Given it’s been a long while since I wrote an article on these hallowed pages, I was feeling the pressure.
What topic would generate some interest, some controversy, some clicks, dammit!
Thinking through the long list of sacred cows that inhabit the cricketing landscape, I thought of some pretty dangerous options for topics:
• Jeff Thomson wasn’t that quick (if he read it even now, he could likely kill me!)
• Jacques Kallis has a better record than Sir Garfield Sobers
• David Warner is actually a decent cricketer and very nice fellow
• Victor Trumper was tough to watch
• Don Bradman was actually not very good (but then I realised there had already been a number of attempts at this recently!)
But why play it safe? Why not go for the jugular? Why not perform the literary equivalent of pulling the wings of a fairy? Why not tackle Mark Waugh?!
So here we go, with some fear but no favour, without any pretence at detailed analysis or sober objectivity, without my Magnum 57 asking if you feel lucky, punk, here we go.
The many failures of Mark Waugh
How often do batsmen fail? Quite a bit actually. If we look at the top 97 Test run scorers in history (why 97 you ask? Let’s see if someone works it out), we find that players score a century on average once in every 8.7 innings.
That plodder Bradman managed it a measly once in every 2.7 innings. Next best are modern-day bog average blockers, Steve Smith (once every 5.1 innings) and Virat Kohli (once every six innings).
Waugh did it slightly better than average at once every 8.1 innings – oh wait hang on, wrong Waugh. Mark Waugh did it once every 10.4 innings. This champion fellow magnanimously left his teammates time to shine in more than nine out of ten innings.
But of course, failing to score a century every time at bat is not a failure. Let’s drop that mark to 50. A Roarer once told me that a certain overrated 99.94 batsman failed every time he didn’t reach 50.
In fact he also pointed out that scores of 66 and 76 were failures because of the way they were scored (too quickly apparently). So let us look at scores of 50 and over.
Taking our top 97, on average we see a score above 50 every 3.2 innings. Bradman managed it once every 1.9 innings (that’s right, better than once a match – selfish player, give your mates a go!).
English great Jack Hobbs was around once every 2.4 innings. Mark Waugh was once every 3.1 innings, very respectable and better than the average. See, saving your energy by scoring centuries less than ten per cent of the time and never, ever more than 153, allows you to be fresh for your next assignment. Clever strategy that.
When I was stunning the junior cricketing scene with my ability to make number 11 seem a few places too high in the batting order, my definition of success was bat on ball, a desperate scamper to the other end and a score of one or better. So let’s allow the world’s great batsmen the same courtesy. How many really fail by not troubling the scorer?
The greats of cricketing battership (alert! Word made up!) still made ducks every 14.2 innings. Mark Waugh generously let others have a go every 11 innings.
Waugh’s unmatched ability to size up whether runs were going to be important before even starting an innings allowed him to save his energy for the real thing. By the way, the three best duck avoiders? Mark Taylor (no mean feat for an opener), Clive Lloyd, and the best of them all – Angelo Mathews of Sri Lanka.
But this is all just data, it has no meaning, no context, no hindsight. Some 7942 innings across the 97 greatest run scorers in 145 years of Test cricket history is not enough of a sample size to come to any conclusions. We need stories!
So let’s go for a walk down memory lane and see what we discover. There has been ample work done to show that all of Mark Waugh’s successes were at critical points in not just cricket, but in human history. So what I hope to find is that all of Waugh’s ‘failures’ were in fact meaningless fluffing around while waiting for the critical moments to shine.
So to coin a musical phrase, let’s start at the very beginning…
Mark Waugh – the early years
In January 1991, Australia has pasted England in the first two Tests by ten wickets and eight wickets. After a drawn third Test, the Australian selectors are feeling the Ashes slipping away, despite being unable to physically lose them from here.
In desperation they turn to Mark Waugh, a player made for such pressure situations. And what a disappointment he was. A mere 138 in the first innings before being bowled by a typical English medium pacer struggling on our pacey decks – Devon Malcolm.
For a start, this innings was too fast at a strike rate over 73, not allowing the other players enough time to score. In any case the runs were completely meaningless, because as hindsight shows us, Australia took a lead of 157 on the first innings.
Waugh’s teammates didn’t need his runs at all. In addition, even though Dean Jones, Ian Healy, Merv Hughes and Bruce Reid contributed seven runs between them, as we know from recent expert analysis, if Waugh had got out earlier all of these players would have scored at least their average. So why did he bother hogging the run scoring and wasting everyone’s time?
Despite a sporting declaration leaving England 472 to win the match the game petered out to a draw. Somehow this draw resulted in Australia winning the series. How is that even possible? How can preventing the other team from being able to win achieve anything?
Surely the captain should have prevented Waugh from scoring in that first innings, which would have left England a target of 334. Heck, remove his completely meaningless second-innings 23 (again bowled by his nemesis Devon Malcolm) – 311 target! That would have been Test cricket!
In the next dead rubber Test, Mark Waugh embarrassingly scores eight runs less than renowned batting bunny Dean Jones, before Malcolm claims him for the third time. Australia take a 125-run first-innings lead, making Waugh’s contribution completely meaningless and they go on to win by nine wickets. Despite not contributing a single meaningful run to the cause so far, somehow Mark Waugh continues to play Test cricket.
Travelling to the Caribbean, Waugh cannot locate Devon Malcolm and sighs in relief until LBW to another Malcolm – Marshall – in a dull draw. Meaningful runs tally is still zero, but hey, a free trip to the tropics is pretty cool.
The West Indies go on to win the series 2-1, so no meaningful runs are scored by the entire Australian team. They are simply the batting equivalent of yelling at clouds. But just for the exercise I will point out that Mark Waugh did not top score in any Test innings on tour.
