"to equate Steve Waugh's success in times of grave crises to miracles would be an insult to an extraordinary sportsman simply because it would take away from the very essence of what he is a champion - an eternal warrior with a granite will. If nothing else, perhaps above all else, Steve Waugh is a fighter, a fighter to the point where his very identity as a sportsman is dependent on that virtue. He fights, therefore he is. Steve Waugh is one of the most brilliant representatives of a breed of sportsmen whose chief virtue and greatest claim to fame is their ability to fight."Makes your spine tingle and gives you goosebumps doesn't it? It had such an impact on me that I still read it once every two months or so. The biggest take away about Waugh from this book is summarized by Sekhar very simply "This is because, in sport, mental set is as crucial a factor as talent. This is why many talented players and teams do not win often enough.". A fact, Waugh repeatedly stresses in his book. Sekhar concludes by saying - ``People outside sport may see only the game, just as those outside of war only see the horror. Yet, in that horror a man may be better than he will ever be the rest of his life. And in that game a man may find what life is really about,'' wrote Dr.George Sheenan, a U.S. cardiologist. In modern cricket, no man might have found out as much about what life is all about as Mr. Steve Waugh.
How many times has Steve Waugh produced an innings such as his unbeaten 151 at Wellington after coming in when the team was four down for 275 or something? Surely, not many. When there is no need to fight, there is no need for a Steve Waugh. Lesser men can take over.
Not How, How many?
This is the title of the Chapter where Waugh discusses his approach to batting. Apt Indeed. On the subject of Hayden and Slater competing for the slot of Taylor's opening partner, Waugh reveals his thoughts on the game "Cricket, like few other team sports, has a highly individual component, yet still relies totally on team commitment. This is one reason why it evokes fervent passion and such a variety of comment from observers, because often these two factors can clash and become blurred, depending on what spin is placed on a moment or segment of play." And then he talks about the way he built, what he calls his defining innings in the 93 Ashes test - "Up until that point I hadn't appreciated the satisfaction that comes with being technically sound in defense. It takes enormous self-control to defend a half-volley or let a long-hop go through to the keeper when the normal thought process is to look for a boundary. Doing this successfully was for me a new experience and meant my mind was the now the strongest facet of my game. If I could harness the power of my mind to block out an entire session and suppress my natural instincts to save a game, then anything was possible in the future. I'd completed a task I'd been unsure I could perform, as because of that I would never again doubt myself."
"Getting runs ugly is an art that all but the geniuses of the game need to master, so that they can attain consistency. Not only is it a learnt trait, it is one that so many players find hard to come to terms with." " It's a fine line between compromising your natural game and making the most of your abilities. Allan Border, David Boon and Mark Taylor were fine examples of 'not how, but how many' in order to maximize their potential. From 1993 I believed that it was a key element of my repertoire, because the odds were that it wouldn't be every day that you would walk out and feel on top of your game." - This to me signalled a gulping down of ego which many other players find it hard to do. An acknowledgement that the game had to be fine tuned to the circumstances. Another thing Waugh constantly talks about is tranquility. He uses the word so often that it made me curious. He talks about the serene feeling, he sometimes gets, when he arrives at the pitch. It appears that Waugh took that to be a sign of being ready to completely 'tune in'. He makes all these small little preparations to get there. His arrival at the crease was something ingenious. At the fall of the wicket, as the next batsman in, he would immediately run towards the wicket. This not only warmed him up but he entered the ground, the pitch, took guard and got ready, while the opposition players were celebrating the fall of the previous wicket. People who have experienced this, even if its at a colony level tennis-ball cricket, would know the feeling of walking in when the fielders are in position, bowler at the top of the mark - and then getting ready, taking guard while every body is watching you. A simple but effective idea.
During an innings he talks about a mini switch-off and switch-on, between every ball. Even in amateur tennis I felt that your skill level that takes you to 5-2 is remarkably different from the skill-level that ticks you ever so slightly from 5-2 to 6-2. He says "Ninety times out of hundred a batsman loses his wicket when he has been dwelling on the past, looking to the future or muddling the present". He adds "Clear and simple thought is the every essence of successful batsmanship". And Waugh is right. He mentions switching off at the end of the ball, virtually not think about cricket and switch back on the next ball at delivery stride. He jacks up his concentration levels tremendously when the ball is about to be delivered. He does this by saying a key word like "now" during every delivery he faces. This acts as a as sort of a trigger that sends him into full concentration mode. He talks about a process or routine being extremely important the day before the game and during the game. Over time he developed a list of things to do (20 minutes on nets, soup, shave, medicine, etc) that would make him feel prepared. It mental but then that's what counts. As he often says "I learned yet again that the game is more between the ears than..". On the importance of routines he says "Athletes often mention 'tapering', which, if done effectively, means peaking physically and mentally at the right time. Tricking the mind by conditioning it is all part of the knowledge that comes with experience. Watching the senior players prepare can be an invaluable tool for younger players to draw upon."
