WHEN Stephen Waugh took over the captaincy of the Australian team after Mark Taylor's retirement, he had a lot to live up to. Despite his sometimes mediocre form with the bat, Taylor had succeeded in doing what many Australian captains had failed to do - defeat the West Indies in their own den and win back the Frank Worrell trophy. Of course, he had achieved numerous other things along the way.
So, to use a cliche, the pressure was on Waugh. He managed to keep the winning streak going though victory over India in India has continued to elude him as well. But along the way, he has shown that when it comes to hypocrisy, then he has no equal. Taylor was a man who was prepared to let the team run a bit loose but since his charges knew his ways, they did rein in some of their exuberance.
Waugh has often trumpeted the myth that he is a traditionalist and that the values of the game are important to him. As if to provide proof of this, Stephen has shown an attachment to his baggy green cap, which, no doubt, has driven numerous people to the conclusion that he is a man who is true to cricket's traditions. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Sledging is something that is certainly not in the spirit of the game. And the Australians are known to be masters at this. Waugh is considered the silent sort but he is pretty active on the field when it comes to trying to demoralise the opposition by using words. It's something which shows the hypocrisy inherent in his avowed adherence to traditions.
Waugh is willing to accept doubtful dismissals when it comes to his opponents. The second Test of the series against South Africa provided just the latest example of this. Jacques Kallis was given out caught behind when the ball clearly did not go anywhere near his bat or gloves; this followed a stifled appeal from the Australians. Umpire Eddit Nicolls made the error and it was well within Waugh's province to express doubts and give the third umpire a chance to adjudicate. He stood by and let things take their course.
Yet when he was given run out by umpire Darrell Hair, Waugh stood around. He seemed to be telling Hair that the third umpire should be consulted. For once, Hair told him that he was out and asked him to go. Next day, Waugh was fined for dissent but he seemed annoyed about it - he said he wanted to make his side of things public. Very much in keeping with the spirit of the game. This from the same man who, a month or so back, when asked about Sachin Tendulkar's being fined by Mike Denness, opined that players should accept the decisions of referees and umpires without any backchat.
One should also note the manner in which Waugh handled the queries relating to Brett Lee's peppering of South African tailender Nantie Hayward with bouncers. The answer was that the West Indies had done it during their heyday. Now that was not what he was asked - he was asked wether it was in the spirit of the game. It is obvious that continuous bowling of bouncers at tailenders is NOT in the spirit of the game. Yet, this so-called traditionalist slipped his way out of that one.
Waugh can keep trying his best but he will never rise to the heights of a great captain. He is good, no doubt, but the matter ends there. His use of questionable tactics and his turning of a blind eye to tactics that border on the churlish will ensure that he is remembered for not bothering to control his team and make his colleagues play in the spirit of the game rather than anything else.