Transcript: Couch Talk with Steve Waugh

Couch Talk Episode 95 (Play)

Guest: Steve Waugh, Former Australian Captain

Host: Subash Jayaraman

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Subash Jayaraman (SJ)- Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. Today’s guest is former Australian captain, Steve Waugh. He talks about his new book, “The Meaning of Luck” and the role of luck in sports, business and life. He also talks about the recently concluded Ashes, the Argus Review that he contributed to, 2 years ago, the role of leadership in cricket, amongst other things.

Welcome to the show, Steve!

Steve Waugh (SW)– Thank you!

SJ– It is absolutely my privilege and pleasure having you on.

SW– Thanks!

SJ– You have a new book out. The Meaning of Luck. First of all, congratulations on a  wonderful book that provides so many teaching moments.

SW– Yes, thank you. I totally enjoyed the process of writing the book. I write all my books long hand, and I self-published this one. So, it has been a bit of a challenge. This is my 13th book, but this is a bit different from the other books. It is more about the lessons I have learnt from the people I have met along the way and exploring the concept of luck.

SJ– So, what motivated you into writing it?

SW– It has been 8 years since I wrote my last book, “Out of My Comfort Zone”. A lot of people were wanting to know when I was writing my next one. It just happened to be the year with 10 Ashes Test matches. So, a lot of focus around cricket. I wanted to tell the story of my wife who had a stroke 8 years ago, and really that is where the concept of the book came from – “the meaning of luck” – because she considers the stroke as a ‘stroke of luck’, because it gave her a perspective of life after she recovered and rehabilitation. She prioritizes differently than when she did before. That is where The Meaning of Luck came from. It tells stories about my business life, the charity and also sports.

SJ– I want to talk to you about all of that. But first, from the cricket aspect, the sporting aspect of it. we often hear things like “you make your own luck” or “the fortune favours the brave”. From your playing experience, is luck a by-product of someone or a team not being afraid of failure or is it a result of “been there done that” track record of success, or is it something completely different?

SW– A combination of all of those, I think. My take on luck is that yes, we all have good and bad luck, but it is what you do with that or how you decide to turn around those bad pieces of luck into good luck. Truly, it is about your attitude – whether you are up for the battle, whether you can recover for the next day after having a bad day, whether you can see opportunities, whether you can open opportunities and whether you are prepared to fail in order to succeed. You have to put yourself out there. if you want to win, sometimes, you have to take some risk. I think the people who do that, who have a go, they attract good luck because they are positive and have good body language and positive things happen. Whereas, conversely, if you got a negative mindset, if you are pretty down about things, you block yourself of the opportunities and everything seems to go against you.

SJ– One of the interesting thing that you talk about in this book, “The Meaning of Luck”, is the line from your 1997 Ashes diary about – “people never describe a guy who scores 20 after being dropped on nought as lucky, but if a batsman goes on to score a century, then he is considered to be a very lucky guy.” So, it seems the definition of luck, or being seen as lucky is how successful you are after you are afforded that slice of fortune.

SW– I think, in cricket, and in sports, that is definitely the case. We all have moments when things go for us or against us. When they go our way, we have got to make the most of those opportunities. The really good players make the most of the pieces of really good fortunes that come their way. The ones that aren’t diligent enough in their pre-game planning or technique can’t capitalise on those moments of fortunes. They consider themselves unlucky because they have things go against them. But, the good people capitalise on bits of good fortune.

SJ– I have always been fascinated especially with your off-field work with your Steve Waugh foundation, as well as the Calcutta foundation, Udayan. It is quite well known. Congratulations on all the good work. I want to talk about the case of those children. I am trying to see how your definition of luck comes in because all these kids are in situations in that they never bargained for. So, how do you define luck from their perspective, from these kids’ perspective?

SW– Yes. Look, there are different degrees to the definition. That is for sure. If you are born in a slum somewhere in Calcutta, that is obviously bad luck, because it is certainly out of your control. But, what is in your control after that moment is what you do with your life and the direction you take and the attitude you have. But at the end of the day, if you make the most of your talent and grasp the opportunities in front of you, anyone can make a fist of their lives as really positive contributors. So, yes, sure where you are born, sometimes can be really bad luck and it might be tough to get out of that situation. I look at the kids at Udayan and the kids we support that have rare diseases in Australia. They all have fantastic attitudes and they make the most of everyday. They are actually achieving goals each and every day.

