Ashes 40 for 40: Steve Waugh talks about his ‘breakthrough’ series from 1989 and his famous SCG century

There is a moment at the start of Steve Waugh’s innings at Headingley in June 1989 that foreshadows what is to come for English bowlers.

Phillip DeFreitas comes to life in the bowl, body bursting in all directions as he hits the crease, and sends a perfectly respectable ball out of the stump.

Waugh leans forward and kicks the ball through the covers and briefly holds the pose. He doesn’t bother to run as the ball rushes to the limit and a wave of applause begins. It’s a move played with confidence, despite the overcast skies.

Steve Waugh hits his way 177 paces in the first Test of the Ashes in 1989 at Headingley.(Ben Radford / Getty Images)

In commentary, Richie Benaud sums it up perfectly, after a short break to let the noise of the crowd subside.

“It’s a delicious shot,” he hums.

“I would swear it was nothing more than a defensive push.”

Over 20 limits later and Waugh was still at bat, leading Australia to 7 for 601 declared and scoring 177 steps in the process.

Finally, after a career of 26 Tests where he had shown a lot of promise with the white ball but never really proved himself in the longer format, he had reached his first Test 100.

Some 30 years later, Waugh describes it as one of the “proudest moments” of his 168-test career.

“It’s like you graduated as a trial cricketer by doing this,” he says.

“A breakthrough for the team”

Waugh’s century, plus a few quick goals from Dean Jones and captain Allan Border on the last morning of the game, ended up pushing Australia to an unlikely victory in that first test.

“We were playing basically so we didn’t lose it,” Waugh says.

“We only reported right before lunch on the last day and Allan did so to make sure we couldn’t lose the test.”

But tourists grabbed a wicket just before the break and soon realized that a victory was possible as more wickets started to drop.

A portrait of a man with a bat and wearing a green cap
Steve Waugh pictured at Old Trafford in Manchester in 1989. As Australia went on to win the test by nine wickets, Waugh would establish himself as a star of the future.(Adrian Murrell / Allsport)

“You could really feel ourselves growing as a team and starting to believe in this mid-session, it kind of happened,” he said.

Waugh remembers the team celebrating after the game for hours on end, drinking and singing the team song in the locker room.

“It felt like it was a breakthrough for the team,” he said.

“We did something that we didn’t think we could do and all of a sudden we were like, ‘Wait, maybe we’re not such a bad team after all.’

A visit for the ages

This 210-race victory in the first test of the 1989 Australian Tour was indeed the start of a spectacular race for tourists.

They ended up winning the 4-nil series, the first time Australia has won the famous urn in England since 1975.

Waugh crushed countless back-foot cover orders at the fence this English summer, scoring another century in the second test and netting 393 points before England could get him out.

Beating at number six, he compiled 506 runs at an average of 126.50 across the tour.

Only Mark Taylor and Dean Jones, batting above him in order, scored more, scoring 839 and 566 points respectively.

“We just started, it was like a snowball effect,” says Waugh.

“At the end of the tour, we just thought we could beat anyone.

“We came together, we grew and the team created their identity on this tour.”

In addition to great hitters, Australian bowling was relentless.

Canceled before the start of the series for being too old, Terry Alderman took 41 wickets for the tour (including 19 LBW). He was well assisted by Geoff Lawson with 29 wickets and Merv Hughes who took 19.

The late Dean Jones best summed it up in his autobiography My call, when he wrote “everyone on this tour has contributed.”

Not everything is easy

Shortly after the heights of this groundbreaking tour, Waugh was retired to the Aussie side in the middle of the 1990/91 Ashes home series after a drop in performance.

“I don’t know what happened. I think a lot has happened in those years,” he says.

“I did it, but maybe I took my foot off the accelerator, my form slipped a bit and my brother Mark obviously replaced me.

“He came and marked this century in Adelaide and said to the breeders, ‘Why didn’t you choose me sooner?'”

Some 18 months later, when Waugh made his way into the Test team, his stick was less flashy and more calculated. It eventually paid off, as he became the world’s number one drummer and a very successful captain.

Three men in cricket white are smiling at the camera
Ian Healy, Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh celebrate after beating England in the third test at the Adelaide Oval in December 1998, retaining the Ashes once again.(Laurence Griffiths / Allsport)

Waugh guided Australia to the highest winning streak in testing history (16 games) between October 1999 and February 2001.

At the age of 36, he finally had the chance to captain his country in England, a series which Australia won 4-1.

He hit a 100-plus with the bat once again and his 157 not eliminated in the final test at the Oval came just weeks after a calf injury, in what was an incredible act of physical endurance. .

A “special” day at the SCG

Waugh would write another highlight of Ashes into the history books before ending his career: his famous last hundred ball in front of his home crowd, in 2003.

A beaten square from English spinner Richard Dawson in long shadows at the SCG brought in his 29th test ton, to match Don Bradman’s tally. He also arrived the same day he passed the 10,000 test mark.

It’s an exciting moment included in almost every recent Ashes flagship movie, but it was also important to Waugh who in the twilight of his career was battling to score points.


“You even start to doubt yourself, even though you think you can,” he says.

“Maybe you’ve passed it, maybe you won’t be able to do it anymore.

“To get that out of the fire; it was a relief, but it was also special. “

When asked to compare it to his first test ton, to kick off Australia’s 4-zero beating against England on foreign shores 13 years earlier, Waugh said the experiences were memorable for different reasons.

“1989 was really about teaming up, coming together and doing something as a team,” he says.

“The last century was for me to prove to myself that I was still good enough.”


Leave a Comment