There was an occasion in the Wellington Test match in 2000, when many of them felt that it was a ‘miracle’ comeback from Australia against New Zealand. After slumping to 51 for four, Australia posted a formidable 419 runs on the board and displayed a splendid comeback into the Test match.
While many of them were surprised by the Aussie response, it shouldn’t have surprised those who have good cricket knowledge as they would know that “It’s not over until Steve Waugh is there”. He played a belligerent innings of 151 and helped the Aussies to seal the series by six wickets.
Australia was under severe pressure, having lost top four batsmen with just 51 runs on the board. Waugh’s stubborn innings along with Michael Slater helped Australia to recover from a strange position to post a formidable total on the board.
What was special about that innings was his mental toughness, not only to take his team out of trouble but also that he wanted to create a match-winning impact. He defined the art of shining under crisis, and his stubborn innings received all praise from many pundits.
However, to be precise, it was not the only time Waugh had played a match defining innings when the chips were down. He had played crucial innings for Australia under crisis on many occasions, and hence, it would not be proper to define it as ‘miracle’ as it would offend a player of his caliber and it also takes away the fact that he was a champion sportsman – true fighter.
When Waugh took over Australia’s captaincy, they were going through some tough periods but his strong and pragmatic leadership helped Australia achieve a landmark of winning fifteen consecutive Test matches, and also helped Australia in clinching the Second World Cup in ’99. From a very tough period, he indeed laid down new standards for Australia and took them to new heights in international cricket.
During his tenure as a captain, Waugh influenced his thought of fighting till the end to his team-mates, and he always led by example. He didn’t influence his thoughts through words but led by from the front. His unbeaten century against South Africa in Super Six match in ’99 World Cup, his 157 against Pakistan in Rawalpindi Test and his 200 against West Indies are clear examples of Waugh’s mental toughness, in not to give up till the end in extremely difficult circumstances.
Facing Ambrose, Donald, on bouncy wickets was not easy in Test cricket but Waugh relished the challenge and had the determination, which ended up in him becoming the most reliable batsman. And, unsurprisingly, Waugh scored the most number of centuries (29) from January 1, 1993, to January 6, 2004, surpassing the famous Sachin Tendulkar (28).
Fight till the end
The ‘fighting’ character for a sportsman is not present in every one of them, and also it’s not an inherited trait. He had to work hard, put an immense value to your presence, and without speaking too much, lead by example. Waugh exactly falls under this category, and for him even a loss can’t be termed as defeat.
It was like the result of the fight was secondary, and whether his team wins or not, was beside the point for him. His objective was simple – fight for sake of fight, and it’s not purely result-oriented. He always wanted to convey the opposition that “We are going hard at you” aggressive brand of cricket. It’s not emotionally aggressive; it’s about playing the cricket in right spirit and at the same time, playing hard.
Also, he is the most loved player across the globe for his sportsmanship, as he always played the game in right spirit. At the same time, he always believed in playing stubborn cricket as that’s the only way to be successful against high-quality sides.
However, strangely, few greats of the game like Viv Richards, Gary Sobers may not be called as warriors, even though they were big-match players. The reason is simple as they were always superior than their counterparts, but players, who were less talented, had the ‘fighting’ character to shine at the international level. Thus, few less talented players sometimes may out-perform their superiors as he has nothing to lose. When you play with that kind of mindset, you will definitely succeed at the highest level, and Waugh was the clear example of it.
This is because, your mindset is very critical to your success at the highest level. If you have the belief in your own ability and develop the habits of fighting till the end, you will naturally grow as a cricketer. On the other hand, if you are naturally talented, then in general you may not have the mindset of going beyond your comfort zone. Take the case of Kapil Dev, Sourav Ganguly, Sunil Gavaskar and Mohinder Amarnath, as they were successful cricketers in their respective generations. The bottom line for their success is “Fighting till the end”.
Also, MS Dhoni is another example of the current generation, who never gives up at any circumstances. How many times has Dhoni taken India to the position of strength from strange situations? The bottom line with Dhoni is “when the chips are down, he will fight till the end, and no matter who the opposition is”. His hundred against Pakistan in Chennai, and also his hundred against Australia at Mohali are clear example of his fighting ability.
However, some of them are still bewildered on why Australia is much superior to other countries in cricket. The reason behind the success of Australian cricket is “Never say die” attitude. While most of the countries still produce exceptionally talented cricketers, they often don’t fight like the Aussie way.
Some of the countries may have produced exceptional players, but no one can be a warrior like Waugh!