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Monday, June 14, 1999 Published at 13:56 GMT 14:56 UK

Waugh leads by example

Shot selector: Steve Waugh hits out on his way to a match-winning century

Steve Waugh may not be the most popular of cricketers, but his unbeaten 120 against South Africa on Sunday will certainly have added to his reputation as one of the most feared batsmen on the planet.

Waugh, who replaced the highly respected Mark Taylor as captain in February, is often criticised as lacking the on-field charisma and sheer star quality of contemporaries such as Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne.

Nevertheless, as his team-mates will tell you, he is a captain content to let others indulge in the sensational, while he gets on with the serious business of winning cricket matches.

[ image: A 1995 double century against the West Indies was his finest innings]
A 1995 double century against the West Indies was his finest innings
His Test record is simply one of the best in the modern era: 7,622 runs at an average of 50.81; 19 100s and 41 half-centuries, with his best performances reserved for the most pressurised situations - as every English fan can testify.

The ultimate back-to-the-wall player, he has consistently defied the odds, appearing to delight in cocking a snook at the critics who question his talent.

His innings against South Africa at Headingley came at exactly one of those moments. The Proteas had notched up a score of 271 - having already qualified for the semi-finals.

Australia, who needed a victory to secure their entry into next the round, looked wounded at 48-3, but then came Waugh's second one-day century, achieved in just 93 balls.

It was not the first time he had saved his country from disaster, however.

In 1995 Australia travelled to Caribbean intent on sealing their reputation as the best Test team in the world. At that stage only the West Indies had defied them.

Before the series Waugh's perceived weakness against the short ball was targeted by the home side as their best chance of success.

But in the face of a constant battery of short-pitched deliveries from pace legends Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, Waugh forged an awkward, yet effective defence and went on to score an epic 200 at Sabina Park as Australia at last broke their Caribbean hoodoo.

A family affair

Waugh's complicated personality is thrown into an intriguing light when compared to that of his twin brother, Mark.

Together they have shored up the Australian middle-order throughout the 1990s.

[ image: Mark Waugh: Unlike his brother, dogged by controversy]
Mark Waugh: Unlike his brother, dogged by controversy
Steve, the elder of the non-identical pair by four minutes, is something of a dour figure, his taciturn, gum-chewing persona reflected in a stubborn style of batting designed to frustrate the opposition into submission. His wicket, as every bowler knows, is never sold cheaply.

Mark, on the other hand, is one of the game's most attractive batsmen, an exquisite stroke-player whose natural ability has often been undermined by a tendency to fall to the rashest of shots.

One former Australian Test player once commented: "If Steve Waugh was playing in my backyard I'd close the blinds. If Mark was playing on the other side of the world, I'd jump on a plane to watch."

Despite their partnership in the Test team, the brothers are said not to be as close as many twins.

One is a dour thinker, with a deep respect for the history and traditions of the sport - the other a flamboyant extrovert, who loves a flutter.

While last December Mark became embroiled in the Pakistan bookmakers scandal, Steve is seen by the power-brokers of the Australian Cricket Board as a safe pair of hands.

Take-off after slow start

Waugh entered the Test scene in 1985 as a 20-year-old all-rounder, only a year after making his first-class bow with New South Wales.

But an inauspicious debut against India - 18 runs and two wickets - was characteristic of a stuttering start to his career.

[ image: Waugh is congratulated by team-mates for his 1989 heorics]
Waugh is congratulated by team-mates for his 1989 heorics
It took 27 Tests before he passed 100 for the first time and, after playing a leading role in Australia's triumph in the 1987 World Cup, it looked for a while that he could be marginalised as a one-day specialist.

But his Test breakthrough came in England in 1989 - and what a breakthrough it was.

Billed in the English press as a bit-part player, Waugh burst into the limelight with a magnificent 177 not out in the first Test at Headingley. This was followed by unbeaten innings of 152 and 21 at Lord's, before he finally lost his wicket to Angus Fraser for 43 in the third Test at Edgbaston.

He finished that series with 506 runs at an average of 126.50 - and he has continued to torment England ever since.

Waugh, more even than the likes of Taylor, Warne, Alan Border and Glenn McGrath, has ensured Australia's utter dominance over the "old enemy" over the past decade.

Other personal Ashes highlights included superb centuries in both innings in the Old Trafford Test of 1997 and yet another man of the series award just last month, after helping his team maintain their 12-year grip on the famous urn.

A persistent back injury has plagued him in recent years, limiting his right-arm medium pace to occasional run-outs, but as a batsman he is still one of the great run-accumulators.

And, as News Online's expert analyst Dickie Bird says, he remains the "one player you would want next to you if you were going over the top of the trenches".

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