“I was 14 years old –sweating at the nets and dreaming, like schoolboys do, of playing for my country – when I first saw Steve Waugh. It was the 1987 World Cup in India, which Australia won, and while Steve was in his early twenties he had already caught my eye. This was not merely because of his ability with bat and ball (his slower deliveries bowled with various actions would soon be replicated in nets around India), but also for his grit under pressure. Steve appeared to relish the big occasion, seemed to thrive in such situations, but I had no idea back then that it would be this characteristic that would become his signature or that years later I would be privileged to see it first hand.
Greatness is a label easily bestowed in these ‘exaggerated’ times, but Steve earned such high praise. History will remember him as one of the game’s finest practitioners. He averaged over 50 in Test cricket, the mark of a superb batsman, and played a significant role in two World Cup victories, 12 years apart. As captain, he inherited a gifted Australian team from Mark Taylor and forged it into an even more aggressive and successful side. He was influential beyond his shores, a man looked up to.
Steve was a hard man and respected because he had done it the hard way. Greatness wasn’t handed to him; he pursued it diligently, single-mindedly. Dropped from the team, he worked his way back. The story of his resolute journey, among other things, makes for interesting reading.
With 32 Test centuries, there is no shortage of impressive innings to remember, but the one that stands out for me is the 67 not out in 273 minutes he made against us in a one-off Test in Delhi in 1996. On a turning wicket, alive with uneven bounce, he constructed an innings that was masterful in both its technique and its complete concentration. Watching it from silly point as he fended off gifted spinners like Anil Kumble was an education, a lesson for a youngster like me playing his first season of international cricket.
For me, when Steve batted, a couple of things stood out. There was the infinite care he put into his defense, each ball carefully watched and played as if his life depended on it. The acceleration of his bat was interesting as well, for sometimes you thought he was going to be late for the ball, but then his bat would descend at tremendous speed to meet it. Most of the time we left him alone, not speaking to him on the field, for we knew he fed off any conversation, and enjoyed confrontation and challenge that came with it. Australia was never beaten while he was there at the crease.
Off the field, his manner was introverted, his emotions tightly locked. He appeared to live the cliché of ‘No quarter given and none asked’. But off the field, if you sought him out for a chat, he was never reluctant to share his thoughts.
On Australia’s 1998 tour to India I was keen to pick his brain on batting and cricket in general, and Steve promised to let me do so once the series was over. But Australia lost the series and he was injured and missed the last Test, in Bangalore. I would have understood if he had forgotten about this eager youngster, and I thought it was inappropriate to remind him, but on the third day of the Test, unprompted, he called me and we met for dinner. It was a discussion that would have a lasting influence on me.
His ruthless style, combined with a passion for the game, has won him a staggering, almost unrivalled, following in India. But this is a reverence that does not only stem from cricket but also from generosity of spirit. Steve’s work with the children of Udayan in Calcutta has been widely admired, and he has also sought to discover India, to learn about us and go beyond the tired, stereotypical image of this beautiful country that so many visiting cricketers carry with them.
Steve’s legacy is hard to define, but I will remember him because he gave grit a good name. He proved that it is not only the pretty player who can capture the imagination, but also the tough and determined. Suddenly these qualities became as vital, as spoken about, as silken grace and sublime timing. He was leathery tough, played the game aggressively, and would do whatever it took within the rules to win. He built a team that has achieved legendary status, raised the level of young cricketers who played under him, and also embraced the traditions of the game and highlighted their importance.
I will remember the pain of not beating him in that last Test of his, in Sydney in January 2004, but also recall fondly his final innings in cricket against us, for it was a typical Steve Waugh innings: mind over matter, a man not in form but soldiering on, taking his team to safety. I will remember, too, that when I hit the winning runs in the Test at Adelaide n that same series, Steve found the ball and handed it to me. I have it still and is signed by him.
Steve Waugh is an interesting man who has lived an interesting life; a man of cricket but not just of cricket. For 18 years he has traveled the world, won and lost and learnt and led. He has faced cameras, critics and fast bowlers, and he has brought to it all a commitment to excellence.”
The book is available at flipkart here – Out Of My Comfort Zone
Image Source: Cricinfo
Foreword Source – http://mayesh.wordpress.com/