Waugh confesses that Walsh never troubled him. But his battle with Ambrose - to me - defined Waugh as a batsman. This is one of cricket's fiercest rivalries that is probably hardest to surpass. Waugh describes my favorite bowler of all time;
"To me, Curtly Ambrose was the supreme fast bowleing machine. He moved with the ease and grace of a champion athlete across the ground, was beautifully balanced and coordinated, and could blast you out with pace if needed or revert to strategic assault. As well, he owned a trait every one wants but few possess: the gift of being able to shift into that extra gear when needed. His calling card when he thought he had you plumb LBW was a double clap of the hands that was as reliable as the umpire's finger going up. He detested singles going off his bowling believing the prey had escaped his clutches. The icing on the cake for Amby was his imposing physical presence - legs like stilts, arms that never seemed to end and pouting lips that looked like they'd been stung by a swarm of bees. When he stood a couple of feet away giving me his Clint Eastwood glare, I had the feeling he could take me down at any stage, but still wasn't quite sure which of his weapons he would employ to do the job" - This is an excellent summing up of the kind of bowler Ambrose was.
Steve Waugh's stand off with Ambrose at Queens Park Oval is cricketing folk lore. The confrontation has been interestingly described. This narration, to me, describes Steve Waugh as a person as a cricketer the best; "Ambrose, who cut me in half with one delivery and then forced me to jab at the next ball as it moved away from the outside edge. With each play and miss, he would pull up in front of me and glare; it was as if he thought I was purposely taunting his efforts. For me, a volcano of emotions was brewing: frustration at my inability to get on top of the situation, anger at the booing that had greeted my arrival at the crease, irritation after a restless night's sleep and now Amby's bloody stare. A steepling bouncer that flew harmless over the top of my head was almost a relief, because it didn't pose a danger, so when I saw Ambrose staring intently from close quarters I snapped back at him ' what the fuck are you looking at?' It was what I was thinking, but saying it took even me by surprise. It was pure instinct, as my survival mechanism took over;" "Ambrose was clearly stunned, most likely because no one had ever been stupid enough to employ such an aggressive measure against him. Furthermore respect is very important in the Caribbean ...in this culture profanities are rarely heard. Ambrose countered my bar-talk bluff by saying ' Don't cuss me man'. Common sense should have told me to leave it at that. But I needed to have the last say, to get all the anger out, clear my thoughts and start afresh. Unfortunately I... another piece of personal abuse 'why don't you go and get fucked?'. Curtly's eyes were spinning and the situation had rapidly escalated to the point of total ugliness. Thankfully Richie Richardson stepped in, and grabbed his great bowler by the wrist with both hands." "We needed to show the Windies it was our turn to dictate proceedings and that were weren't afraid to get in their faces and get our hands dirty." "I was totally unsure what to do if he lunged at me, because I'm certain he would have made short work of me even though I had a bat in my hands. I kept saying to myself, 'Don't move, don't move. Look tough, stay focused. He'll have to go away." " However, as he ran in to deliver the next ball I braced myself for an exocet missile at the throat. He put in the big ones, striding out to full pace before letting go an absolute scorcher of a bouncer that reared alarmingly of a shortish length and crushed my top hand against the handle, directly in front of my grill. Such was the venom in the execution that I was a foot off the ground at the time of impact. Again Amby was there menacingly staring me down, but this time my lips were sealed."
Whats more interesting is his assessment of that confrontation's mental impact on him "For many players, getting involved in a confrontation is a death sentence... as it consumes their thoughts. I didn't mind the clash with Amby because I knew I could forget about it after using the altercation as a motivation to do well.I never minded being the villain because it set me up against the rest - a scenario that turned me on." While the same concept worked for Ambrose as he finished 5/45 from 16 overs, Australia lost the game. However, Waugh describes his unbeaten 63 (team total 128) as "one of my finest test knocks." He also mentions Lara as a person looking for a cause, a reason to feel like a victim - a scenario that turned him on. Waugh knew it and carefully never gave Lara a reason. "Often he would initiate a conversation by being assertive and confrontational, to give himself a cause. I sometimes did the same thing. Out of the blue as he stood regally awaiting his next delivery, he slammed me for not walking during our first innings. I ...countered by saying 'At least I am consistent. I just don't walk when it suits me'. After a massive appeal by us for a caught-behind was denied by the umpire, I'd remind him "Told you so, you only walk when it suits you'. It seemed an alien took control of his being. The next 10 seconds went like this, with Lara screaming 'shut up' as Waugh shot back ' Told you!'; 'shut up!' 'told you' 'Shut up!' 'told you'. He then walked my way stood two inches from me, quivering as he said, 'C'mon, lets go, lets get it on right now!' "
Here is the clip of the above-mentioned Ambrose-Waugh confrontation;
To Be Continued...