FAREWELL FRIENDS

27/11/03

Decision evolved over a period of time
In a column exclusive to TOI, Aussie skipper Steve Waugh, 38, who has announced his retirement from Test cricket, effective after India’s tour, looks back at his career.

Steve Waugh

Throughout my playing career, I’ve heard many times that you’ll know when it’s time to call it a day. They said: “One morning you will just wake up and know instantaneously that you want to retire or it’s time for a change of direction.’’ Well I’m here to tell you that it has never been that black and white to me. Over the years there have been moments of self doubt that haven’t always had a straightforward answer, but whenever these challenging times have cropped up, they have always been extinguished quickly. The thought of being able to achieve something new every day and to believe you can improve, have always drawn me to the challenges that lie ahead. Over the past 18 months the ‘R’ word has been a constant, never more than a couple of questions away at any given press conference, regularly written about in newspaper articles, and discussed by just about everyone. It has been both bewildering and expected, from my perspective. The former because I’ve always seen myself as just a cricketer from the western suburbs of Sydney who happened to be lucky enough to live out his dreams and play for, and captain, Australia. To have so much attention on my departure just feels strange, but I can also understand that after having played for Australia since Boxing Day 1985 I have been a part of people’s lives for nearly 20 years. When you get to a certain age as a professional cricketer, you tend to be categorized. As a bowler, 33-35 is an age when the issues tend to focus on how much longer have you got. A batsman may have the luxury of a couple of extra years’ grace. But I will always argue that age is irrelevant unless you have two competing players of equal skill, desire, commitment and fitness levels. This criterion equally applies to youth and if someone meets these requirements at 15 years of age, then their youth shouldn’t be used against them. My decision to retire was made in consultation with my family and my management. It’s been a decision that has evolved over a period of time and one I believe has been made at the right time. I’m glad that I didn’t finish after last season’s Sydney Test, even though it would have been a fairytale finish. I knew I had something left

inside. Deep down I felt I could still improve and I didn’t want to finish while not playing consistently well. Many will say, “But what about the last frontier — winning away in India?’’ In a perfect world it would have been nice to have a crack at it, but it will now be a challenge for Ricky Ponting and the boys to take on. If Australia do go on to win in India, I’ll feel comfortable in the knowledge that I have played a small part in that process. Ricky has already shown he has the qualities to be successful and clearly has the respect of his peers, and crucially, seems to enjoy the added responsibility that captaincy requires. Playing for Australia has always been a huge honor — knowing you are representing 20 million people, and living out the dreams of many. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing; in fact Test cricket was a struggle for the first couple of years. My first emotion upon hearing my selection was panic — Am I good enough? Will I be scared and intimidated by the press and notoriety? Can I really be successful? I was also excited and thrilled at the same time, but in reality I was hoping rather than expecting to do well. My big breakthrough came after 26 Tests when everything just came together at Leeds for my first Test century. For me the first thing I recall is how dry my mouth was when I reached 99. I couldn’t summon enough saliva to chew my gum, my heart began to thump so hard I could feel it through my sweater and my palms sweated up so quickly that my grip on the bat was threatening to become unstable. When I pushed that single through the covers, it was just the greatest sensation, an overwhelming surge of satisfaction, contentment, tranquility and excitement all rolled into one. It was also a massive relief because I’d always wanted to score a hundred and expected to do so, but until you actually do it, those doubts can linger and eat away at your self confidence. Claiming the World Cup as rank outsiders in 1987 on the subcontinent was the catalyst for the winning era we are accustomed to now. Defeating England 4-0 on the ‘89 Ashes Tour was a coming of age for the likes of Taylor, Jones, Hughes, Healy and myself and remains my favorite tour in terms of enjoyment. Akin to climbing Everest was beating the Windies on their home turf — a feat we achieved in 1995. A double century and a huge partnership with twin brother Mark was my greatest triumph in terms of batmanship, because it was against the best attack, in the most critical Test, under the most trying conditions. Coming from a seemingly impossible situation in the 1999 World Cup was also a memorable time and one to cherish because it was executed under intense scrutiny and pressure. Of course there have been many down times during the journey that have influenced my character and help shape the values needed to survive and succeed. I can still recall sitting in the Eden Park change rooms as a 20-year-old, after scoring 0 and 1, being verbally assaulted by John Bracewell during a match we lost comprehensively. It was a series loss, topped off by being bowled out for 102 in the

second innings. The dressing room was like a morgue and the scent of a heavy defeat hung in the air. My thoughts drifted off to a place I didn’t want to visit. I wondered if I’d ever play in a winning Test team, was I good enough to make the grade and could this team turn things around. It was a moment that has helped me stay grounded during the victorious times, and one that I’m glad I experienced. My first tour of Pakistan was an examination of the toughest kind. A string of questionable decisions, poor form and a culture shock had me in a fragile state of mind, which culminated in a bizarre dismissal during the second Test. Just when I thought I was making some headway with a determined 20, on what turned out to be the final delivery of the match I busted back an innocuous ‘half tracker’ to the bowler. Looking back this was no doubt the lowest point in terms of self-belief during my career. Many of these lessons have been put to use over the past 12 months when the jury was out on my form and position in the side. But I knew if I could trust myself, work hard and keep it simple, I could turn things around. I was amazed at the overwhelming support last year in Sydney, and from around the world and without doubt it inspired me to perform on the day. Charity work has been a real life experience so far and I love the associations I have with the kids in India and I look forward to continuing and expanding my role there. Sydney to me is the perfect place to retire for many reasons. It’s one of the best venues in the world; it’s been my home ground throughout my career; all my family and friends will be there; I will be playing against India, a team and country for which I have great admiration; I am very fit and on top of my game. I’ve always wanted to finish on my own terms and right now I feel as if I’m in the best form of my career, and I can’t think of a better word for anyone to say about me when I finish other than: Why? Thanks mate — you were simply superb Sachin Tendulkar: I think he set great examples in the way cricket should be played and in tough conditions he would produce some tremendous performance. Anyone would want to play like him — he was completely at a different level as far as mental toughness is concerned. He’s someone I’ve really admired, he’s shown over the years that he’s very gutsy and when the time demands it he who’s there to deliver. Rahul Dravid: It is sad in a way. He was one of my heroes and someone I looked up to in international cricket. I’ve played against Waugh, met him and chatted with him during the course of my career and found him very helpful. He is right high up there. He was a terrific professional and a great cricketer. The intensity and commitment he brought to his batting was phenomenal and great to watch.

Aussie PM John Howard: It is a momentous day for Australian cricket. I know there’ll be other opportunities to honor him and to thank him. It will be a very sentimental Test match in Sydney commencing on January 2 and I know that cricket lovers from all around Australia will be following the series and Steve’s personal contribution very closely. He’s been a wonderful captain, a wonderful batsman, a gritty, determined competitor. Ricky Ponting: I have made no secrets that I’d like to do the job (leading Australia in Tests), but that’s not an issue for today. It’s about Stephen Waugh and what a great player and leader he’s been for our country. Today is about celebrating Stephen’s success. Ian Healy: It did catch me by surprise. He had been leading us all to believe that he was going to go to India (next year) and normally he has the tenacity to follow those predictions out. While I said it was surprising, I certainly accept it and support the decision. Gameplan

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful