Opening Up

'I'd have loved to play day-night Tests'

Steve Waugh talks about Australia's next generation, tweaking the rules of one-day cricket, the "gritty" tag, and his philanthropic work

Harsha Bhogle: Delighted to meet one of the legends of cricket on Opening Up. He was recently included in the ICC Hall of Fame. Steve Waugh, five years now since you finished playing cricket. Do you still watch a cricket match occasionally and say, "It could have been me there"?
Steve Waugh: Occasionally I do, but most times the reality sets in. I don't really want to do the training, I don't want to do the travelling, and I probably don't want to deal with the media. So I am happy to watch the game, but there are certain situations when I think I would not mind to be out in the middle, I really would have liked to have played. But then reality sets in.
HB: You told me that you do about 30 hours a week for your charity work. So is Steve Waugh now, very strictly speaking, a former cricketer and a full-time philanthropist?
SW: Yes, I am a full-time philanthropist, and I guess businessman, because you've got to make some money to get the time to do philanthropy. Still, I am definitely interested in sports. I love cricket, don't get me wrong. It is in my blood, it is a passion. But there are other things, and I want to go in different directions. I am committed to some causes, and to do something properly, you've got to give 100%.
HB: Cricket took you around the world, took you to some places you probably would have never visited. Is Laureus doing the same with you now, taking you to places that you would have not visited otherwise?
SW: Cricket gave me, basically, everything in my life. Looking back, I was fortunate to play cricket. I went to a lot of countries, I met a lot of different people, and opportunities have all come from cricket. Laureus is another one of those. I am a Laureus World Sports Academy member because of what I have done in cricket. So that allows me to do other things in the organisation. The Sport for Good foundation visits various projects around the world. We have 78 projects, 32 countries, and a couple of those are in India.
HB: 32 centuries, 32 countries…
SW: There you go, that's why you are the numbers man. That's why you are No. 1.
HB: [Laughs] We remember stats about you.
SW: Indians certainly do notice stats. It's amazing - as a cricketer, when you are playing you are well aware of your stats and you want to do well, you want your team to be ranked No. 1, you want to average a certain number as a batsman. But the moment you retire, it all becomes irrelevant. I haven't thought once about my stats. So it's pretty weird how there was a time that you focused on your stats, and when you finish it's all over.
HB: Just one question on stats before I move on. Glenn McGrath once told me that five of those 32 hundreds are his. He was batting at the other end!
SW: He probably cost me five as well, you know, the amount of times he used to get out... Look, he was a valuable partner in the end. He certainly improved his batting. The good thing about the Australian side is that we are always trying to improve a bit, and that was borne out in Glenn. At the start of his career he wasn't that great a batsman, but he worked hard on it, and in the end he was a reliable partner. So he played his part.
HB: It has been six years since you retired. Do you sometimes watch television or read newspapers and say, "This is the game I played." You see changes at all?
SW: Look, it's scary when I sit down with my son and watch replays of 1987 classic one-day matches, where I was about 15 kilos lighter and had long hair. That's quite funny to watch. In the last five years the game has changed a lot, particularly Twenty20. It [Twenty20] has had a huge impact and young kids watching the game want to play Twenty20 cricket. So I guess as older statesmen of the game, we've got to make young kids aware that Test cricket is still really where it is at. Representing the country is a pinnacle. Twenty20 is great but it's almost icing on the cake.
HB: But a little bird told me that your son plays with a Mongoose bat.
SW: Yes, he actually used it before Matthew Hayden. Hayden stole the idea from him. He has had it since last year, Stuart Law gave it to him. I was in England with the family last year watching the Lord's Test and Stuart was showing people the Mongoose bat, so my young guy picked it up and thought it was pretty good. And Stuart sent me the bat couple of months later, so [my son] was playing the under-10 cricket with the Mongoose bat. He hit a couple of long sixes and all the kids wanted to look at the bat. So it's quite funny to now see Hayden use it on the big stage.
HB: So is your son a very gritty player, who will say, "Listen, I am the last man out of this park." Or he is one of those "get-on-with-it", "play-the-big-shots" players?
SW: Funny you say that, I was always playing a million shots as a kid, the more aggressive player than Mark [Waugh]. I remember scoring a hundred off 28 balls when I was playing league cricket in England. So I was the shot-maker, the debonair player, and then I guess my game changed as I became an international player. Right now Austin is pretty similar to what I was like. He plays a million shots, he is bowling the slower ball from the back of his hand, he has got the reverse-sweep happening.
