December 2, 2000

Steve Waugh - Ambassador extraordinary

Mention WACA and a few things come into mind. A fiery pitch, the Fremantle Doctor, batsmen ducking and weaving, West Indies ruling the roost over a long period of time and a departure welcome by teams having an ordinary tour of Australia as normally Perth is the final destination more often than not. It is here that the Australians are on course of creating history if they win the Test match against the West Indies. It is an irony that history is to be created and that too against the West Indies. Glenn McGrath required just a couple of wickets to complete 300 wickets in Test cricket. He indicated that he would prefer Brian Lara to be the 300th victim.

Neither the vagaries of the game nor the brilliance eventually altered McGrath's script but the bowler himself did not envisage a hat-trick. McGrath did not have to wait for a long time for his feat but achieving it with a hat-trick must surely have delighted the speedster beyond words. Not many bowlers have been as disciplined and consistent as McGrath in the last seven to eight years. He came to the MRF Pace Foundation along with the Australian Cricket Academy team to play some matches and his potential was very obvious to overlook. Over the years, he has been tormenting batsmen in world cricket more with his nagging line rather than pace. His maturity has made him realise that he is better off trying not to blast the batsmen out and concentrate on discipline. Not that his effectiveness is any lesser as the batsmen have found out much to their disconcert.

With the retirement of the Chappell brothers, Lillee and Marsh, Australia were suddenly left to rebuild their cricket overnight. The gritty left hander Allan Border was given the job of reviving Aussie cricket back to their glory days. He had to bat with his back to the wall on more occasions one can remember. The mid-eighties were tough times for the Aussies but the appointment of Bobby Simpson as the coach gradually produced the results. The Border-Simpson combination started the revival with the Reliance Cup victory in 1987 and there has been no turning back since then. Success was achieved through sheer persistence and hard work. Besides the hard work put in by the players, the selection policy in Australia also deserves a lot of appreciation. One always got the feeling that it was very difficult to lose one's place once the selectors gave the nod.

If Border revived Aussie cricket, Taylor took it to great heights; Steve Waugh was left to maintain the team at the top. It is always easy for any team to reach the top, but staying there is difficult for more reasons than one. One of the major problems Steve Waugh had was that he took over the captaincy from Taylor, who should go down as one of the best in the business. Waugh had to go on a tour of West Indies under tremendous pressure as some of the former Aussie greats felt Waugh would not survive the tour. If at all Waugh had to do anything relentlessly in his career, it was to try and prove a thing or two right through. The fact that he has come out on top over the years repeatedly shows the character and tenacity of the man. The way Steve Waugh has handled extremely adverse situations with incredible calm efficiency has earned him the sobriquet of "Ice Man".

Steve Waugh showed his tough and cool temperament in the 1999 World Cup in the encounter at Headingly against South Africa. Australia was in danger of exiting from the World Cup and was in none too comfortable situation chasing a stiff target. Not even an incorrigible optimist would have given Australia a chance of winning the game. Waugh, who has an annoying habit of revelling in situations like that, cracked an incredible hundred to win the game and the rest is history. The World Cup triumph re-affirmed that the Australians are way above every other nation when it comes to mental toughness. Quite obviously, the captain has a great influence on his team as he leads from the front time and again under pressure.

It will be a fitting achievement for Australia to create history under the captaincy of Steve Waugh. He had to live up to the high standards set by his predecessors and yet he was under scrutiny both as a player and captain for most part of his career. It is a reflection of the man's nature that he never ever retorted to any criticism be it either from the fourth estate or former cricketers. Ice Man, he may be, but he has shown his benevolent and kind side by doing a lot of charity work for the orphanage in Calcutta. At a time when the credibility of the game has taken a major beating, Steve Waugh has proved that cricket is still a gentleman's game. His cricket achievements notwithstanding, Steve "Ice Man" Waugh should go down as one of the best ambassadors of the game.