Sunday, May 26, 2019

Out of My Comfort Zone - Steve Waugh

This is 720 pages long and took me a month to read. Steve Waugh kept a journal throughout his playing days - as he mentions in the book and that probably helped me recall minute details of all that happened during his long career at the top for Australia. There are interesting insights into his own approach to the game, player profiles, leadership and other areas.

My first impressions of Waugh were during the Reliance Cup when he bowled a critical last over and helped Australia win over England in the finals. He never looked like he would lose his nerve and that was something that gave everyone an indication of what he was made of. He would be there in critical moments and turn the momentum decisively in Australia's favour. In the next World Cup's opening game he dropped a crucial catch off the last ball of the inning and recovered quickly enough to run Venkatapathi Raju out. (In this book he says he saw Raju raise his hand in celebration while turning for the run and that spurred him into firing a rocket return that ran him out!) India lost by a run that game. One does not forget the innings he played against South Africa in the World Cup to qualify for the semi-finals under tremendous pressure as the only top batsman left. He was tough, hated to lose. He was one who instantly earned the fan's respect with his deeds.

So it was interesting to read his biography. His early days with his family, his twin brother Mark, making inroads as young cricketers into the local sides, not knowing if he was good enough, taking time to score his first test century. The fitness regimes, the desire to give his all for his baggy green, his lucky red rag, the time spent away from his family point at the sacrifices one has to make to remain at the top. One gets a good peek into the Aussie dressing room which was a fun, beer swigging bunch early on that became very disciplined and focussed on winning later. Their penchant to take off clothes and do nude laps or sing nude during team wins is another interesting aspect.

He talks about how he gave clear roles to his players which was interesting. There is a blueprint he shared with his team when he was captain which read like -
1. Stay a strong unit and enjoy each others success
2. Play each game as if it's the most important of your career
3. Don't hesitate - always back yourself
4. Never believe the game is lost
5. Aim to be man of the match every time you play
6. Improvise - think on your feet
7. Learn something from every match
8. Do the little things right and the big picture will fall into place (training, talk on the field, backing up the stumps, calling)
9. Enjoy the fact that you are representing your country - have pride
10. The best fielding side nearly always wins
11. Know your own game and what your role is
12. Have fun, have a laugh
Any kid can take these and use them to succeed.

Other things I liked were a point he made about how John Buchanan as the Coach would ask his players to commit what they would do and put it up there for everyone to see. It made them more responsible. A passage about leadership was very well written and covers almost everything a leader should know.

Steve Waugh used his travels to grow as a person by meeting people, travelling, taking pictures and understanding cultures. His work with Udayan, an NGO in Kolkata, where he helps the children of lepers to get an education, especially girl children is truly commendable. As a player, a captain there is never a moment in the book when you feel he has not given enough for his team.

That said, there is this huge bias to the Aussie side and all their transgressions which are almost always with some justification - brain freezes etc and all other things done by others coming out of some conspiracy. This is a tone I noticed in Brett Lee's biography too - maybe it comes out of competing so hard but it does leave a sour taste in the mouth. As champions that everyone respects, a little more grace would have rounded it off. Also I wonder if this habit of looking at themselves lightly came to what finally happened with Steve Smith and Warner - this desire to win.

Many iconic matches just get glossed over in a line but perhaps he did not want to dwell on them much - Sachin's back to back hundreds in Sharjah for one. He however, credited Sachin with the win in the Champions Trophy when Sachin scored a strategic 38 or so - an inning which to me ranks among his best - his 98 against Pakistan in the World Cup is another.

His relationship with his family - Lynette's note at the end gave a wonderful perspective into his life from her eyes. He has unabashedly mentioned how she was his rock in all his tough times. A wonderful love story. His love for his children comes through.

Overall it's an honest, straight from the heart piece of storytelling and thankfully, by the end of it, our respect for him does not grow any lesser which means he did a good job of it. I have read biographies of people I admired and after reading the book, wished I had not. Waugh's did not make me feel that way. Thanks Gunnu!

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