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Hasib
October 13, 2003, 08:20 AM
Waugh under pressure to quit
By Peter Roebuck
October 12, 2003




Steve Waugh's Test career hangs by a thread. Before the season began he was told by Trevor Hohns, the chairman of selectors, that he was certain to play only in the two Test matches against Zimbabwe at the start of the summer and after that must take his chances as a batsman.

Waugh was reputedly thunderstruck to discover that his position was under such threat. He had assumed that his recent form had secured his position and had been looking forward to batting without the shadow of the gallows hanging over him.

More recently Waugh was asked by a senior official when he intended to announce his retirement.

Clearly the selectors and Cricket Australia are hoping their captain will stand down of his own accord. If he does announce his departure, they will presumably allow him to keep playing until the last Test of the summer, against India in Sydney.

They hope that Waugh will be tempted by the prospect of a huge crowd rising to its feet on the ground where he so memorably prolonged his career 12 months ago. If he refuses to go on these terms, then he risks a more abrupt removal.

After surviving last season, he must have imagined that the crisis had passed and was looking forward to preparing himself and his team for the task of beating India in late 2005. Now he fears that a couple of failures against India will give the selectors a long-awaited chance to push him aside.

Unless Waugh forces their hand with a succession of imposing performances, the selectors will invite Ricky Ponting to captain the team in Sri Lanka this autumn.

Concerned about the ageing of the Australian team, they want the young Tasmanian to take over sooner rather than later.

As far as the selectors are concerned, it is the only way to maintain the vigour of the national sport.

Unless Waugh forces their hand with a succession of imposing performances, the selectors will invite Ricky Ponting to captain the team.
Hohns has often said that his committee is responsible for the direction as well as the strength of Australian cricket.

Over the past few years the policy of dropping players showing signs of wear and tear has been consistently pursued. Unpopular decisions have been made. Sporting heroes such as Allan Border, Ian Healy and David Boon were unceremoniously dumped. Australian cricket is a meritocracy.

But Waugh's case is different. Border and Boon, both now members of the selection committee, were shadows of their former selves. Waugh has been batting vigorously and productively. His footwork has been precise and quick and his execution has been impressive. Realising that he had become a drudge, he set out to recapture the spirit of his early days and produced a series of entertaining innings.

At the height of his powers he saved Australia on many occasions with a succession of tenacious, courageous and skilful hands. In recent times these strong points have not been needed, but Waugh deserves credit for that because he has instilled in his men the qualities that have sustained his own impressive career.

Waugh has been a revelation in 2003. Far from being on his last legs, he has shown signs of enjoying a revival. Along the way he has led his team to victory in the West Indies and has played a succession of fine innings for his state and country.

He has not batted like an old man holding on for dear life because he has nowhere else to go and nothing else to do.

This has been a formidable competitor showing that he still has the hunger and fire needed to score runs in the highest company. Waugh remains ambitious and full of runs.

Throughout his career he has challenged conventional thinking. Certainly he is not prepared to accept that deterioration inevitably sets in once a batsman has celebrated his 35th birthday.

In the light of his recent performances, the Australian captain should not be fearing for his place. Instead the selectors should encourage him to continue going for his shots by inviting him to lead the side for the entire series against India.

By putting him on notice, the selectors have pushed their captain back into his shell.

If Hohns and his colleagues are worried about the age of their side, then they should have taken the chance presented by the injury to Damien Martyn to introduce one of the younger brigade. As it stands, Martin Love is next in line to join a batting order that already includes ageing latecomer Darren Lehmann.

Waugh should not be in the team because he scored runs last decade, last year or last week. He should be in the team because he is a successful leader and a batsman of enduring brilliance.