When asked who their most inspirational player of all time is, many people will immediately answer Steve Waugh, who sits equal first on our list with 168 caps.
Few can compete with the former Test captain in terms of his tactical nous, intimate knowledge of the game and his endless ability.
In a country of countless stars, Waugh, along with Ricky Ponting, holds the record for most matches played by an Australian.
He finished his career with a whopping 10,927 runs at a prolific average of 51.06.
Given his exceptional talent with the bat, it was a surprise to see the early parts of his career dominated by the ball.
He had always been a more than handy all-rounder, although a persistent back problem would eventually force him to give up bowling.
In 1988, three years after his debut, Waugh caught the eye of cricketing fans with an inspired spell of bowling against the star studded West Indians.
Eight wickets in the Melbourne Test were nothing compared to the barrage of bouncers he unleashed on the unflappable Viv Richards.
His first journey to England was one he will cherish.
After smashing his first century in Leeds, Waugh backed up the 177* with another masterful 152* at Lord’s.
He finished the series with 506 runs at 126.5 and showed off his growing ability of being able to bat well with the tail.
After being unceremoniously dropped in favour of his younger brother, the elder of the Waugh twins returned with renewed vigour.
A stack of runs in the 1993/94 season were backed up with plenty of wickets; affirming his position as a genuine all-rounder.
The 1995 tour of the West Indies was the springboard to greatness for Waugh.
His fourth Test heroics, in which he scored 200 in just over nine hours, set up the historic series win for the first time since 1973.
He finished the tour with 429 runs at an average of 107.25.
Not to be outdone, Waugh again stole the headlines on the 1997 Ashes tour.
Batting first on a green deck in Manchester, Waugh rescued Australia in the first innings to hit a majestic 108.
In trying conditions, Waugh posted another score of 116 in the second innings to give Australia a famous win.
Undeniable form saw Waugh named Test captain ahead of the 1998/99 tour of the West Indies.
Apart from a broken nose suffered in Sri Lanka, Waugh’s captaincy was nothing but smooth sailing.
Clean sweeps against Pakistan, India, New Zealand and the West Indies followed, which sparked a record breaking 16 Test winning streak for the national side.
Much of the success was put down to the aggressive leadership shown by the new captain.
With speculation about his future hanging over the fifth Test of the 2002/03 Ashes series, Waugh produced one of the most replayed moments in the modern era.
In a memorable final over of play, Waugh required a boundary off the last ball of the day to bring up his record equalling 29th century.
In front of a sold out SCG, Waugh didn’t disappoint, dispatching English spinner Richard Dawson to the extra-cover boundary.
It remains one of the most spine tingling moments of our time.
Waugh signalled the 2003 series against India as his last.
He saved his best knock of the tour for his last career innings at the SCG, where he smashed 80 before holing out in the deep.
He left with Australia ranked number one in the world.
Number 5 – 150 All Round
One of the most remarkable statistics to Waugh’s name was brought up in 2003, when he became the first batsman in world cricket to record 150 or more against every Test playing nation.
It is one of the more prestigious stats to own, as even the greatest batsmen of all time had failed to do so.
It highlighted how serious he took his cricket, whether it was against the might of the West Indies, or even against minnows such as Bangladesh.
Number 4 – World Record Captain
Australia’s run of 16 straight Test wins was not achieved through pure luck.
The wily captaincy of Steve Waugh played a huge part in Australia’s incredible success.
No matter the conditions, the side decimated its opponents, one side at a time.
The record breaking streak was the highlight in his exceptional career as captain, with Waugh going on to become the most successful leader at the time.
His discipline has left future leaders in ideal positions, which has seen Australia remain at the top ever since.
Number 3 – Old Trafford Tons
Mark Taylor shocked everyone when he chose to bat first on an emerald green deck in the third Test of the 1997 Ashes series.
As expected, Australia started poorly, slumping to 3/42. However, Waugh gave the scoreline some respectability with a patient 108 in testing conditions.
To prove that the first innings was no fluke, Waugh backed up the ton with 116 in the second innings.
Australia went on to win the match comfortably, but they would not have done so had it not been for Waugh.
His back to back tons were extraordinary given the toughness of the pitch, and were the back bone of Australia’s 3-2 triumph.
Number 2 – Twin Magic
The 1995 tour of the West Indies proved to the world that the West Indies were beatable.
Heading into the four match series, Australia were desperate to break a barren run that had lasted 22 years.
With the ledger locked at one win apiece, the series moved to Jamaica for the all-important decider.
At 3/73, Steve joined his partially younger brother Mark at the crease in a partnership that is still talked about today.
The pair combined for 231 against a West Indian attack that had evoked fear wherever it went.
It was one of the more gallant displays you will ever see, with the besieged batsmen wearing a host of blows to the body.
After Mark’s departure, Steve kept going, reaching his highest Test score of 200.
It was an exquisite knock that put the final nail in the West Indian coffin.
Number 1 – Home Town Hero
With his career on the line, Steve Waugh strode out to the hallowed SCG turf in front of his adoring fans.
Facing the old enemy, Waugh wanted to give the Australian public one last reminder of just how good he was.
His batting throughout the day had been immaculate, and a century looked on the cards.
However, his scoring rate dried up as the day progressed, and with just one ball left in the day, he required a boundary to reach triple figures.
Richard Dawson, England’s spinner, had the ball in his hands, and was determined to make Waugh sweat it out overnight.
Unsure what to bowl, Dawson fired in a flatter delivery outside Waugh’s off stump, who slashed away through cover, beating the fieldsman, and sending the crowd into a wild frenzy.
Very few people can push back the start of the 6 PM bulleting on Channel Nine, but Waugh’s maverick display was certainly worth the wait.
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cricket Australia
First Posted 13 December, 2012 12:00AM AEST