One to emulate

K. SRIKKANTH

CRICKET is a game where talent alone is not enough. There have been so many cases where cricketers with plenty of ability have faded after the early promise, because they did not quite have the temperament to match their class.

A player has got to have courage and character, and one of the greatest examples of such a player is Steve Waugh, the indomitable fighter of our times. A cricketer, whose guts and commitment have earned him the respect of his team-mates and adversaries.

In fact, I was in Australia with the Indian cricket side in '85, and it was against us in Melbourne that he made his debut. At that time he was a middle-order batsman who could bowl, and little did we know then that he would emerge as one of the greatest batsmen of all time.

At that point, he appeared a limited cricketer, no more than an average Australian batsman. Nothing more than that, I can assure you.

Then I saw him in the '87 World Cup at home, where he emerged as a bowler who could keep his cool at the death. Australia won the World Cup, and Steve emerged as a hero, who made things happen for Australia.

Even in the 1992 World Cup, Steve was more of an all-rounder, whose job with the ball was extremely crucial. In the Australian side then, he was not among the top batsmen. There were much bigger names, such as Allan Border, David Boon and Dean Jones.

During this phase, there were occasions when he was struggling to keep his place in the side, and actually, if I remember right, he was even dropped, his twin brother Mark being the one to take his slot!

Actually, in terms of talent, Mark was so much more better off than Steve. Mark had the gift of timing, could find the gaps with ridiculous ease, and made runs without breaking a sweat. With Steve it is raw tenacity, that will to fight, and that determination. And it is this ability to fight his way out of trouble that has seen Steve making a name as one of the greatest batsmen of all time. A man who would put his best foot forward during times of adversity.

He now is only the third cricketer in Test history to go past 10,000 runs. He has also equalled Sir Donald Bradman's record of 29 Test hundreds, which from an Australian perspective is a remarkable achievement.

Making 10,000 Test runs speaks a lot about a batsman. It reveals his ability to perform consistently, handle different situations, cope with the pressure and last the distance. Ten thousand Test runs reflect a batsman's durability, his fitness, his work ethic.

Steve Waugh is nothing if not determined. When he started, he was considered suspect against short-pitched bowling, and the fast bowlers did target this aspect of his batsmanship. However, such is the courage of the man, that he soon overcame this hurdle. There are times when Steve Waugh may not appear the most convincing player of short-pitched bowling, but he is the kind who will take blows on his body, but not give his wicket away. A blood and guts cricketer, who could take on the most fearsome fast bowlers without flinching.

Over the years, he has turned into one of the finest players of fast bowling, someone who could frustrate the best of pacemen, wear them down, and then score runs off them. A tremendous competitor. There are so many great innings of his, the knock in the recent final Test against England being one of them. The team was in trouble, he was under pressure as captain, he had not made runs in the series, and there was talk that he was playing in his last Test.

What an innings he produced, under so much stress and strain, both as a captain and batsman. In an adverse situation, he has done this time and again. He seldoms fails. In fact, he is at his best here, his combative instincts coming to the fore.

Over the years, he has made runs on all kinds of pitches, including the turning tracks of the sub-continent where he has come up with some fighting innings. He is the kind of batsman, who has worked on his methods, studied the opposition, tried to bring about changes to his approach, and delivered at the crunch. All of Steve Waugh's qualities as a batsman were to be seen in the '99 World Cup, where his two innings against South Africa in the Super Six match, and in the semifinal, were the kind of knocks that would rank very high up the list.

Especially, the effort against South Africa in the Super Six match, when the team had all but lost the match. He brought Australia back into the game from nowhere and, when Gibbs made a hash of that catch, Steve Waugh really made the Proteas pay for the lapse. His captaincy in the World Cup was inspirational. Australia suffered a disastrous start and had to win the last seven matches to win the title, under Steve Waugh, it did just that in the '99 World Cup. He has a sharp cricketing brain, knows to get the best out of the bowlers, and is the kind of captain everyone would look up to.

I am certain that had he been picked in the Aussie side for the coming World Cup, his ability to fight his way out of trouble would have served the side well. The value of having a batsman like Steve Waugh in the side is never really known when the going is good.

It is when the side stumbles, that you realise the value of somebody like Steve Waugh, who would battle as if his very life depended on it. When the side is trouble Steve Waugh thrives. Steve Waugh is a wonderful human being as well, someone who cares for the less privileged. His work for charity, his love for children, and the sheer goodness in him have made him extremely popular.

At a personal level, I feel that he has hardly changed as a person. He was simple and nice when I first met him 17 years ago, and things have not changed at all, even after this man from New South Wales has encountered super success.

I recently met Steve Waugh at a party in Chennai and discovered that he was still warm-hearted and nice.

He may be a very combative cricketer on the field of play, he does love to talk to his opponents here, but off it, he is a gentle and kind man. For his commitment, courage and character, he is an ideal role model. Steve Waugh is a legend.