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Friday, February 12, 1999 Published at 07:54 GMT

Sport: Cricket

A thoroughly awkward Aussie

Time and again Steve Waugh has destroyed England's Ashes hopes

It has been a long wait, but Steve Waugh has finally arrived.

Thirteen years and 111 Tests after making his debut, the player rated as the most obdurate batsman in world cricket at last has the job he cherishes above all others - the captaincy of Australia.

The departure of Mark Taylor as skipper last week paved for the way for the least surprising succession in the international game.

"Champion" - Pat Murphy assesses Steve Waugh's record (Radio 5 Live)
And while Waugh has never been the most popular of cricketers - lacking the on-field charisma and sheer star quality of contemporaries like Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne - few followers of the sport will begrudge him his big moment.

Waugh has always been content to let others indulge in the sensational, while he gets about the serious business of winning cricket matches.

His Test record is simply one of the best in the modern era: 7,213 runs at an average of 50.44; 17 100s and 40 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.

Familiar foe await new skipper

Waugh's first task as captain will be to take a buoyant side to the West Indies, scene of perhaps his greatest ever triumph.

[ 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
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.

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.

[ image: Mark Waugh: Unlike his brother, dogged by controversy]
Mark Waugh: Unlike his brother, dogged by controversy
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.

"It's a great honour" - The new captain meets the press (Radio 5 Live)
But an inauspicious debut against India - 18 runs and two wickets - was characteristic of a stuttering start to his career.

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.

[ image: Waugh is congratulated by team-mates for his 1989 heorics]
Waugh is congratulated by team-mates for his 1989 heorics
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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