Pic by Steve Waugh
And we’re back with photographer Steve Waugh, not a bad cricketer – 32 Test centuries, 10,927 runs at an average of 51.06, most successful captain of all time – and, since his retirement in 2004, a prodigious fundraiser for charities in Australia and India.
In the first part of this interview yesterday LINK HERE, prompted by the publication of a coffee table-and-a-half book of 200 photos he took in his second favourite country – The Spirit Of Cricket: India – Waugh talked through history, trust and beauty.
They might seem unlikely bedfellows in his life but in fact they are at the core of so much of what he’s done. But what are the elements that enabled this kid from an unprepossessing part of western Sydney to carve out this multi-faceted life? What role have women played? How much is down to patience, how much to passion?
Funny you should ask that.
The core of a project like this, working 14 hours a day for 17 days shooting from mountains to the sea, is similar to that involved in a professional sporting career: discipline. How do you learn discipline? How do you teach discipline?
“I guess it was in my nature. Looking back, I thought it was normal to hit a ball in a stocking hanging from the roof in the garage for hours a day. If I didn’t hit it straight to the flat part of the roof, it would come off at an angle and break the sequence. For me that was a challenge, I loved it, I thought it was being normal, but it wasn’t normal; it was probably me,” says Waugh.
“I think it’s the same with my charity and this, and my bike ride. I don’t see the point in doing something if you’re not going to try to do it the best you can do it. I don’t understand people who half do it, and make excuses when it doesn’t work out. Well, why didn’t you actually do it? This was a massive challenge and it took me out of my comfort zone to say I’m going to do a cricket photography book. I thought, jeez maybe I’m having myself on a bit.
“Then it dawned on me that I’ve got to actually deliver the goods, and that’s when I got Trent involved, and when I was there I photographed from six in the morning til eight at night, 17 days in a row. I loved it. I didn’t see any of it is inconvenient or a problem; I just wanted to do it. To me it was just another challenge: how good can I get at photography?”
Part of discipline is patience, the kind of thing that means you can stay in one spot for 45 minutes waiting for a kid to miss a ball. One of the most famous aspects of Waugh’s career is the patience he showed, and was shown to him by the national selectors, waiting for his first Test century after his debut in December 1985. When it came it came, it came in a rush, two consecutive scores over 150 in the 1989 Ashes. As I’ve written elsewhere, some of us – yes, me – rode that pre-‘89 period tensely and celebrated almost as if he was related (or a surrogate us) when it happened.
“Yeah, it took a while. You don’t realise the connection you make with people until you retire. When you’re playing you are in your own little bubble, but I played for 20 years and a lot of people grew up with me and had the highs and lows of watching it. I realised after I retired that all these people were so closely connected to my career and knew about it, and their mood was probably the same as mine if I got runs or didn’t get runs.
“With discipline, I think I learnt after the first couple of years that I was trying to play at other people’s expectations. I was considered the new Bradman, which was crazy, or Doug Walters, and had all these tags only. In reality I didn’t know my game myself: I was a cavalier batsman up to the age of 18 or 19, scoring the quickest runs with the most sixes always. Then all of a sudden, I was chucked into the Australian side, pretty much overnight, and had to find my feet. I struggled and I tried to find different ways and it probably took me three or four years to work out my own game.
“And then once it worked, I modified it a bit: we played the West Indies a lot and the hook shot was a dangerous shot to play so I cut that out of my game. I kept scoring runs and I thought well this is working so I’ll stick with it. My natural instinct was to go out there and play a lot of shots but I tried to curb that. It’s like photography: your instinct is to take a million shots but in the end you learn if you are patient, you’ll get those quality shots.”
Getting rid of the hook shot was not the only time he disciplined himself to go without. After the 1989 Ashes tour in England where he scored many boundaries playing a flashy, exciting back foot square drive, that shot started getting him out back in Australia and he put it away.
“On Australian pitches that’s a hard shot to play because of the extra bounce. You’re right, it’s a shot I loved and it’s very easy to play in England where it’s slower and had more time. In Australia if it bounced and moved, you were committed and you were gone. I got caught a lot in the slips an elected and thought I love playing but it’s a dangerous shot in Australian conditions. I guess that is learning on the job and modifying your game to be successful and survive.”