SJ– There was this one passage in the book which made me emotionally upset as I was reading and this was about your first interaction with a woman that had leprosy for 30 years and you had asked her through an interpreter “what does she look forward to in life?” and she said “Nothing.”

SW– Yes. That certainly struck me as well. at that time, I thought, Wow! How lucky are the rest of us when this poor woman with this terrible affliction, nothing to look forward to in life. The only reason she lived, I think, because she could. That was terribly depressing. You want to help in some small way and try to give that person hope. Maybe by giving her child an opportunity or teaching her some sort of skill that she could maybe put to use in some sort of hobby. There is something out there for everyone. At times, people can get depressed or be in terrible situations. I guess my advice throughout this book is that there is always something positive out there, you just have to try and find it. Sometimes it is harder to find.

SJ– I am sorry to continue with this point. I am trying to understand. If you are a kid in that slum – what is the prospect of hope?

SW– It’s hard for me to explain it in full, because I wasn’t born in that area. I see the kids there, I see that there is a possibility of education. It is just like these small things like learning a new word, it could be flying a kite, the best among the kids in the quadrangle where you live in. It might be really being nice to your mom and dad that day, helping somewhere around the house or the hut they live in. You just got to look at the small things each day and try to pick out a couple of things you achieve each day and say “OK, I’ve been really positive today. I am going forward in my life and I am improving and helping people.” You just got to look at the small steps.

SJ– Alright. I want to switch back to cricket. Of the current lot of international captains, from Michael Clarke to M.S. Dhoni to Misbah (ul Haq) to Alastair Cook to whoever else, some of them are termed fortunate, or lucky for the records they have achieved. it is easy to understand why the dice seems to roll in favour of certain captains. What do you think does it take to be a successful captain, and of course that is beyond having a great set of players in your team?

SW– Of course, it helps when you have talented players, because then you can play a great brand of cricket. We could play aggressively when I was captain because we had talented players. I guess it is everyone going in the same direction, believing in the vision, putting aside some personal aspirations for the benefit of the team and just keeping everyone grounded – in a really high achieving team with strong personalities and egos, you got to try and keep it all together. That is the biggest challenge with talented teams – to make sure that everyone is pulling in the same direction and enjoying each others’ success. That is a part of the role a captain has got to provide. He has got to provide that example of “team first” and also to keep an eye on what is going on in the team. He also needs good people around him. Some trusted lieutenants who can keep an eye out for you because the captain can’t always see what is going on. So, you need people in the side who can give honest feedback.

SJ– There is a passage in the book again, I want to refer to that, which is you talking about Lucas Neill, and your time with the Socceroos where you were talking about the captains and leaderships and stuff. You mentioned that “quality captains have impact on the game without actually having to force the issue. They lead without even knowing it.”

SW– Yes. That is interesting you picked that up because I thought that was a significant moment in the book when I started writing. That sort of dawned on me that some of the best leaders don’t even know they are leading, they are natural at whatever they do and people follow them. There are different types of leaders, and that is one type. It is, just watch the way I go about things, my actions. I guess there are people who communicate differently and are more verbal and lead through that process. I think the best leaders, I think, are the ones who are natural and don’t force and don’t try too hard.

SJ– I want to talk a bit more about leadership because that seems to be one of the running themes in the book. You came into the Aussie team under a very strong leader – Allan Border. Your first few Tests wearing the Baggy Green as an Australian cricketer, the team was winless. And, you note in the book that it was demoralising. And the current Australian Test team, have gone through their own streak – 9 Tests streak where they haven’t won a Test match, and 7 losses. How do you compare and contrast the kind of leadership that Allan Border showed in those trying times where he had lost a generation of great players to various reasons, and now, Michael Clarke, with having lost a great set of players as well?

SW– Allan Border was a reluctant leader. He was forced into the position because Kim Hughes resigned. I don’t think he wanted to be captain from the start. There was a bit about the position that he had to learn about, and grow into. It took him time to do that. And obviously, we as a team were very new. In fact Allan was one of the earlier set of players and had played more Tests than the rest of the team combined. We were very inexperienced. More inexperienced than the current team.

It was fortunate that Bob Simpson came along pretty much at the same time and he was a huge influence on the side. He was a tremendous coach. They worked together as a good solid unit, but contrasting styles. At the end of the day, the no.1 thing that we did was we became disciplined. We trained a lot harder, a lot smarter.

