Steve Waugh called in to help hosts
As the World Cup's stakes get higher, so too does the gravitas of Australia's guest speakers on tournaments past. The inimitable figure of Steve Waugh strolled into Adelaide Oval on Wednesday wearing Australian team training gear for perhaps the first time since his retirement in 2004, having joined the squad for a group dinner on the Tuesday night.
At dinner, Waugh imparted knowledge and insight in the sort of understated way that became one of his trademarks as Australian captain, often better in one-on-one conversation than booming speeches to large groups. His major message was to help the team come to terms with the pressured nature of what they were about to embark upon by enjoying it.
"Just simple stuff about how great this opportunity is and really to enjoy what's going on because sometimes you get caught up in these big tournaments and put too much pressure on yourself," Waugh said. "At the end of the day it's about why did you first start playing cricket, because you love the game, and nothing's changed, so don't forget that when you get out there for the big games.
"In 1999 before the World Cup final against Pakistan the last thing we said was why did we start playing cricket. When I looked back to 10 years of age, the last thing I did before I went to bed was think about how many runs I was going to score and wickets I was going to take and first thing I thought about in the morning was same thing, how am I going to go today. That's why we started playing cricket and just remember a few of those thoughts."
Running his eye over Australia's Wednesday training session, Waugh was taken by its intensity - particularly the aggression of the pace bowlers in firing down yorkers and short balls - but also its tuning to match scenarios that may be relevant against Pakistan on Friday. He also noted how many more staff went with the Australian team circa 2015 - in contrast to the old touring days of coach, physio, scorer and manager.
"It was take no prisoners with the bowling, there was short stuff there and guys were playing as if they were in a match situation," he said. "I can only judge on how they went today and it was pretty full-on.
"At dinner last night there was more staff than players but they're there for a reason, everyone seems to get on well and I think that's the key, you've got to respect each other's position in the team. When there's a lot of people around there is potential for things to maybe go wrong, but that seems like a pretty happy camp at the moment."
The Cup's elongated format requires a team to build its intensity and focus along the way rather than firing too many bullets early and losing momentum later. Waugh recalled a certain extreme of this approach in 1999, when Australia were pushed to the brink of elimination when losing to Pakistan at Headingley, before crushing the same opponents in the final several weeks later.
"We tried to build ourselves up towards the bigger games and really switch on the intensity button and focus on what we were doing," he said. "We didn't play well early on, but we played to our peak in that final. That was 18 months in the making. We hoped to play that well when I took over the captaincy and we played our perfect game at the right time. I think we'd have beaten anyone on that day and Pakistan just happened to be the opposition.
"I think Australia have built themselves up nicely over the last couple of weeks, they've had a lot of time off and it's been a bit distracting, but you can see now the way they've trained today they're primed and ready for the big games. World Cups are all about getting momentum at the right time in the tournament."
As for pitfalls, Waugh reckoned the major risk for Australia was to allow lazy thoughts to creep in as a result of the team's depth of talent. With a batting line-up stretching down to No. 8 and a pace bowling collective as varied as it is deep, Waugh reckoned the notion of "someone else will do it" needed to be warded away, and was glad to hear that had already been spoken about by the coach Darren Lehmann, among others.
"Australia can definitely go all the way, they've got every base covered," Waugh said. "Their only danger is they've got so much talent, you can sometimes leave it up to the next person, but I know they've talked about that and covered that off. That's the only danger for Australia if they just switch off and leave it for someone else to do the job."
Waugh's words certainly resonated with Aaron Finch, who found a serendipitous link between the attitude fostered over the course of the 1999 tournament and that established by Lehmann and the captain Michael Clarke in 2015. Namely, a lack of fear about losing.
"The beauty of this team is that we don't fear losing," Finch said. "Yes it's knockout but as soon as you're worried about losing a game you tighten up and you don't play with your natural flair. So that's what a lot of our chats have been about, and Steve was great with his chat last night.
"He said there's a reason why there's pressure because you're expected to perform and you're expected to do well and there's only one reason for that - it's because we've been successful and we're good players. So we're excited about that challenge and we're not fazed about losing. As soon as you start worrying about the outcome your percentage goes down so it's an exciting time."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig