September 2, 2013

'Good players make the most of the fortune that comes their way'

Interview by Subash Jayaraman

Subash Jayaraman: You have a new book out - The Meaning of Luck.

Steve Waugh: Yes. I totally enjoyed the process of writing the book. I write all my books long-hand, and I self-published this one, so it has been a bit of a challenge. This is my 13th book, but this is a bit different from the other books. It is more about the lessons I have learnt from the people I have met along the way, and exploring the concept of luck.

SJ: What motivated you to write it?

SW: It has been eight years since I wrote my last book, Out of My Comfort Zone. A lot of people were wanting to know when I was writing my next one. I wanted to tell the story of my wife, who had a stroke eight years ago, and really that is where the concept of the book came from - "the meaning of luck" - because she considers the stroke as a "stroke of luck". It gave her a perspective of life after she recovered. It tells stories about my business life, the charity, and sports.

SJ: From your playing experience, is luck a by-product of someone or a team not being afraid of failure, or is it a result of a been-there-done-that track record of success, or is it completely different?

SW: A combination of all of those, I think. My take on luck is that we all have good and bad luck, but it is what you do with that or how you decide to turn around those bad pieces of luck into good luck. Truly, it is about your attitude - whether you are up for the battle, whether you can recover for the next day after having a bad day, and whether you are prepared to fail in order to succeed. I think the people who do that attract good luck, because they are positive and have good body language and positive things happen. If you have a negative mindset, if you are pretty down about things, you block yourself of the opportunities and everything seems to go against you.

SJ: One of the interesting things that you talk about in this book is the line from your 1997 Ashes diary: "People never describe a guy who scores 20 after being dropped on nought as lucky, but if a batsman goes on to score a century, then he is considered to be a very lucky guy." So it seems the definition of luck is how successful you are after you are afforded that slice of fortune.

SW:- I think, in cricket, and in sports, that is definitely the case. The really good players make the most of the pieces of really good fortune that come their way. The ones that aren't diligent enough in their pre-game planning or technique can't capitalise on those moments of fortunes. They consider themselves unlucky because they have things go against them.

SJ: I have always been fascinated with your off-field work with your Steve Waugh Foundation as well as the Calcutta foundation, Udayan. I want to talk about the case of those children. I am trying to see how your definition of luck comes in, because all these kids are in situations they never bargained for.

SW: Look, there are different degrees to the definition. If you are born in a slum somewhere in Calcutta, that is obviously bad luck, because it is certainly out of your control. What is in your control after that moment is what you do with your life, the direction you take, and the attitude you have. If you make the most of your talent and grasp the opportunities in front of you, anyone can make a fist of their lives as really positive contributors. I look at the kids at Udayan, and the kids we supported who have rare diseases in Australia - they all have fantastic attitudes and they make the most of every day.

SJ: If you are a kid in that slum, what is the prospect of hope?

SW: I see that there is a possibility of education. It is just like these small things, like learning a new word. It could be flying a kite the best among the kids in the quadrangle where you live. You just have to look at the small things each day and try to pick out a couple of things you achieve each day and say, "Okay, I've been really positive today. I am going forward in my life and I am improving and helping people."

SJ: What do you think does it take to be a successful captain, beyond having a great set of players in your team?

SW: Of course, it helps when you have talented players. We could play aggressively when I was captain because we had talented players. I guess it is everyone going in the same direction, believing in the vision, putting aside some personal aspirations for the benefit of the team and just keeping everyone grounded. In a really high-achieving team with strong personalities and egos, you have to try and keep it all together. That is a part of the role a captain has to provide. He has to provide that example of "team first" and also to keep an eye on what is going on in the team. He also needs some trusted lieutenants who can keep an eye out for you, because the captain can't always see what is going on.

SJ: There is a passage in the book where you talk about Lucas Neill, and your time with the Socceroos. You say: "quality captains have impact on the game without actually having to force the issue. They lead without even knowing it."

SW: That is interesting you picked that up, because I thought that was a significant moment in the book when I started writing. That sort of dawned on me that some of the best leaders don't even know they are leading. They are natural at whatever they do and people follow them. There are different types of leaders, and that is one type. I think the best leaders are the ones who are natural and don't force and don't try too hard.

