Grit over flair
Steve Waugh: you can feel his intensity, particularly in defence - like he really means it
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I remember my first proper meeting with Steve Waugh. It was on Australia's tour to India in early 1998. I was fairly new to the scene at the time, with barely two seasons of international cricket behind me. I had sought him out at the beginning of the tour and said that I'd love to sit down with him sometime to talk about cricket, talk about things. I thought it may slip his mind, but he reminded me of it during the last Test at Bangalore. We had a meal, during which I asked him a lot of questions about his career. He talked about always giving your best, always staying positive, and a lot about intensity.
`Intensity' is the one word I associate with Steve Waugh. When you watch him bat, you can feel this intensity, particularly in his defence - like he really means it. I would say that with this intensity he brought something significant to international cricket. By being as successful as he was, playing the way he did, he gave grit a good name at a time when everyone seemed to be obsessed with flair. People realised that the Waugh way of batting could be as important as that of the strokeplayers.
Steve liked a bit of a contest out in the middle. I've known him to start conversations with fielders just to get himself charged up. The more we played against him, the more we learned to leave him alone, giving him nothing to feed off.
Probably the finest innings I saw him play was in the one-off Test at Delhi in 1996. The pitch was taking plenty of turn, we had a strong spin attack led by Anil Kumble, and he made a 60-odd not out in the second innings. I was fielding at bat-pad most of the time, and I remember thinking to myself: this is a special knock.
The most striking thing about his technique was the speed of his hands: it was terrific to watch. At times you couldn't help wonder as the ball was rushing on to him, 'When is he going to play at it?' And then, at the last moment, the hands would come through. Nowhere was the effect of this demonstrated better than in those back-foot punches he played through the off side.
Steve is a cricketing great whose influence will last well beyond his playing days. The way he played the game, the legacy he set with this Australian team, they're going to be remembered for a while. Me, I will remember his gesture at the end of the Adelaide Test. He took the trouble to get the ball out of the boundary gutter, hand it over to me and say "Well played." Of course, I will keep that ball.
Rahul Bhattacharya is contributing editor of Wisden Asia Cricket magazine.
This piece appeared in the January 2004 issue of Wisden Asia Cricket