HB: Yes, the slower ball from the back of his hand is in his genes.
SW: Maybe he watched it on the video and I didn't even know. The next day he came out in the backyard to practise and bowled one back of the hand. So I said, "That's pretty good." And when he batted, he had the reverse-sweep out and hit the top of the wicketkeeper's head. It's great for kids these days, that's what Twenty20 has done. Kids copy, and now they can fulfill their own potential and try different shots.
HB: Given that the change is happening in your own household, do you see this [Twenty20 cricket] becoming the dominant form of the game?
SW: Well, I can only judge by what my son says and what he does. He still watches Test matches, but he will say to me, "Let's go to the backyard and play a game of Twenty20." The way we play is, I bowl 20 balls to him. He gets as many runs as he can - fence might be four, over the fence six. He tallies his score up and then I get my 20 balls, and invariably I lose.
HB: So if there is one person who has seen the soft side of Steve Waugh the cricketer, it's him.
SW: No, no. It's full on, there is no charity for him. He has got to earn his runs, but you know, he is pretty good.
HB: Nonsense. He can't beat you otherwise.
SW: No, honestly, he is pretty good. He has got a good eye. Look, there might be a little bit of charity there but it is played pretty tough.
HB: I don't know, whatever you say, I just get the feeling that Steve Waugh the philanthropist is playing against his son.
SW: Well, you'll have to come and film a game in the backyard sometime.
HB: Not a problem at all.
"Day-night Test cricket is exciting"
HB: You talked about Test cricket, you talked about how you need to preserve Test cricket. Do you think it is a romantic thought? Are we fighting the tide or will survive it on its own?
SW: I think it is a realistic thought. Quality always survives. Like with class players, form is temporary but class is permanent. I think it is a bit like that with Test cricket. Right now Twenty20 is flavour of the month, everyone loves it. But at the end of the day, as a cricketer I think you've got to be true to yourself. Why did you take up the game? To fulfill your potential, and you can't do that by playing Twenty20 because you can't bat for a whole day and you can't bowl 30 overs. And as a cricketer I think it wouldn't be that satisfying if I couldn't get out there and technically, mentally and physically challenge myself against the best players in the world over five days. That's why you train, that's why you makes sacrifices and that's how, at the end of the day, you judge yourself.
HB: You satisfied with the way Australian cricket is going? I mean, you can't lose five great players and still come back and win, which Australia is doing.
SW: I think you can, because right now I am not sure the other sides have improved that much, so they have managed to pull away. Australia still has a very good side. Even though we lost players, we sort of lost them gradually. We had good replacements who had played lot of country cricket and a lot of other conditions. Right now we have a lot of players who have played in Indian conditions; they've played in front of big crowds, in front of TV cameras, so they are not overawed when they play for Australia.
HB: You get excited watching some Aussie players. Is there someone you see and say "Wow"?
SW: Yes, this youngster Steve Smith is probably the most talented cricketer we have seen for the last 20 years in Australia. He is going to make a huge impact on the international scene pretty shortly. Then you've got young blokes like Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc, from New South Wales, James Pattinson from Victoria; these are quick bowlers who are going to have a big impact. And we will probably have the first Muslim-born player to play for Australia within the next 12 months in Usman Khawaja. It's an exciting time on the horizon for Australian cricket.
HB: If I ask the same question to somebody from Melbourne, or if I presented your answer to somebody from Melbourne, he would say, "There goes the Sydney man again, packaging the baggy green along with the New South Wales cap."
SW: That's the way it should be, mate. That's why Australian cricket is strong. But I did mention a Victorian player, in young Pattinson. I can see the argument there, but when I saw Australian cricket, I never saw New South Wales or Victorian or Western Australian cricket. I think that's our strength in Australia, that we do pick the best players and there isn't state-by-state parochialism. I guess people may perceive it that way, but I generally think that we get the best 11 players on the park, no matter where they are from.
HB: It's a big call to make for young Steve Smith, 20 years old. Ricky Ponting started in 1995-96, that would be about 15 years ago. So you would probably have seen him a little before that. Ponting was a player who probably made everyone sit up and take notice.
SW: This guy [Steve Smith], maybe is not the skill of Ponting batting-wise. But he is the all-round package. He has got the potential to be a very good legspin bowler. He is an excellent fielder and an exciting batsman. So maybe I will rephrase that: he is definitely the most exciting all-round talent we have had for the last 20 years. He is obviously not Shane Warne, bowling-wise or Ricky Ponting, batting-wise, but as a whole package he is quite unique.
