CW Specials: My Encounters with Cricketing Greats – Final Episode: The Waugh family – Kersi Meher-Homji
I remember the exact date although it happened 34 years ago.
My admiration for the Waugh family started in an Indian restaurant in George Street, Sydney, on 19 November 1984. That was the day New South Wales (NSW) had humbled the mighty West Indies (which included Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards. Gordon Greenidge, Joel Garner, the lot) on the Sydney Cricket Ground and a dinner was organised that evening by the Cricketers Club of NSW.
I was surrounded on my table by past, present and future cricket personalities, amongst them a beaming Bob Simpson and his daughter Debbie, the dashing NSW opener Steve Smith (not related to the current Australian captain Steven Smith) and a tallish, youngish handsome man.
He appeared elated when he got up to receive the Richie Benaud Award for the Best Under-19 Cricketer of the Year and I whispered to Debbie Simpson: “He does not look under-19 to me.”
“Shh…, he’s not Mark Waugh”, she whispered back. “It’s his father Rodger accepting on behalf of Mark, who’s currently representing NSW 2nd XI in Melbourne.”
That was the beginning of my friendship with the Waugh family. The decades that followed saw the emergence of two world class cricketers, Steve and Mark Waugh.
Back to 1984 at the Indian restaurant in Sydney when people on my table (me included) asked: “Mark Waugh who?” The hot lamb curry and pappadams were forgotten as Rodger Waugh talked about his teenage twins, Mark and Steve, to me.
He told me of their performances for Combined Schools, Australia under -19s, NSW 2nd XI and Bankstown in Sydney’s first-grade matched the spiciness of the food. Only two batsmen had recorded centuries in the Youth test series against Sri Lanka in 1983. One was Mark Waugh scoring 123 runs as an opener in Adelaide and the other was Steve Waugh who smacked 187 off 216 balls in the final test in Melbourne.
Steve topped the batting aggregate and average in the series which was to become a familiar occurrence in years to come. When Roger told me that no one writes on his teenage sons in national magazines, I volunteered to write for Cricketer (Australia) if he gave me some information on them.
“I don’t have details now but I’ll ask my wife Beverley to send you clippings,” he promised.
A few days later I received a fat envelope from Beverley Waugh, the twins’ sports-loving mother and their guiding light. It included clippings from local papers on Steve and Mark’s achievements.
The highlight was Steve’s unbeaten 127 (eight sixes, 10 fours) in 95 minutes for Bankstown against Sydney University which was described by former Australian Test opener John Dyson as one of the strongest centuries he had seen. As the twins were all-rounders, c. Waugh b. Waugh became a familiar line in Bankstown’s first-grade scorebooks.
It was nostalgic reliving that November 1984 night when I contacted dad Rodger after Steve’s marvellous 160 in the 1997 Johannesburg Test against South Africa, and mum Beverley after Mark’s series-winning 116 in Port Elizabeth a fortnight later.
Both Rodger and Bev were proficient tennis players who made their sons’ climb to the top easier by discipline, inspiration and good old-fashioned hard work. They did not forget to mention the promise shown by their younger sons Dean and Danny who subsequently played at a high level.
Based on the information provided by them I wrote a story on Steve and Mark Waugh in the February 1985 issue of Cricketer; their first of many thousand articles in national and international magazines.
It was mainly because of help given by Bev and Rodger that I was able to write The Waugh Twins (Kangaroo Press, 1998). Steve and Mark were also co-operative, as were younger brothers Dean and Danny and Bev’s brother Dion. The book is the largest best-seller among 14 published by me with a sale of over 22,000.
Whenever I meet Steve he checks our “scores”; not runs but the number of books published by us. I think the “score” is currently level at 14-all!
I will not even attempt to summarise the twins’ fantastic cricket career which is captured in many books. Only a few spectacular highlights are as below:
It was a partnership to cherish; the partnership that destroyed the wall of superiority of the West Indians. For 15 years and 29 Test series they were the undisputed kings of cricket. They did not just defeat their opponents but pulverised them.
But 3 May 1995 saw the changing of guards at Kingston in Caribbean. Australia who had lost their last eight Test series to the Windies since 1978 defeated them by an innings to regain the Frank Worrell Trophy 2-1.
The heroes of this sensational turnaround were Steve and Mark Waugh who added an incandescent 231 with an air of invincibility. In that series Steve totalled 429 runs at a Bradman-esque average of 107.25 and Mark 240 runs at 40.
Now a national selector Mark was more elegant in his stroke-play than Steve but lacked Steve’s grit.
One of my favourite moments in Test cricket was Steve’s last ball century in the January 2003 Sydney Ashes Test. Many had predicted this Test to be Steve Waugh’s swan song. But his epic last ball century on the second day not only prolonged his career by a year but stopped the nation for a few tantalizing minutes. It was a moment of drama when strong men shed tears of joy.
The final Test was not a thriller as England won comfortably after losing the Ashes 0-4. But the last over of the second day was right out of a soap opera when Steve needed five runs for his century off Richard Dawson. The first three were dot balls but Steve took three runs off the fourth. Adam Gilchrist engineered a single from the next ball.
Ultimately it came down to this, two runs needed for Steve’s ton off the last ball of the day. England made him wait, making psychological field changes. In a blur, Steve drove the final ball of the day to the off for a four and reached his hundred as fans screamed in ecstasy.
This moment has gone down in folklore. It produced a roar cricket historian David Frith had not heard in Sydney in his 52 years of cricket reporting. Patrons in pubs were chanting Steve’s name hours after his epic hundred.
Steve’s son Austin, 18, promises to follow in his father’s famous footsteps as he has represented Australia Under-19s. In 2016 he had hit an unbeaten century in the final of Under-17 national championship.
The Waugh twins in Test cricket
HS = Highest Score; * = not out; Best/i = Best bowling/innings; 5w/i = 5 wickets/innings.