SJ: You came into the Aussie team under a very strong leader - Allan Border. In your first few Tests the team was winless, and you note in the book that it was demoralising. The current Australian Test team has gone through their own streak - nine Tests without a win, and seven losses. How do you compare and contrast the kind of leadership that Allan Border showed in those trying times, where he had lost a generation of great players to various reasons, and now Michael Clarke?

SW: Allan Border was a reluctant leader. He was forced into the position because Kim Hughes resigned. There was a bit about the position that he had to learn about and grow into. It took him time to do that. And obviously we as a team were very new. In fact, Allan had played more Tests than the rest of the team combined. We were very inexperienced. It was fortunate that Bob Simpson came along pretty much at the same time and he was a huge influence on the side. They worked together as a good solid unit, but with contrasting styles. The No. 1 thing that we did was, we became disciplined. We trained a lot harder, a lot smarter.

The current group has a lot of talent. Michael Clarke is different to Allan Border. He really aspired and wanted the job [of captain]. But you can't be prepared to be captain of the country until you get the job. You find out what it is like, and it is never probably as you imagined. It is a lot harder, particularly when you are losing. One thing that I learnt from Bob Simpson and Allan Border was that the only way you can get out of it is through hard work and quality practice.

SJ: Do you see the current Aussie team moving in the same direction as you ended up going as a team in the '80s?

SW: There is no doubt they have talent. Even during the Ashes, they lost 3-0, but probably out of the five Test matches they won as many sessions as England, though they didn't win the crucial moments. That comes with experience and know-how and confidence and belief. They lack in a few of those areas. One thing is that they have pretty much as much talent as most teams going around. So it is just about making that breakthrough and believing in yourself that you can win these Test matches. That is a bit of a catch-22. You are waiting to make one of these wins before you can establish yourself. At the same time, you don't quite believe in yourself. Someone really has to step up and play like Shane Watson did in the last Test match, or Steve Smith, and all of a sudden you are making a turnaround.

SJ: If a few things had gone this way or that way at Trent Bridge or Old Trafford, the scoreline could have been different. How would you apply luck to this situation?

SW: I think it was a fair scoreline. England won the big moments under pressure. I think people have said Australia have been unlucky. I would say there is one way to fix that up, and that's you take luck out of the situation by playing better. When you lose close matches and results don't quite go your way, you always end up without much luck. If you are playing really well, you are taking luck out of the equation.

SJ: Gaurav in Chennai asks: When you became the captain of the Australian team you had great players, including yourself. Michael Clarke does not have that luxury. As a captain, how does he approach these situations? What does he have to do differently to buck this trend and start getting positive results?

SW: He's just got to stay positive. He just has to keep encouraging players and has to "pick and stick". We have been changing our sides too much. It creates an air of uncertainty amongst the players. They have to feel as if they belong to the side so that they feel more relaxed and play their natural game.

There are pretty good players. Brad Haddin has got a fantastic record. Shane Watson potentially could be a great player. I think there is a lot of talent. It's just about having the patience for now and giving these guys the opportunities. Quite a few of those can turn into very good Test players. A bit like India with Murali Vijay and Pujara and Virat Kohli - they are turning into very good Test match players. Two years ago India was worried about where the next players are coming from. If you give them an extended run, they can turn it around.

SJ: Here is a question from Gary Naylor in UK: When you started off as a cricketer, you had quite a bit of a run. Even though you were called an allrounder, and you noted in the book as well that you were in the team basically because you were bowling well, you were taking wickets but not scoring runs. But in this time of impatience, can you see anyone being given the time to develop as a Test player in the squad?

SW: In this day and age, everyone wants instant results. And that is the problem when you are trying to build for the future, trying to see the bigger picture. Something the selectors are going to have to explain to the public: that this might take a bit of short-term pain but we want long-term gain, so we are going to stick with these guys through thick and thin.