Well actually he did in one innings, but the Test was a draw and they don’t count. He should have known not to waste his allocation of runs for the series on such frivolity.
The third Test was a missed opportunity. In the first innings, Craig McDermott and Merv Hughes destroy the hosts and Australia only have 149 to beat for a massive first-innings lead and a potentially squared series with one Test to play.
Waugh scores only 20, allowing three other top-order players to outscore him, including Dean Jones, who must obviously have been sent in above Waugh as a night watchman.
Waugh, batting with the lower order, foolishly allows them to face 45 balls, which is more than enough for Courtney Walsh and Patrick Patterson to bowl them out, leaving him stranded on 20, just 80 short of a memorable century.
The West Indies then wasted everyone’s time by setting Australia a target of 552. Why would they do that? Just to ensure they couldn’t lose the series? It was obviously too much and took any chance of a result out of the game – except that it didn’t with the tourists capitulating for 208.
To Mark Waugh’s credit, he knew his cricketing history and statistics. No one wins from that far back. And any runs scored in lost causes are meaningless. Save your strength, Mark!
He does just that, scoring three from 28 balls. Waugh sits in the stands chuckling at his idiot future captain Mark Taylor, who defies Curtly Ambrose, Patrick Patterson, Courtney Walsh and Malcolm Marshall for 243 balls over six hours. What a pointless waste. How he was made captain after that is beyond me.
So the last Test is a dead rubber. Why turn up? Why score runs? We know Mark Waugh wouldn’t do that. Except that he scored 139 not out as Australia strolled to a completely pointless victory.
Obviously ashamed and lampooned by his teammates for scoring runs that stopped them from heading to the pub, Waugh makes amends with a golden duck in the second innings.
Meaningful runs index so far? Twenty. Given Waugh had played 11 Test innings so far, his meaningful runs average of 1.8 was showing a remarkable lack of wasted effort.
Waugh’s next series was against India at home. Everyone knows that playing minnows is beneath us and only the Ashes and selected other series should even be recognised as Test matches. India at home? Meaningless.
Next up: Sri Lanka away. More minnows? Why bother? Mark was becoming increasingly disillusioned with being forced to display his sublime talent for lesser mortals.
In an Ian Chappell-like show of defiance, Waugh sticks it to the man by scoring four consecutive ducks and heading home. Impressed by Waugh’s integrity and understanding of what real Test cricket should be, the selectors retain the great man.
They finally realise that Dean Jones isn’t much of a fifth bowling option and drop the batting pretender who had the poor taste to not support Mark Waugh’s stand and top the series run-scoring averages, scoring one of only two centuries on tour.
Waugh will also not return Craig McDermott’s calls after the pace bowler also outscores him for the series.
It all went downhill from there. Waugh was finally back playing a real opponent in the West Indies in December 1992, nearly 18 months since scoring any meaningful runs at all.
The first Test is drawn – no meaningful runs there. Australia win the Boxing Day Test by 139 runs, therefore Waugh’s 128 runs for the match are a pointless exercise in grandstanding for the crowd, plus he bowled three wicketless overs, raising all-round meaninglessness to a brave new level.
Third test: draw. Pointless. Even though these two draws put Australia one up with two to play in the unofficial world championship. But we lose the series anyway, so really it’s all just sands through the hourglass. Because the West Indies win at Adelaide by one single run.
But hang on, this is the most meaningful Test match of Mark Waugh’s career to date. The ultimate clutch player is about to shoot Australian cricket into the stratosphere! First innings, two balls, one duck. Just a single mate! Just one measly dink to the on side! A leg bye for Pete’s sake!
Never mind, anyone can get a good one early on, I’m sure if Waugh gets set in the second dig, that extra run will be struck with a beauty that is liable to blind the unwary. Sure enough, chasing a target of just 186 runs, Waugh is set on 26 from just 37 balls.
Yes, he is batting recklessly, way too fast, almost at Bradman Bodyline speeds. But surely, just one more run. Maybe even get to 50, the universally accepted absolute minimum pass mark for a decent batsmen in every single innings.
Maybe Tim May won’t need to score 42 from number ten. Maybe ‘Billy the Kid’ won’t have to play that half fend half hook shot! Maybe. Maybe.
But no, somehow the ‘Clutch Master’ falls, caught Phil Simmons, bowled Curtly Ambrose for 26 from 38 balls. There is all the time in the world left to score the runs. It is a fourth-innings pitch, there is no reason to rush.
But don’t worry, dear Roarers, because there is still Steve Waugh, Allan Border and Ian Healy to come. That is 90 additional runs right there as we know they will score around about their averages every time.
Except they don’t. They score just five runs between them. Amazingly, sometimes a set batsman can’t just wander off in the certain knowledge that the next men in won’t actually fail in more than two out of every three innings.
Sometimes the set batsman has to grit his teeth, tone down the scoring rate and grind out another ten runs. Because it’s on him.
I can’t go on. Instead we might just spend a quiet moment remembering Craig McDermott’s face as he is given out. A broken Tim May’s once-in-a-lifetime effort coming to nothing. For the want of one single run, from a player who batted like sunshine on a cloudy day.
Now obviously this piece is a complete satire and horribly distorts the concept of meaningful runs put forward by other knowledgeable and entertaining Roar contributors. I sincerely hope they forgive me and this bit of fun is seen for what it is.
Mark Waugh was a good Test player in an era where Australia was on the rise. He finished with a record that stacks up pretty well and more importantly he was part of teams that won a whopping 72 Test matches for their country. And that will never be meaningless.