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   Monday, 23 December, 2002, 16:12 GMT
Decision time for Waugh
Steve Waugh's career spans 17 years and many highights
Waugh's career spans 17 years and many highights

Australia selector Trevor Hohns has given the clearest indication yet that the immense career of Steve Waugh may be about to end.

Hohns was surprisingly revealing for a national selector when he said Waugh had the support of the Australian Cricket Board "until the Sydney Test" against England.

"The decision is then up to him whether he wants to continue or not," Hohns said.

Waugh's Test record
Tests: 154
Runs: 9,840
Centuries: 28
Fifties: 45
Average: 49.45

But therein lies the paradox.

If the decline of Waugh the batsman continues, the decision over how long to continue will not be his to make for much longer.

One thing is for certain, the ACB will give the 37-year-old the chance to jump before being shoved.

Waugh being the proud character that he is, will not want to end his international career in the same way as his brother Mark - by being dropped.

In many ways, bowing out on his home ground having matched Allan Border's world record for Tests played, would be a fitting finale for the veteran.

Steve Waugh
Waugh's commitment is unparalleled in world cricket

Add to that the possibility of an Ashes whitewash, which would see him clear of Border as Australia's most successful skipper.

The modern game has very little room for sentiment.

He may well be hell-bent on conquering India in 2004, but the ACB is just as ruthless and they will not indulge Waugh if the team must carry him.

The bare facts say Waugh is a shadow of the batsman of years past.

He has averaged 27 since the end of the 2001 Ashes series, a run of form that is responsible for dropping his overall record to below 50 for the first time since early 1999.

Regaining that magical figure may be beyond Waugh now, but 160 runs in the final two Ashes Tests will see him pass 10,000 in Test cricket.

Michael Clarke
The likes of Clarke cannot be ignored forever

He will have to play well to get those runs, and a return to form would provide a solid argument for him retaining the captaincy for April's tour of West Indies.

But papering over the cracks is not what Australia need now as they enter a challenging new era that demands they continue their world domination.

And the likes of Martin Love and Michael Clarke cannot be kept on ice forever.

Waugh is past his peak so it is too late for him to call it a day at the top of his game. But it is not too late to retire with grace.

To the fans who want to see him bow out with his reputation intact, a seasonal song by John Lennon may sum up their feelings - Happy Christmas, Waugh is over.

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 Australia captain Steve Waugh
"I've got to try and enjoy my cricket"
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