in the second innings of the last of the six Tests to ensure that both (home and away) series remained locked at 1-1.

It is fair to say that Steve had slightly more impact than Mark in the return (1993-94) series in South Africa and that obviously his first innings in the deciding Test in the Australian series prior was decisive. Mark, on the other hand, due to unfortunate weather in Melbourne, had exerted no impact on that (prior home) series whatsoever.

However, it was a different story three and four years later with the initial series in South Africa in early 1997. In the first Test in Johannesburg, Australia crushed South Africa by an innings and 196 with Steve making 160 and Mark making 26. Then, in the second Test, Mark played that absolutely colossal innings of 116 and towered above every other batsman in the match, his team scraping home by a mere two wickets.

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Steve’s century in the previous match, while important, was not the top score for his team, and there was a third score in the innings of 85 by Matthew Elliott.

I have capped Steve’s innings at 100 and have done the same for Greg Blewett’s 214, and this still puts South Africa, batting third, in the lost cause region.

In the return series of 1997-98 at home in Australia, Steve made 96 and 17 in the first Test while Mark made zero and one. Australia should still have won comfortably, but South Africa surprisingly salvaged a draw only through a stubborn back-to-the-wall innings by rookie Jacques Kallis on the final day.

Then Mark led the way with an even 100 in the second Test, with Steve supporting with 85, with a not-yet-matured Ricky Ponting, then supporting Steve after Mark was dismissed, with 62. Mark had come to the crease at 2-59 in reply to South Africa’s 287 and then been joined by Steve at 3-103. From when he came in he dominated the scoring, almost quadrupling the score before he was dismissed with South Africa’s first-innings total within striking distance.

Had Mark failed, Australia would probably have been chasing anything up to 150 in the fourth innings with the nightmare of four years previously on the same ground still fresh in their memories. Instead they didn’t need to bat a second time.

Then came that phenomenal innings in Adelaide, where, with runs irrelevant, Mark faced 305 balls from late on Day 4 to the very end of Day 5, superseded by a mere 12 by his six batting colleagues combined, counting wicketkeeper Ian Healy.

In the first innings, faced with a massive opposition score of 517, Mark scored 63, coming in at 2-71. The 126-run partnership with Mark Taylor, who carried his bat for 169, was almost half the number of runs required to avoid the follow-on from the point he went in. Mark’s was also the only other 50-plus score in the Australian first innings. Steve made only six.

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My verdict from the four South African series the twins played in together is as follows.

First series (home, 1993-94)
In two Tests played, excluding Melbourne, Mark had zero impact, while Steve, who played only the deciding Test, had a massive impact – in fact he was arguably the difference between the two sides in that series-deciding match.

Second series (away, early 1994)
Steve had marginally more impact, making runs in all three first innings in games that were won, lost and drawn, while Mark saved the series by putting it out of South Africa’s reach on the final day, coming in at three down early in the day with the deficit still some 40 runs from being erased. One can argue that Australia might have saved the game regardless.

However, it would have taken far deeper into the day to make the match safe, which would have kept the opposition intensely interested, just as it had in Sydney on the penultimate evening only a few months earlier, with diabolically slow scoring by Mark Taylor and David Boon when they should have been shutting out such a paltry target.

Also, it needs to be pointed out that Steve Waugh’s second-innings performances in both meaningful and meaningless situations against all Australia’s strongest opponents were poor. Mark is easily superior on this score, and this is what accounts for Mark’s meaningful average remaining constant with his first-innings average. Steve’s meaningful average compared to his first-innings average, where big scores are not yet capped, takes a significant hit against the West Indies, South Africa, Pakistan and England.

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Third series (away, early 1997)
If we are looking at overall runs in trying to win every Test, then Steve arguably has an edge. However, if we are looking at impact in actually winning the series, Mark comes out on top because his 116 in the second Test was a lone hand, whereas Steve’s 160 was not. Mark also batted in the far more difficult conditions.

Fourth series (home, 1997-98)
Mark and Steve cancel each other out with their respective two relevant first-innings performances, Steve in first two Tests and Mark in the second and third. However, Mark’s epic innings to save the final Test and preserve the series lead dwarfs Steve in a similar way to how Steve had dwarfed Mark in the deciding Test of the corresponding home series four years earlier.

Bear in mind that Mark lost two centuries from the above tables on account of one of his four centuries against South Africa being capped at 70 and the other having all runs classified as numerically meaningless, the phenomenal match and series-saving epic in Adelaide early 1998. He also loses a half-century on account of the match being completely written off, having scored 84. Therefore four centuries and two half-centuries become only two of each.

Steve, on the other hand, loses only his 67 in the first innings of the aforementioned Centurion Park dead rubber in 1997, with his unbeaten 60 in the same match being disregarded from the beginning on account of being played in a third-innings lost cause.

Stay tuned for the next instalment of how these two wonderful twins compared to each other against Pakistan.

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