In his most candid interview ever, ‘Ice Man’ Steve Waugh talks to Peter Roebuck about everything from backyard cricket and his parents to car-jacking.
Steve, I first saw you play in Sydney for CHS… in ’83, I reckon. What type of person were you?
Actually, you’d met me before that. You coached me during World Series cricket. Barry Richards chucked me out of the net because I hit too many balls out of the net (chuckles).
Steve Waugh in 2011.
Photo ©: Naparazzi / flickr.com.
These South Africans, you know! What type of person were you in those days?
Geez, I just played cricket because I loved the game. I never thought about it much, never really had any formal coaching. I went to Barry Knight’s for a while but that was more confidence boosting. We were just naturals and played the game by our instincts. We were very aggressive, trying to score off every ball. We just went out there and played. Couldn’t get enough of it.
So you built your own game?
I can’t remember any really technical coaching. You are very competitive. Your parents are renowned as tough competitors.
Was this instilled or natural?
Hard to say. Probably it was encouraged but I can’t remember them actually saying, ‘Get stuck in’. We watched them play and saw how dedicated they were at squash and tennis, always trying their best, wanting to win. Perhaps it’s in our genes. We were in the backyard and highly competitive.
Being twins made us more competitive because we were always being compared. People were asking who was the best. If one scored runs one week the other would try to match him next week.
Even now your mother has a reputation as a formidable competitor.
I played her a few times and she’s tough, never gives in, runs everything down.
Your dad had the reputation of wanting to kill the opposition!
I never saw him at his peak. Their careers were cut short because they had us at 19, but I’ve watched him and he’s an elegant player, and plays tennis like Mark plays cricket, graceful and easy to watch.
Along the way you’ve refined your game. Was that part of an inevitable process?
When you’re losing as we were in the mid-1980s, you have to find some sort of mechanism to survive. It was no fun playing the way we played and myself getting 20s and 30s, looking good and getting out. I wanted to make the most of my abilities and to play well for Australia, and the way to do that was to change my game. I had to work it out for myself. Bob Simpson was great but there wasn’t a lot of help around in those first few years. Everyone was in the same position except Allan Border, playing for their places. Also, there wasn’t a lot of support staff as there is now, it was sink or swim.
You cut out your risks for the sake of survival?
After being dropped in ’91 I did that. It was forced on me, facing the West Indians at their peak, four great fast bowlers. Unless you’re the best hooker in the world it’s going to get you out regularly. I saw blokes getting out all the time and thought, ‘that’s not for me’. So I cut it out and it’s hard to restore it because it’s not in your way of thinking.
People talking about your refusal to hook get under your skin, don’t they?
Ah, yeah, but I wonder what’s the big deal. It doesn’t matter how pretty you look it’s how many runs you get. I don’t mind getting hit on the hands because it gets me fired up.
Did those early days shape your attitude as well as your game?
Possibly. It’s a hard life as a professional cricketer. It’s not as easy as everyone makes out. To survive you need a tough hide. People expect you to win and score runs all the time, and you have your family life and other interests so you learn to toughen up.
Where do you get your stamina, fronting up every day looking the same?
It’s difficult. Sometimes you have to bluff your way through, there’s no doubt about that. You don’t feel a million dollars every day… Andy Bichel, maybe, and Brett Lee … it’s just pride, wanting to do well and to win the battle against the bowler. I’m competitive by nature and want to make the most of my abilities, particularly as I have three kids now and don’t want to be going away and wasting my time, making sacrifices for no reason.
With all the books you read, you’ve broadened a lot from those early days. Was that a conscious decision?
I think it’s just the way you develop as a person. In my first 20 years in sport it was non-stop, all day, every day, three games of soccer on Saturdays, training four or five nights a week. I’d be out the back with a cricket ball in a sock three or four hours on end just hitting through the roof. I loved it and thought this was all there was in the world. But things happen and I’m inquisitive and like to read about other people, true stories and heroic deeds, people who’ve made a difference in life because it’s what you’re here for, to make a difference.
Have you read I Have Life? It’s about this lady who gets carjacked in Port Elizabeth and her throat cut from ear to ear and her belly opened up but they miss the main arteries and she holds her guts in with her coat and crawled 75 yards to the road with her head back on her shoulders. She survived.
You obviously have the patience to read right through.
I reckon I don’t. I’ve got five or six books on the go at the same time. I had to start this one again (points towards Stoker by Donald Watt). He was at the cricket and gave me this book. Amazing story. Had to stoke the fires at Auschwitz and kept it secret for 45 years.
What kind of man is he?
A knockabout Australian.
You’ve taken it into your team as part of your leadership.
That’s why you’re a leader. People are supposed to gravitate to you, that’s why you were picked for the job. But I’ve learnt from others. That’s what’s great about touring, 15 different blokes with 15 different hobbies.