Australian cricket was at a different stage when I came into the side. It had just lost 16 cricketers to the rebel tour of South Africa. Lillee, Marsh and Greg Chappell retired. We had 19 players suddenly gone out of six domestic teams. So they didn't have any options around. They had to stick with the talented players. I was seen as one of those. I guess I was fortunate, in the sense that there weren't many cricketers around when I was picked. That gave me extra opportunities that are probably unavailable now. Back in those times, with all the retirements and players gone to South Africa, I was seen as the young kid on the block.

SJ: You were part of the Argus review panel. Two years after it has been completed, do you feel that Australian cricket has derived all that it could from the review?

SW: I think we knew it was going to take a long time to turn Australian cricket around. Probably the recommendations haven't been followed as closely as we would have liked. We made 50 recommendations and the board endorsed all of those. We also said very crucially that the key component of this was to get the key people in the right positions. Maybe the jury is out for some of those positions and whether they have got the right people. The No. 1 objective of that committee was to make recommendations, but then they had to go away and source the right type of people.

We created positions for the cricket operations manager, someone who can be picked as the new chairman of selectors. Then we said that the captain and coach are going to be selectors, but now the captain is not. Argus review was all about accountability. If things go wrong, who was actually accountable? At least now there is a clear line of accountability.

SJ: Within the framework of a team, you can have equals with great players - tremendous egos and all that. They may not be mates, but they are very good team-mates. You have had to face some situations, like when you had to drop Shane Warne. You note in the book that Shane never looked at you in the same way again, even though you did what you thought was right by the team. Now Clarke has one such situation with Shane Watson, and Mickey Arthur saying that… or whoever leaked out or whatever, about him being a cancer in the team etc. Hassan Cheema asks: Do you think that team camaraderie is an overrated thing?

SW: You definitely got to have it. It is a huge part. You will always see that good teams that are very close always win the close matches. That is because they pull together in tough times and want to play for each other. There are always going to be some sort of arguments in a group of 20 men travelling together. The Australian teams that I played in - we never had a problem with each other. There were issues that have come up after we were all retired and people said things, but when we were playing, we have always been a very strong unit and that was one of the strengths of the cricket sides that I played in. We did all get along very well.

SJ: S Aravind in Chennai is a huge Mark Waugh fan. He was on par with the Laras and Sachins for a long time. In a way, he was underrated as a batsman - perhaps because of how easily cricket came to him. This listener wants to know what you think of the way Mark's career ended. There was not much fanfare associated with it. Perhaps your take on whether Mark should have achieved a lot more that the 8000 runs and the average of 41.

SW: I think Mark's career ended when he was dropped by the selectors. It is a different way than going out on your own terms. It was a bit more abrupt. That probably is what the listener is referring to. It probably wasn't celebrated in the same way as saying, "This is my last series" and you give the people a chance to say goodbye. I guess Mark isn't that sentimental about things. That didn't worry him too much.

As regards the talent, he did pretty well to average 41 in Test cricket. There were some fantastic bowlers in his era. He was good. He has taken the catches and wickets. I think it is a fantastic career. The one thing Mark was frustrated by often is people saying Mark was more talented and I was tougher and more determined. I think we were equally talented. In fact, at schoolboy level, people always said I was more talented and played more shots. We just redefined our games. Mark was just as committed. Probably, body language - people read into that sometimes too much. I think we are similar in a lot of ways. More similar than people recognise.


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Posted by kurups on (September 3, 2013, 12:29 GMT)

What a cricketer and a personality...Steve Waugh gave grit a good name!!! thats what Rahul Dravid thought about him!!!

Posted by cloudmess on (September 3, 2013, 11:37 GMT)

I hope that in the future Steve Waugh might be associated in some way with Australian cricket. It is always refreshing to read his opinions and views which are very honest and clear-thinking. I thought he was particularly fair about the recent Ashes - unlike so many other commentators, including Shane Warne.

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Subash Jayaraman
Subash's introduction to cricket began with enduring sledging from his brothers during their many backyard cricket sessions. His fascination with the game took hold in 1983, but mostly it was the cricket commentary over All India Radio, about the water-tight front-foot defence of Gavaskar that did it. @thecricketcouch

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