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The day of the younger Waugh

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The day when Mark Waugh’s game was more than just lazy elegance...

February 10th of 2001 was the day, when Mark Waugh was questioned over alleged match-fixing allegations; by ICC’s anti-corruption unit. Amazingly, the day before he was hounded by ICC’s investigators, instead of being a nervous wreak, Mark Waugh showed the fortitude and the courage, to carve out a superlative 173 against West Indies.

Backdrop

Entering 2001, the Australians were already invincible. They had just whitewashed the Windies, in the Frank Worrell trophy 5-0. The tri-series, which included Zimbabwe as the third team was no different, as going into the second final against the Windies, they hadn’t lost a single game. The beleaguered Windies might have still believed in the law of averages and thought they had a chance of upsetting the apple-cart in the second final played at MCG.

The battleground

West Indies’s captain Jimmy Adams won the toss and elected to bowl first. A bit of drizzle and grey skies perhaps influenced him to take that decision. Australia lost the swashbuckling opening batsman, Gilchrist very early in the innings. At the other end, the king of lazy elegance, Mark Waugh didn’t seem to be his normal self, as he was perhaps thinking about the impending investigation. Both Cuffy and Nixon McLean even induced a few false shots from Mark Waugh. For once, the Mozart of the willow seemed to be struggling to write beautiful symphonies with a bat in hand.

Mark Waugh even tried a few agricultural hoicks across the line. Slogs and Mark Waugh don’t seem to go along well, but perhaps that nervous energy made him try it. It was the lovely leg-glance of McLean in the 11th over of the innings that finally calmed down Waugh’s nerves. Once he played that shot, he never looked back, as he went on to make a majestic 173.

As both Cuffy and McLean tested the middle of the pitch too often, Jimmy Adams bought his spinners into the attack. Nagamootoo and Samuels won’t go down into the history books as a great  spinning duo. But both of them are/were* quick through the air. In any format of the game, it is never easy to use your feet against bowlers, who just fire it in. Mark Waugh though, like a great ballet dancer used his feet, and lofted Nagamootoo down the ground in the 18th over for a boundary. The beauty of that shot was Mark Waugh hitting it dead straight. By using his feet, Waugh completely flummoxed both slow bowlers. On expected lines, both of them bowled short, and Mark Waugh took full advantage of it.

Those famous soft hands of Mark Waugh were in full flow too. There can’t be anything more frustrating for a spinner than watching a batsman use his wrists to dab a good delivery around the corner for a single.

Mark Waugh soon reached his hundred of just 104 balls. There was always a feeling that once Waugh reached his hundred, he would try too many shots and gift his wicket away. On that day, he seemed to be very determined, as he continued to flay the hapless Windies attack to all corners of the ground.

The beleaguered captain, Jimmy Adams bought himself into the bowling attack. The left arm spinner, Adams tried to stop the flow of runs by bowling a negative line from over the wicket. Now, Mark Waugh was never a fan of spinners bowling negative lines, as he thought it was boring. Who can forget him trying a reverse sweep against Tufnell in a test match at Brisbane in 94/95, and losing his wicket? This time around, his gambling instincts worked, as he smashed Adams all over the park.

In the 41st over, Mark Waugh used his feet and made room for himself to loft Jimmy Adams over extra-cover for a boundary. Those were the days, when the bats weren’t so good. So, to play a shot over extra-cover required great skills. This forced Jimmy Adams to fire it in even more into Waugh’s pads. Waugh was ready for it, as he used his feet and the slog sweep to smash Adams for a couple of sixes through the on-side. To hit a similar kind of delivery on both sides of the wicket is a rare gift, and God had bestowed upon Junior that rare gift.

Finally, West Indies had something to cheer about, as Mark Waugh got out caught in the deep by Lara of Samuels for 173. The damage was already done, as Mark Waugh had taken Australia to an imposing total of 338. The Windies made a spirited effort to chase it down, but eventually fell 39 runs short of the target. At that time, Mark Waugh’s 173 was the highest individual score made by an Australian in One-day cricket.

I won’t say Mark Waugh was at his serene best at MCG. At his best, Mark Waugh played like an expressionist painter, who painted cuts, flicks and lofted strokes with a bat in hand. But in this innings, he even played a few agricultural slogs. It was still a special knock, as he was able to switch his mind off about match-fixing allegations, and play like a Zen Master.

Brave, tough, fortitude and mental toughness aren’t words that are used to describe Mark Waugh. By playing that knock at MCG though, Mark Waugh showed, there was more to his batting than just grace and timing. The old saying; when the going gets tough, the tough get going can be used to describe the way Waugh played that day.

What happened next?

Thankfully, for all cricket aficionados, Mark Waugh came out clean from the investigation. He didn’t play for much longer, as Mark Waugh retired by the end of 2002. Even now, when someone talks about lazy elegance, Mark Waugh’s name is rightfully mentioned.

On the other hand, Jimmy Adams resigned as the captain of the Windies side. The fortunes of the side didn’t change much, as a demoralised and seemingly disinterested Windies side sadly became the whipping boys of world cricket.



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