He loved playing it, we loved watching it – and he would have known that too - and it gave him a lot of runs, but he was prepared to give it away. That’s discipline, and respect for what he is doing.
“I never looked at it like that. I guess ego comes into it as well. You’ve got to put aside your ego a lot of times: some players and some people just can’t do that. To me that stops a lot of people developing their potential, letting their ego get in the road. You’re right, I probably put away the good-looking side of my game in some regard, but I think after a couple of years being in that side, we lost a lot and I was sick of losing. I didn’t like that feeling and I wanted to be successful and once I had a taste of it, I thought this is the recipe, this is the blueprint, I’m going to stick to this because I don’t want to go back to where I was before.”
Pic by Steve Waugh
Noticeable in their presence through Waugh’s book – one of his favourite locations was India’s first women’s cricket academy in Dharamshala - and in his other writings, are women, in particular his wife Lynette. However, in the years before he became captain, they were more noticeable by their absence in the life of most cricketers.
Wives and girlfriends weren’t allowed on tours, relationships were things you put aside for three, four, five months, and the overall feel was of boys being boys with boys.
That changed in the Australian men’s side with Waugh, and eventually that changed in cricket overall. How important was that for him in his overall plan as captain?
“I guess I was with my wife Lynette from the start and she made a lot of sacrifices. Your family make a lot of sacrifices and I don’t think I made any sacrifices playing cricket because I loved it and I was getting paid. But women weren’t allowed, and when they came they couldn’t stay in the same hotel, they didn’t have any transport organised, they had to fend for themselves,” Waugh says.
“I had a couple of young kids and it was really difficult and I thought you can’t really continue on this way. It’s not healthy and a lot of players suffered because of it. When you walk on that field and everything else is content and happy in your life, you are going to play much better cricket. In my mind that was why I wanted families to be more involved and to come whenever they wanted.”
Practical, career-minded factors were part of this thinking too for Waugh, and all captains who followed him.
“I also said to the players, it’s a short career and you’ve got to work hard and you’ve got to respect it, it’s a job and you are well-paid, but you’ve got to find that balance,” he says. “That became a bit of a theme: I’ve got two girls myself and got involved with the orphanage in Kolkata and supported the women there. Again it’s a connection to the underdog and the underprivileged.”
THE UNDERPRIVILEGED AND THE UNDERDOG
it’s a point he’s made a couple of times, that connection, and it’s part of the connection some of us made with him. I for example grew up a couple of suburbs away from him in Sydney’s west and it mattered that someone from a pretty ordinary lower middle-class area just like mine was mixing in a sport which still seemed like a game for the privileged and the connected.
Growing up in the outer suburbs, looking different, trying to get “in” but never really sure I was – all of that played a part in my philosophy and my work. Did it do the same for him?
“Probably. I think you don’t take anything for granted and you appreciate what you got. And that matters. We never wanted for anything, but we weren’t lavished with things. [Twin brother and fellow Test cricketer] Mark and myself were in the same bedroom for 16 years, shared the same clothes and did everything together,” he says.
“I think it makes you grounded and thankful for what you’ve got and the opportunities you get. Without cricket I don’t know what I would be doing. Writing and charities and now photography, all these things I never thought I’d do, have all come because of cricket.”
Passion must drive everything he’s done. Waugh was famously stony-faced on the field but he must have been churning up inside (“Sure,” he chuckles.) and his playing, his charities, his photography seemed to be driven by something much more than just squint-eyed determination.
“When I finished cricket, I wrote out a list of what I wanted to do and two things at the top, before I listed anything, I said whatever I do now I’ve got to be passionate about it and I’ve got be challenged by it. Anyone that comes to me with a project, I check those two boxes straight away, and everything else flows from that.
“People asked me what’s your secret to success and I say hard work, but you’ve got to be committed to it and passionate, and you’ve got to want to do it.”
Tomorrow: Wind Back Wednesday puts a personal spin on this story as one westie watched another, and took heed.
Read part one of this interview here
Steve Waugh’s The Spirit of Cricket – India, is self-published and is available now from stevewaugh.com.au