The current group has a lot of talent. Michael Clarke is different to Allan Border. He really aspired and wanted the job [of captain]. So, he was ready for it straight away. At the same time, you can’t be prepared to be captain of the country until you get the job. You find out what it is like, and it is never probably as you imagined. It is a lot harder than you imagined. And particularly, when you are losing. I am sure that Border and Clarke could talk at length about the same situation and how to come out of it. One thing that I learnt from Bob Simpson and Allan Border was that the only way you can get out of it is through hard work and quality practice. You have got to learn to play tough Test match cricket.

SJ– What you went through with that team and what you have seen with this current Aussie set up, do you see them moving in the same direction as you ended up going as a team in the ‘80s?

SW– There is no doubt they have talent. Even during the Ashes, they lost 3-0, they were probably out of the 5 Test matches won as many sessions as England, though, they didn’t win the crucial moments. That comes with experience and know-how and confidence and belief. They lack in a few of those areas. One thing is that they have pretty much as much talent as most teams going around. So, it is just about making that breakthrough and believing in yourself that you can win these Test matches. Then, all of a sudden, they become a lot easier. That is a bit of a Catch 22. You are waiting to make one of these wins before you can establish yourself. At the same time, you don’t quite believe in yourself. Someone really has to step up and play like Shane Watson did in the last Test match, or Steve Smith, and all of a sudden you are making a turn around.

SJ– It is interesting that you mention that. Because, the 3-0 score-line, some might say that it does not reflect how close the two teams were. If a few things had gone this away or that way at Trent Bridge or Old Trafford, the score-line could have been different. I want to bring back the definition of luck here. How would you apply that to this situation?

SW– I think it was a fair score-line. England won the big moments under pressure. That is when you are going to test yourself out. I think people have said Australia have been unlucky. I would say, there is one way to fix that up and that’s you take luck out of the situation by playing better. When you lose close matches and results don’t quite go your way, you always end up without much luck. At the end of the day, if you are playing really well, you are taking luck out of the equation.

SJ– I want to take a few listener questions as well. The first one is from Gaurav in Chennai. When you became the captain of the Australian team and of course, you had great players, some of the all time greats in the team, including yourself; and currently, Michael Clarke does not have that luxury –he has some really good players but not perhaps in the same level as Steve Waugh or Mark Waugh or Ricky Ponting or Shane Warne or (Glenn) McGrath so on and so forth… As a captain, how does he approach these situations? What does he have to do differently to buck this trend and start getting positive results?

SW– He’s just got to stay positive. He just has to keep encouraging players and has to ‘pick and stick’. We have been changing our sides too much. It creates an air of certainty amongst the players. They have to feel as if they belong to the side so that they feel more relaxed and play their natural game. There are pretty good players. Brad Haddin has got a fantastic record. Shane Watson potentially could be a great player. (Ryan) Harris and (Peter) Siddle and (Mitchell) Starc and (James) Pattinson and (Pat) Cummins down the track, I think there is a lot of talent. It’s just about having the patience for now, and giving these guys the opportunities. Quite a few of those can turn into very good Test players. A bit like India, with Murali Vijay, and (Cheteshwar) Pujara and Virat Kohli – they are turning into very good Test match players. 2 years ago India was worried about where the next players are coming from. If you give them an extended run, they can turn it around.

SJ– But, we also live in a time where everybody is impatient for results. Here is a question from Gary Naylor in UK – when you started off as a cricketer, you had quite a bit of a run. Even though you were called as an all-rounder and you noted in the book as well that you were in the team basically because you were bowling well, you were taking the wickets but not scoring the runs. But in this time of impatience, can you see anyone being given the time to develop as a Test player in the squad?

SW– That’s a good question. In this day and age, everyone wants instant results. And that is the problem when you are trying to build for the future, trying to see the bigger picture. It is hard to do that. Something the selectors are going to have to explain to the public that this might take a bit of short term pain, but we want long term gain. So, we are going to stick with these guys through the thick and thin. I think they have to draw a line in the sand that these are the group of players who are really going to carry us and let’s stick with them.

Australian cricket was at a different stage when I came into the side. It had just lost 16 cricketers to the rebel tour of South Africa. (Dennis) Lillie, (Rodney) Marsh and (Greg) Chappell retired. We had 19 players suddenly gone out of 6 domestic teams. So, they didn’t have any options around. They had to stick with the talented players. I was seen as one of those. I guess I was fortunate in some ways, in the sense that there weren’t many cricketers around when I was picked. That gave me extra opportunities that are probably unavailable now. Back in those times, with all the retirements and players gone to South Africa, I was seen as the young kid on the block.