You’ve made players give talks on all kinds of topics, and that’s new.
I didn’t want to end up playing cricket for 25 years knowing only about cricket. It’s an opportunity to learn something about the world. You get a taste for it. When I started touring I was like everyone else; hotel, a few beers in the bar, a simple life. Mike Whitney encouraged me to go out and have a look. That train journey across Zimbabwe, writing poems and buying silly hats from the locals… That was amazing. We still talk about it. We’d like to repeat that every tour, having a trip, getting out there for a few days. We’d love to do other train journeys but there isn’t time.
How did you find the nerve to suggest to your players to write poetry?
It sort of happened. David Missen started it. One morning I suggested he find a quote to get us fired up and he went a step further and wrote a poem, and I thought, ‘that’s a good idea, let’s get other blokes to do that stuff.
Have you felt you’ve been fighting against the wind your entire career?
Sometimes it seems like that. Justin Langer and Matt Hayden have had the same, perhaps that’s why I’m close with them. It’s just the way I am, I like to do things my way. I don’t fit into stereotypes or do things the way they were done in the past. I try to find out for myself. Possibly that’s why I had lots of detractors early on. I haven’t done things the same way or taken much advice from past players.
Maybe that’s where I went wrong. Maybe I should have spent more time at the bar with other cricketers, but I’ve never worried too much about that. Deep down you know yourself and the reality of the situation. As long as you’re strong enough to overcome these obstacles you can handle it.
It doesn’t worry you that other people had an easier run?
Time will be the judge. I haven’t really thought about it. All I know is there’s been enormous support in the last couple of weeks. You’re always going to have detractors, and they are heard because they make the most noise.
You mentioned Hayden and Langer. What did you see in them that the rest of us missed?
I felt they weren’t getting enough credit for their talent and achievements. And there’s something about them. If there’s one thing I’m good at, I’m pretty perceptive. I can see things others might not see. Maybe they’ll make me a selector one day (chuckles). It’s hard to define it. It’s a karma in the side, something they give the side. People feel more secure and strong because of these guys and you know they’ve got the talent and will come through as long as they are relaxed and confident. People around them must believe in them, that’s the key If you give that to all the players, believing in them and backing them all the time, it’s a big start.
You’ve talked about an X factor in the team.
It’s almost indefinable and it goes beyond the players into the support staff. It’s about what people bring to a side, the little things they say or don’t say. Compassion is part of it, seeing things from other people’s perspective rather than your own all the time. It takes a fellow with good character, and you look for that. All the great sides have it. With them it’s 11 against two all the time. Queensland has had it for several years, all 11 players working together. This puts enormous pressure on the two batsmen. If it’s four or five against two the batsmen can feel it. Once we had 11 prizefighters entering the ring, and I’d like it to be like that every time because it is intimidating.
You’ve been criticised for failing to intervene when incidents occur on the field.
It’s difficult. People talk about the Michael Slater incident. Even now it’s hard to discuss that because Slats was going through a difficult time. I felt if I’d done anything it might have flared up even more. I did say something but he wasn’t hearing. I’m happy to take the blame but there were reasons I didn’t intervene. As captain, I believe players must take responsibility for their actions. They know the limits and if they go beyond them…
Have you ever encouraged high full tosses or chasing tailenders?
I never encouraged high full tosses, because they’re cowardly. I didn’t mind what Brett Lee did in Adelaide. It was a Test and you’re playing for your country. I wanted him to get him out.
Does averaging 50 indicate greatness?
It’s marginal. People say I want to average 50 but I’ve never thought about that. Figures can bog you down. It’s nice if you average 50 because it means you’ve been resilient. If you play for 10 years you’ve got to have something about you because it’s not easy out there.
And the person – how has he changed?
A lot more worldly. I’ve met a lot of people and learned lots of lessons, and failed to learn a few.
Where do you go from here?
I don’t know. I take it one day at a time these days. There’s something left in me yet, something I haven’t achieved but I’m going to achieve. I’d still like to score 300 in a Test match, love to win another World Cup final. You’ve got to have dreams to keep you going. If it ends tomorrow, I’ve had a pretty good run. Guys like Jamie Siddons didn’t play a Test, Tom Moody and Darren Lehmann haven’t played many and I’ve played 140 Tests and 320 one-dayers.
Will you be able to handle life after cricket?
I think so. I’m a simple person and lead a simple life. Money does not motivate me as long as I can provide for my children. I’d like to make a difference, working with the children in India or something. With my profile I can help. And being as good a father as I can is a big challenge.
Didn’t you design your house?
Oh, I just painted it. I’ll have a go at anything. Fixing cement for the bricklayers and so on. I’m quite normal. I go down the street and people look at me and I think, “Why do they want to talk to me?’ I still don’t get that.