On a different wicket

A sporting icon with a humane touch. Well, that is Stephen Rodger Waugh, the Australian cricket captain for you.

V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM

A sporting icon with a humane touch. Well, that is Stephen Rodger Waugh, the Australian cricket captain for you. In this world of intense desires, the 38-year-old Waugh, is assured of a place in history by his imposing records in Tests and one-dayers. His life gives a new dimension to the way the lifestyles of superstars in cricket can be different even while enjoying the immense benefits showered on them by the corporate world. Waugh's genuine concern for the under-privileged is one of the main reasons for his four-year long association with the charity home, Udayan, in Kolkata. An organisation which gives "opportunities to all those who have nice lifestyles, time and money to spend, to serve humanity." This is not the time to debate why other greats in contemporary sport don't figure so prominently (though some give an impression that they also do charity but avoid publicity). What is indisputable is that these emotional gestures of Waugh have been increasing his popularity graph across the globe, more so in India where cricket is virtually a religion.

Steve Waugh, who was in Hyderabad recently as the brand ambassador of AMP Sanmar, posing with a painting. — Pic. MD. YOUSUF-

For someone who played in 162 Tests scoring 10521 runs with 32 centuries, Waugh is not ignorant to the pressures of earning name and fame and the battle to sustain the image. The peerless leader, spoke to The Sportstar during his private visit to Hyderabad as the brand ambassador of AMP Sanmar (a Life Insurance Group) and to meet the students of the Krushi Orphanage. Excerpts of his honest impressions on various aspects of the game and his life.

Waugh frankly confesses that he didn't play the game in the professional way it should have been in the first two years. "Credit should go to the selectors for having faith in me and giving more opportunities", he starts off. The handsome Aussie firmly believes the greatest influence on him has been former coach Bobby Simpson besides his parents who shaped his cricketing career.

What makes him so special in a crisis? "I think this is primarily because I had always believed in looking within myself. That gives you the right reasons for things going wrong. This helps you to keep improving," he says philosophically. "And as years passed by I gained in experience and confidence to handle any situation," he added.

The 1989 Wisden Cricketer of The Year does remind the sobering influence his wife plays whenever he discusses about the game or life in general. For instance, when the selectors virtually gave him the option to quit or continue playing in Tests after the last Ashes series, Waugh looked up to his wife for comforting words. "Yes. It is true that ultimately it is me who is responsible for whatever decision I take but the feedback from the family members does play a key role," he explained.

It is not by intention that Steve Waugh has the strong desire to be a cut above the rest. "Well, from the beginning, I developed this habit of doing things differently," he points out. "I think the good thing about my life is the ability to get to the basics of any issue very early and find the right answers," he says with a big smile.

Quite interestingly, Waugh, the ultimate warrior, doesn't pay too much of attention to the debate that he is the best captain after eclipsing Clive Lloyd's record as the most successful leader in cricketing history. "Some people say so and others disagree. I don't want to be involved in the debate. But, I enjoy captaincy, it's a great challenge. "Essentially, my primary objective is always to see the Australian team as the No.1 in the world. Fortunately, I always have the right kind of players in the team who know what exactly they have to do. Like to set certain standards which are difficult for others to emulate," he observed.

Well, Waugh thrives on the principle, enunciated by himself during the chat, that he tries to face the next ball in every game to the best of his ability. He makes special mention here to recall the century against England in the last Ashes Series in Sydney as the most memorable knock in recent memory. "I will never forget that. I believe that knock was responsible in extending my Test career," he says proudly.

It may not be out of place to mention that this illustrious cricketer had already compiled 10 diaries, memoirs on the game from the 1993 Ashes series. "Well, one of the them deals exclusively on photography," he reminds.

Waugh loves to thrive in a crisis. This is what ensures him a special place, for most of his centuries have come when the team was virtually down and out. There were many instances when he single-handedly changed the complexion of the game."I enjoy challenges in life," he asserts.

On the media, he has an interesting observation. "Well, they have a role to play. One cannot expect them to write the way we want. Their (media) role has to be appreciated. It doen't matter to me as long as there is constructive criticism," he remarked.

Well, with himself donning the role of a columnist, Waugh should know what exactly he is speaking!

On the forthcoming series against India at home, Waugh feels that it should be a great challenge for the Indians, "who are more aggressive now under Sourav Ganguly's captaincy. He is trying to change the perception of his teammates on the field," says the Australian celebrity. Well, to win a series against India will continue to be one of the challenges in his career. "I hope to realise that when we visit India next time", he says with a chuckle.

Clearly perturbed at the raging sledging row and experts pointing an accusing finger towards the Aussies, Waugh feels that "one or two incidents should not be blown out of proportion. We should look at the positives and give due credit to the winning team."

"I spoke only recently to quite a few cricketers from Bangladesh, Zimbabwe about what they feel about the Australians. There was not even one dissenting voice. Well, that is the way Aussies play the game," he explains.

For obvious reasons Waugh, whose one-day record is 325 matches, 7569 runs, 32.90 average, but with just three centuries, doesn't want to talk about his career in limited-overs cricket. "Oh! I was dropped long back. There is no point in talking about it now," he says, apparently prepared to focus on the job on hand rather than to dig history and harp on past glory in that version.

For posterity, Waugh says former West Indies pace bowler Curtly Ambrose was the most difficult bowler he had ever faced "for his skills, determination and body language."

Irrespective of what the Australian selectors think, Steve Waugh feels that "he can play for a couple of more years". Well, that should be good news at least for the cricket lovers if not the selectors and the competitors for his slot.