SJ– I want to talk about that. You were part of the Argus Review panel. Now, 2 years after it has been completed, do you feel that the Australian cricket has derived all that it could from the review? Or do you feel like a lot of the recommendations have been left by the wayside especially considering the lack of consistency in selection, the on and off the field drama with the players, the firing of coach so close to the Ashes series, the discipline of the players, the lack of focus on first class cricket, having a T20 tournament bang in the middle of domestic FC season…

SW– Look, I think we knew it was going to take a long time to turn Australian cricket around. You are right, you make some valid points. Probably, the recommendations haven’t been followed as closely as we would have liked. At the end of the day, we made 50 recommendations and the board endorsed all of those. We also said very crucially that the key component of this was to get the key people in the right positions. I guess, maybe the jury is out for some of those positions and whether they have got the right people.  The no.1 objective of that committee was to make recommendations, but then they had to go away and source the right type of people.

SJ– What do you mean by “right people”? Within the players, or backroom staff….?

SW– Everything. We created positions for cricket operations manager, someone who can be picked as the new chairman of selectors. Then we said that captain and coach are going to be selectors but now the captain is not. Argus Review was all about accountability. If things go wrong, who was actually accountable? At least now, there is a clear line of accountability.

SJ– Alright. Another thing that I want to talk about is – within the framework of a team, you can have equals with great players, tremendous egos and all that. They may not get along all well. They may not be mates, but they are very good teammates. So, you have had ot face some situations when you had to drop Shane Warne, and you note in the book that Shane never looked at you in the same way again eventhough you did what you thought was right by the team. You have had other situations and now Clarke has one with Shane Watson and Mickey Arthur saying that, or whoever leaked out or whatever, about being cancer in the team etc. This is from a listener form Pakistan – Hassan Cheema – do you think that team camaraderie is an overrated thing?

SW– You definitely got to have it. it is a huge part. You will always see that good teams that are very close always win the close matches. That is because they pull together in tough times and want to play for each other. That is definitely a key component. There is always going to be some sort of arguments in a group of twenty men travelling together. Every player is not going to be each other’s best buddies. The Australian teams that I played in, we never had a problem with each other. There were issues that have come up after we were all retired and people said things, but when we were playing, we has always been a very strong unit and that was one of the strengths of the cricket sides that I played in. We did all get along very well.

SJ– I will let you go with one question. No question to a Waugh without talking about Junior. This question comes from S. Aravind in Chennai, and he is a huge Mark Waugh fan as there seem to be a whole legion of Mark Waugh devotees in India. [Mark] was on par with the Laras and the Sachins for a long time. In a way, he was underrated as a batsman, perhaps, in the way he approached cricket. Perhaps, how easily cricket came to him. This listener wants to know what you think of the way Mark’s career ended. There was not much fanfare associated with it. perhaps, your take on whether Mark should have achieved a lot more that the 8000 runs and the 41 run average?

SW– Look, I think Mark’s career ended when he was dropped by the selectors. It is a different way than going out on your own terms. It was a bit more abrupt. That probably is what the listener is referring to. It probably wasn’t celebrated in the same way as saying “This is my last series” and you give the people a chance to say you “good bye.” I guess Mark isn’t that sentimental about things, that didn’t worry him too much.

As regards the talent, he did pretty well to average 41 in Test cricket. There were some fantastic bowlers in his era. He was good. He had taken the catches and wickets. I think it is a fantastic career. The one thing Mark was frustrated often is people saying Mark was more talented and I was more tougher and more determined. I think at the end of the day, we were equally talented and in fact, at schoolboy level, people always said I was more talented and played more shots. We just redefined our games. Mark was just as committed. Probably, body language – people read into that sometimes too much. I think we are similar in a lot of ways. More similar than what people recognize.

SJ– Alright!

On that note, Steve. Thank you so much for coming on the show. And, good luck with the book.

SW– Yes! The book is available on the iBooks in the USA, the UK, Canada and New Zealand. You can buy that book online.

SJ– Yes. I will certainly put up the link on the page.

SW– Great, mate! Thank you!

SJ– Cheers!

SW– Cheers!

[Meaning of Luck is available through Steve Waugh’s website. (Click here). For those in Australia, the hardback copy is available at Big W stores and Online. The iBook version is available in USANew ZealandU.K and Canada]

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Episode Transcribed by Bharathram Pattabhiraman