The World Cup isn’t the only cricket being played at present. Almost, but not quite. The Australian domestic season reaches a climax with the start of the Pura Milk Cup final, starting in Brisbane tomorrow.
The match is to be played between the defending champions, Queensland, and a very strong NSW side, playing in their first final for almost a decade. The Blues won their last two matches outright to squeeze into the final. The NSW batting line up features Slater, both Waughs and Katich, all big names who have shown some form of late and also the prodigious new talent, Michael Clarke.
I have no intention of previewing the match or predicting a winner. I couldn’t care less.
What I did want to discuss is Steve Waugh’s playing future. Will he or won’t he retire? Perhaps he’s out of sight and out of mind at present but in a few weeks time, he’s back in the frame.
Waugh has not had to make a decision as he has still been playing and there has been no Test selection required for the past couple of months.
I believe that Waugh will play on. The reason is the way he is playing. He has always said that he wanted to play on if he felt that he was still able to perform at his best.
After that heady day where he scored that memorable 102 at the SCG, I think that he started to contemplate accepting the fairytale end on offer. He is a rational man and from some of his comments, I gained the impression that he somewhat discredited that innings due to the high amount of adrenalin and emotion involved. He wondered whether he could continue to produce those results on an on-going basis.
Over the past two months since then, I have watched Waugh bat on several occasions in the ING Cup and I think that he has been testing himself. He has attempted to bat with great aggression and authority and has succeeded handsomely. His results were not good in February but excellent. His scores in the ING Cup included 104, 71 and 88 with an overall strike rate of much more than 100. He scored 211 against Victoria at the MCG in the Pura Cup. During February, in all matches he scored 495 runs at an average of 82.5. Hit 55 balls to the fence and cleared it eight times – that’s 268 runs without having to run. His overall ING strike rate of 284/264 = 107.58 runs / 100 balls was impressive.
Last week he scored a vital 138 from 202 balls which included 25 boundaries, to save NSW with Michael Clark (120 from 118 balls), having trailed by 80 runs on the first innings.
The form is on the board. He must be selected. The choice is his.
The incentives are there:
1. If Australia wins the next series against the West Indies in the Caribbean, Australia returns to the top of the ICC Test Championship table.
2. After that come some easy beats and a chance to return the average to fifty plus. We play our first home, winter series in the Top End when we take on Bangladesh in June. This will present Waugh with the opportunity of becoming the first batsman to compile inning of 150 plus against all Test playing nations. We take on Zimbabwe, at home, at the beginning of next summer and Australia will end the year on top of the Test Championship.
Waugh can then choose where to go from there – probably to retire at the end of that summer.
In the short term, I will be most surprised if he announces his retirement at the end of the Pura Cup final.
After Waugh had hit 88 from 55 balls to bury WA in the final of the ING Cup, Justin Langer commented that Waugh was batting better than ever and would be a clown to retire now. Aside from the (unintended, I’m sure) sucking up nature of the comment, Justin does have a point.