Steve Waugh's defining quality is his implacable self-belief. As a batsman, he is tenacious and driven by passion. As captain, he has the gift of seeing the opposition's weak spot, and while inspiring his own side to play its best he also makes the rival teams play below theirs. Waugh was the man behind Australia's amazing run of 16 Test wins on the trot, a feat that is bound to remain unparalleled for a long time to come. He credited the feat to "Australian cricket's philosophy of enjoying each other's success while doing the little things right."
Waugh is a great exploiter of fear: for he is quick to smell it and even quicker to take advantage of it. And who, just who, can forget his amazing leadership qualities in the 1999 World Cup, when the side, needing seven straight wins, tied one and won six. And that century against South Africa in the must-win match, where his response to the whisper of defeat was the diamond hardness of his mind. But then, who thought that two years later he would be dropped from the country's limited-overs side?
The older of the Waugh twins said, "there are no guarantees in sport, as in life. You never know what's around the corner."
Considered even now as the world's most dependable contemporary Test batsman, the Australian captain in the longer version of the game hasn't given up hope of making it to the 2003 World Cup in South Africa. "I'll give it my 100 per cent, that's been the philosophy of my cricket," said Waugh, who was in Chennai recently for an MRF promotion campaign.
Excerpts from the interview:
You've given the concept of captaincy a whole new meaning. Prior to your incredible streak, when one spoke of leadership it revolved around whether the captain was cerebral or not. The general notion, though, is that a captain is as good as his team. You were different?
My philosophy is simple. I focus on helping players to express their natural talent while showing the vision of the goal that they have to work towards. For, notwithstanding individual flair, if the players are not pulling together in the right direction, nothing's going to work. You see, Australian cricket is all about enjoying each other's success, about doing the little things right, helping each other out and, if needed, going out of the way to have a word with somebody who is struggling. The whole lot of us back passion and try and see things from other people's perspective rather that just look at it from one's point of view all the time. Really, it is about caring for each other.
You and Mark are probably the last of them. One gets the feeling that the present Australian batsmen lack the art of batting for long durations, but for say Matt Hayden. Do you agree?
Well, I think we've necessarily changed our approach to batting. We try and score quickly. Each one from the present bunch is very capable of playing long innings. Ricky Ponting did it at Cape Town some time ago. We all have done it at some stage or the other. Our philosophy now is to try and score quickly to give our bowlers the opportunity to try and get 20 wickets. We want to win the game, and as quickly as possible.
There has been a spurt of bowlers with suspect actions in world cricket. Is there any way to curb this?
It's a difficult problem, really. The International Cricket Council (ICC) is working on some measures. Something certainly needs to be done quickly, for there is too much controversy and too much talk about it, which is negative for the game. The ICC has to come out with a solution which again has to be universal. Everyone has to agree with it, and everyone has to be fair about it. It is not an easy question to answer and there is no easy solution to it.
Andy Roberts feels that too many restrictions have been imposed on fast bowlers and says one has to leave it to the umpires to decide if the bowling is getting intimidatory. You've played some fine fast bowlers. Your views?
I have to pretty much agree with that. I think there are too many restrictions, especially in limited-overs cricket. But we've at least got one bouncer back in ODI, which is good. I'd also like to see bowlers having more options. To me Test cricket is about courage. And when someone is at you, bowling short and quick, I know it is not easy. I think the current world cricket is reasonably good though. You are allowed two short balls per over in Tests, which is pretty reasonable. As a batsman, I don't think I'll be worried if they are allowed to bowl more than that.
Which do you think is your greatest moment on the cricket field?
I'm lucky actually, for I've had several memorable moments. Winning both the World Cups was great; 1987 because we were the underdogs and no one thought we could pull it off. In 1999, we did it after having to win seven games in a row: we won six and tied one, quite an achievement really. Beating the West Indies in '95 when they hadn't been beaten for 15 years while we hadn't beaten them in 22 years. Personally for me, to score 200 there (Sabina Park) was a great feeling. The first time I walked on to the field wearing the Baggy Green and then the first time I led the Australian side out: I turned around and there were 10 teammates wearing the Baggy Green and walking behind me.
Which fast bowler has troubled you the most, and why?
I think I couldn't get past Ambrose. Curtly is the greatest fast bowler I've played. He gives you no chance. If you have any sort of weakness he'll find it quickly, probe deep and break you down gradually. He was very good at summing up batsmen and judging where their weaknesses were. And mind you, his last ball was as quick as the first. He bowled an immaculate length and his bouncers were lethal. He never said much, one felt he didn't know what he was thinking. I'd say he was pretty close to the perfect quick bowler.
Among the spinners that you have played who would you rate as the most cunning?
Saqlain Mushtaq. Cunning is the right word for him. Subtle variations, strong body language, very aggressive and pretty hard to take on. From Australia's point of view, we had trouble with Harbhajan Singh in the last series. Anil Kumble on a track with a little bounce and turn is an exceptional bowler. Not to forget Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill, but then we are from the same team.
Given that your side on the last tour was bowled out by one man, a fairly inexperienced Harbhajan, one suspects that Australia's ability to play spin is on the decline...
I don't think so. We played exceptional cricket on that tour. For some reason we didn't come to grips with Harbhajan. He bowled very, very well against us. Unusual type of bowler, we hadn't come up against the lot where he gets the bounce, spin and subtle variation. On a short tour like that one, when you get down against a particular bowler it's hard to fight back. And we didn't have any time to get the other guys into form. So, some games we were playing people out of form against spinners and that became difficult. I think we learnt our lessons on how to play spinners.
After Keith Miller, Australia hasn't really had an all-rounder of his calibre. What do you think could be the reason?
Hey, how can you forget Steve Waugh (laughs) . I guess it is pretty simple to reason that. Nowadays we play so much cricket, and that involves so much travelling, it is virtually impossible to concentrate equally, and train as hard, on batting and bowling, for that can leave you jaded. Then there is the injury aspect. Look at all the top-class present-day all-rounders, they all have fitness problems: Kallis, Cairns, Klusener, Pollock. It's so very demanding, the workload that they are taking up and the fact that they are trying twice as hard.
This interview was first published in Sportstar magazine on 27.07. 2002
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