Waugh stories inspire Ashes aspirants
Test legend Steve Waugh's presence already being felt as Australia hone preparations in Southampton
Andrew Ramsey in Southampton
21 July 2019, 11:48 AM AEST
Alex Carey was a primary school student celebrating his 10th birthday when Australia's men's team last completed an Ashes series victory on enemy turf.
Almost 18 years later, at a quiet training ground shoe-horned between a 15,000-seat stadium and a public golf course, Carey was privy to a tutorial in what it takes to win international cricket's oldest trophy delivered by the Australian who knows better than any other.
For not only has Stephen Waugh experienced more Ashes Test wins than all those to have pulled on the Baggy Green Cap before or since, he has enjoyed greater Ashes success on British soil than even the very best England players – from W.G. Grace to Sir Ian Botham.
So when Waugh – in his current role as mentor to the men's squad preparing for their Ashes defence starting next month – engaged in a long chat with the uncapped 'keeper at today's lengthy training session, Carey was as attentive as any schoolboy.
"Having Steve here is amazing for the group," Carey said at a day-long practice session ahead of the intra-squad warm-up match between 12-man teams coached by Brad Haddin and Graeme Hick.
"He's won (eight) Ashes series and played a lot here, so to have the knowledge of Steve Waugh – one of the greatest Australian cricketers – is something we're really lucky to have."
Waugh has been enlisted by men's team coach Justin Langer, his former Test teammate and close friend, to provide wisdom and encouragement to the current squad as they attempt to win an Ashes series in the UK for the first time since the 2001 triumph.
Having played 168 Tests and 325 one-day internationals during a golden era of Australia men's cricket that he helped oversee, Waugh scarcely requires an introduction to the current generation of Test incumbents and aspirants.
But that's precisely what the 54-year-old did at a waterside hotel in Southampton on Friday night where the 25-player squad was divided into two teams (with Usman Khawaja unavailable due to his hamstring injury) for the four-day warm-up game starting on Tuesday.
The evening's formality underscored the reverence with which the former Test skipper has been welcomed into the expanded touring party, which is leaving no avenue unexplored in a bid to end the run of Ashes disappointment in Britain that stretches back to 2005.
It's also similar to the impact brought by Waugh's captaincy successor Ricky Ponting when he joined the men's ODI squad for the recent ICC World Cup tournament.
That prompted limited-overs captain Aaron Finch to liken his players' adulation for Ponting to "eight-year-old girls around Justin Bieber – it's embarrassing, but it's great".
While Waugh's musical taste remains more Beatles than Bieber, Carey (who thrived during the World Cup to earn inclusion in the ICC's Team of the Tournament) sees a similar effect unfolding.
"I think that's natural," said Carey, who will keep wickets for the Haddin XII to be captained by his South Australia teammate, Travis Head.
"As soon as you see an Australian great you want to impress them.
"Obviously Ricky's one, and JL (Langer) was another coming into this group and now we've got Steve.
"Having Ricky here, he was a lot of fun and he had good banter as well, so everyone felt comfortable around the group.
"Steve, I'm sure, will be the same."
Steve Waugh back in Aussie colours ahead of the #Ashes 😍 He's even rolling the arm over! pic.twitter.com/x4kFOpc3Y8— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) July 20, 2019
During his first full day of mentoring duties – the previous day's training session having been curtailed by rain – Waugh was a constant if non-invasive presence as both squads practiced at the Ageas Bowl's adjoining nursery ground.
Often, he would position himself behind batters in practice nets and watch intently before passing on insights or observations on what he'd seen, drawn from his 20-year first-class experience that included a stint with English county outfit, Somerset.
On a couple of occasions, he rolled-over his arm at a set of stumps in a vacant net.
It was, perhaps, a reminder to those youngsters in the squad who remembered him mostly for his batting exploits as captain that he was also – earlier in his career – regarded as primarily a seam-bowling allrounder.
At other times, he immersed himself in conversation with selection chair Trevor Hohns (who also headed the panel during Waugh's captaincy tenure, and played alongside him in the '89 Ashes), old chum Langer, new comrade and Ashes opening hopeful Joe Burns, as well as his discussion with Carey.
Although he's not yet earned a Test call-up, Carey knows enough of the protocols attached to top-level cricket to not reveal any granular details that passed between the two.
"No, not really – not at the moment," Carey said when asked if there was a specific topic in his discussion with Waugh, who had previously voiced his admiration for the 'keeper's World Cup exploits.
"Steve's been watching the one-day stuff and commentating a bit there.
"I've had a few little chats with him, but now it's moving more into the red ball and getting that focus on a longer format – the patience of the game, staying focused for longer, little things that will come out over the next few days.
"The more we train the more you start talking, and you start asking questions."
Carey admitted he had been flattered by Waugh's comments, made during the World Cup, comparing the comparatively inexperienced middle-order batter with acknowledged Australia greats Michael Bevan and Michael Hussey in both technique and temperament.
But he also acknowledged that, with just 29 ODIs to his name and not a Test appearance as yet, he is still very much in the infancy of his international career and learning his craft.
Carey has also not played a first-class, red-ball fixture since last December when he scored an unbeaten 110 for SA against New South Wales in a JLT Sheffield Shield match at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
He will therefore seek counsel from Waugh and many others with far greater experience in British conditions than he, as to how the locally made Dukes ball might behave from a batting and wicketkeeping perspective.
"I've experienced a little bit of it (Dukes ball) in Australia, but the conditions are different over here," Carey said.
"So it's going to be interesting to see how much it does wobble after it hits the seam, and how much it swings.
"Especially with (fast bowlers Pat) Cummins and (Josh) Hazlewood and these guys who stand the seam up, it does play some tricks.
"So I'm excited for the challenge."
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Tour match: Hick XII v Haddin XII, July 23-26
First Test: Edgbaston, August 1-5
Tour match: Australians v Worcestershire, August 7-9
Second Test: Lord's, August 14-18
Third Test: Headingley, August 22-26
Tour match: Australians v Derbyshire, August 29-31
Fourth Test: Old Trafford, September 4-8
Fifth Test: The Oval, September 12-16