December 14, 2001

Waugh hits the mark again with his annual view

Ashes Diary 2001 by Steve Waugh

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Ashes Diary 2001 by Steve Waugh. Published by Harper Sports. Reviewed by Lynn McConnell.

It has been a remarkable year in cricket in more ways than one, and the first nine months of it from an Australian perspective are encapsulated in Steve Waugh's Ashes Diary 2001.

The appeal of Waugh's diaries is their insight into the machinations of a world-class outfit.

For those who can only sit and admire the skills, the ingrained will to win and the quest for perfection, the Australians offer the best example in cricket.

Of course, the innermost workings of the unit that rounds out its fighting ability are not fully disclosed, but there is enough of the environment in which these players work to gain an understanding of why Australian cricket is so strong.

Waugh is a fine communicator whose advantage in presenting his now annual diaries is his understanding of cricket's history, but also Australia's place in the scheme of things overall.

The visit to Gallipoli is a case in point.

To anyone other than an Australian, New Zealander or a Turk, it would not mean a lot, that even includes the English who were similarly pummelled during that event of 1915. They had a few more resources than the Anzacs. But it was an inspired choice to put Gallipoli on the route to England, especially after the losses suffered to India which ended the invincibility of the Australian side and its Test record.

The decision to visit came out of a dinner Waugh had with Lt Gen Peter Cosgrove the leader of the East Timor force which again reunited the Anzac armed forces.

But the diary is also a chronicle of some of the year's most significant cricket events.

The death of Sir Donald Bradman was an obvious point in the year and while in India when he died, Waugh did not agree with suggestions that the Mumbai Test should be delayed as a mark of respect.

"What we need to do is from this day forward play the game in the right spirit, as he did, and use this sad event as a reminder that each of us has a responsibility to try to enhance the sport's reputation every time we take the field. The fact that some selfish people have not done this is the thing that has tarnished the game's image over the past couple of years.

"We can all take so much inspiration from Sir Donald. He always tried to be one step ahead of the others and in doing so he set standards that mere mortals will never be able to reach. But we should try."

Waugh was also firm on the place for use of technology especially when video replays are unclear.

"I've reached the point where I think that unless the authorities are going to put in technology that is up to the task, and able to cover every angle, then maybe we shouldn't be using the third umpire at all. At the moment, it seems to be creating more dilemmas than it's solving. At the very least, there should be more thought put into the use of the third umpire than is currently happening."

Later in the book he returns to the point and noted: "The variables and vagaries of cricket are part of its attractions and are why people watch it and talk about it. Some critics are suggesting that there should be a video umpire employed only to spot no-balls, but the introduction of too much technology could leave the game like American football, with stoppages galore.

"That would benefit no one," he said.

Waugh's relationship with Indian captain Sourav Ganguly has been notoriously testy and Waugh offers his own view and wondered if Ganguly's style was deliberately provocative to help his team.

"There is no doubt that he is a very competitive cricketer and knows what he wants to get out of the game. But frankly, there were times where we thought he was just being childish.

"The reality, of course, is that the Indians won the Test series because VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Harbhajan Singh were magnificent, not because of their captain's shenanigans," he said.

Waugh did have problems with Ganguly's propensity for failing to follow cricket's protocols. Things such as the two captains walking to toss together, appropriately dressed, and on time, and also the way that Ganguly seemed to become a 'protected species' when his one-day behaviour was taken into account.

In England, the way in which the English rated their chances was completely opposite to how the Australians perform.

He cited the example of stand-in captain Alec Stewart assessing his team's chances with words to the effect of: "We're playing the world champions and I would be very happy if we can compete, and if we do that, then you never know what might happen."

Waugh's response was: "To me that sends out the wrong message to his team. Even if he believed what he said, he could have kept it to himself and given a more positive response for his team to feed off."

Similar issues occurred later in the tour when no-one was prepared to stand up to take on the captaincy duties when Nasser Hussain was injured ("What greater honour is there than to captain your country? Once again, there are two ways of looking at this and their honesty has to be admired, even though I can't understand it.") and at a dinner where the host speakers praised the Australians and rubbished their own countrymen.

An interesting pre-match problem reared itself for Waugh before the first Ashes Test when he found himself attending a failed suicide attempt on the same floor of his hotel.

But if there is one comment that sums up Waugh's approach to cricket it was: "To play an innings that turns the fortunes of your side around is the ultimate for a batsman. It is what all those hours of sacrifice in the nets, away from your family on tours, years learning the game are all about.

"Succeeding on the big stage, against the best bowlers, under intense pressure gives the batsman responsible enormous satisfaction and a confidence they don't realise they've acquired until later, when runs begin to flow regularly for no apparent reason."

And it was Mark Butcher's fourth Test-winning innings that precipitated the thought.

Doesn't that say it all, whatever country you come from.