HB: How do you see the game evolving? Do you think night Test cricket is possible at all? Do you see one-day cricket dying? Do you sometimes look at the game and think about it from that point of view?
SW: Test cricket at night is definitely possible. I would have loved to play day-night Test cricket. I think it is exciting, brings another dimension to the game. People want a bit of a change, they want that excitement. Why not bring that in Test cricket? We have got it in Twenty20s. Let's get a pink ball in and play a day-night Test, if it is possible. Obviously in England it is not really possible because it doesn't get dark till 10 o'clock in summer. Maybe in the subcontinent the dew might make it impossible. So you've got to have common sense around it as well.
HB: But in Australia, you think it's game on?
SW: Yes, why not? People said you can't play day-night one-day cricket, and all of a sudden they turned up for the first night. Masses came to see it, and I think they will do the same for Test cricket.
"Now is the best time to be a batsman"
HB: Steve, while you had some fantastic moments as a Test player, there are a couple of moments in one-day cricket that will stand out for you. Do you see the one-day game surviving or do you see the one-day game stumbling its way through?
SW: I hope it survives. There is quite a bit of history with it now. It will be a shame for someone like Michael Bevan, who had a great one-day career to all of a sudden have that obliterated, and it's no longer a form of the game, its history is gone with it. He put 15 years of work in it.
I think it needs to be tweaked a little bit. I do find the middle overs a bit tedious to watch, from 20 to 40 overs. I recently suggested - it was a bit of a throwaway line - that maybe we increase fours to sixes and sixes to nines, to get the batsmen to play more shots. Maybe the bowlers won't be too happy, but on the positive side of they have more chances of getting wickets when the batsmen are attacking them. So we have got to spruce up those middle overs.
HB: Interesting you say that. I was going to ask you if you are happy with the balance between bat and ball. These days the bat seems to be dominating everywhere. Boundary ropes, sometimes there is a temptation to bring them in. Outfields are very quick. Is the balance getting lost?
SW: It is. How often do you see a three run in international cricket these days? Very rarely. There are not many twos, in fact; you either see one or four or six. So the outfields are definitely getting shorter and quicker, boundaries smaller. The bat seems to be bigger and more powerful.
The biggest change has been the physique of the players. In our days you looked at the gym, but you never went in there. These days the guys are big. It's all about power and speed in Twenty20 cricket. They are hitting the ball long because they are much stronger. Maybe they should try and give bowlers some incentive. At the MCC we talked about the possibility of getting the seams a bit larger, even increasing the number of seams to eight. They are radical ideas, but maybe it's time we start thinking about it.
HB: Even today, the fast bowler who takes wickets upfront, even in a batsman-dominated game like Twenty20, is still worth his weight in gold. So somewhere down the line you need to encourage that kind of a bowler, don't you? You were saying to me sometime ago that it is the best time in the world to be a batsman.
SW: Yes, it is. There are not many great opening quick bowlers. You haven't got the fearsome West Indies quartet or the Wasim Akram- Waqar Younis- Allan Donald-type bowlers around because they are all struggling to stay on the park. And now they are taking the option of playing Twenty20 rather than Test cricket. So it's probably the best time ever to be a top-order batsman in Test cricket right now, because there are not many penetrating, damaging opening bowlers. We have to somehow encourage them back into the fold.
HB: One of the reasons we are getting so many injuries is because they are travelling much more, and it's also because of what you just said - they spend more time in the gym than actually bowling.
SW: And more diagnosis as well. You've got a million people around the side. As soon as you get an inkling, you are off to the MRI scan, which will pick up a strain. Fifteen years ago they probably would have played with those strains. But now, as soon as it's diagnosed everyone's got a responsibility, so they say you've got to have 10 days off to recover. So more diagnosis leads to more injuries, I guess, because they are actually seeing what they in the past didn't know. And yes, maybe it's also got to do with different types of training.
HB: Do you like lean travelling teams then? Because sometimes nowadays the travelling entourage is as big as the playing staff.
SW: Yes, it seems to be out of order sometimes. I can't see the point in having a batting coach, a fast-bowling coach, a spin-bowling coach. Surely the actual coach's job is to do that with the help of the players? Maybe he can pull someone in occasionally. But the big entourage can sometimes confuse the situation. And sport and cricket is always best when it's quite simple.
HB: One of the worries I have, and maybe you are the right person to talk about it: if you've got a coach for every single aspect of the game then every time you've got a problem you are running to the coach. In India we have these terrible things called academies, where people go from age 8, 9, 10. So every time you've got a problem you go to the coach and say, "Coach, what do I do now?"
SW: They don't, you are right. You need to think for yourself and work it out, and the best players do that. If you are too reliant on people to work it out for you then obviously you get into a game situation and can't think on your feet. You can't improvise because there is no one there holding your hand.
"Mother Teresa had a big impact on me"
HB: Steve, if there was one word to describe you as a cricketer, it would be "steel". You were tough, you were gritty. Is that inborn or acquired?
SW: I think it is acquired. When I played my junior sports, I was flamboyant. When I played soccer I was always the goal-scorer. I played cricket, I always the guy who scored the runs quickest. So I was a flamboyant sportsperson. I learnt the mechanism to protect myself and ensure longevity. Some of those were: cut out a few risks, do it a different way, don't give too much away, compartmentalise. So there are things you learn to survive.
HB: So it was really more mental training than cricket training?
SW: Yes, those are the things that I picked up, and I guess I probably see myself as someone who can learn pretty quickly and pick up on things and try and work it out for myself. Not everyone, I guess, has that skill, so you need people to help you do that.
HB: One of the best lines I read about you, and there have been many good lines written about you, actually came in the foreword to your book. You asked Rahul Dravid to write the foreword and he wrote - "Steve Waugh gave grit a good name." And I thought that's a great line in an era of flamboyance. Here is a man who gave grit a good name.
SW: Yes, that's a good line for sure. It was a great foreword to my book.
HB: But it does describe you, doesn't it?
SW: I think it describes the second half of my career. It doesn't describe the first half. I think people forget that when I started I played in a completely different way. I think you are always remembered for how you finish the game. But you look back at my career, it was a lot different to start with. So I would say I was flamboyant to start with, and then it gradually went the other way towards grit. Then there were times in that phase - for example, I got a hundred off 110 balls in the West Indies in the Test in which Brian Lara got a hundred off 140 ball. Yet when I read the match report, it read: Steve Waugh scored a gritty, determined hundred and Lara scored the flamboyant hundred. So it's hard to shake the tag.
HB: In the days to come, when the two words, "Steve" and "Waugh", are taken, will they be followed by "Australian cricketer" or will they be followed by "foundation"?
SW: I don't know. I think a bit of both. Right now I am really determined to make an impact in what I am doing, and that is philanthropy. And I think if I can take the same values, principles and work ethic with me then I can be successful. At the end of the day, it's all about hard work and not making excuses.
HB: What drives that Steve? A lot of cricketers live in bubbles. A lot of cricketers have no idea of the real world. The bags get picked up at the airport, they get put in the team bus, get into the hotel, and get to the ground. So where did this little thing come in?
SW: I don't know, I think it's the way you are brought up. Obviously in my current family that's the way now. You can't change who you are and where you come from. I have always been inspired by people with courage and character, and I like the spirit of the underdog. And if that fits in with what I am doing then I am passionate about supporting those people.
HB: So who would your heroes be, really? You have cricket heroes or your own heroes outside the game?
SW: I think Mother Teresa had a big impact on me. I met her briefly, but looking at what she did and how she went about it, I think that was inspirational. Meeting someone like Nelson Mandela - I think he is a great leader. So I probably get my inspiration more away from the game.
There is this young boy in Melbourne, who I have known for about 13 years. When I met him he was seriously ill at that time, and I have kept in contact with him. He has now had about 99 separate operations. So when I was playing cricket, I always used him as motivation to get over an injury. I would say to myself, "How would Mathew handle this situation? How would he get out of this?" So I think you can find different people who motivate you than sports stars.
HB: You sleep well every night?
SW: Look, I don't know about sleeping well. My mind is always active. I fall asleep and it's okay. But once I wake up then I can't get back to sleep. I always think about what can be done tomorrow.
HB: Which is not a bad thing?
SW: Oh yes, but I wouldn't mind sleeping occasionally as well.
HB: Steve, thank you very much, and I hope you carry the Laureus name far and wide, and I hope your foundation does very well.
SW: Thanks. Laureus is a great organisation and I am looking forward to being involved with Magic Bus.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. Steve Waugh was in Mumbai on behalf of the Magic Bus project, backed by the Laureus World Sports Academy, of which he is a member. Magic Bus is a sport for development project which helps to improve the lives of children living below the poverty line.