Waugh returns to Aussie camp
World Cup winning captain preaches importance of enjoyment while saying he's 'embarrassed' by modern players
Andrew Ramsey Adelaide
18 March 2015, 07:28 PM AEST
Among the messages that Steve Waugh imparted to Australia’s World Cup squad when he dined with them in Adelaide last night was how "embarrassed" he felt when footage from his era of the one-day game was aired on television.
Not because of the historic picture it portrays.
Waugh was a pivotal figure in a prolonged golden era of Australia cricket during which they were virtually invincible across all international conditions and formats for more than a decade.
But rather due to the comparison of how rapidly the 50-over game has evolved since he played his last ODI in 2002, and even the level of professionalism that modern teams bring to their training sessions in the unrelenting quest for the perfect game.
"I wasn't even scheduled to say anything," Waugh pointed out when asked about the level of his involvement in last night's dinner at Sean's Kitchen, an upmarket eatery a few steps from the Australia team's hotel in Adelaide.
"But I just said a few words about the World Cup, the current team and how they embarrass me when I watch a classic match on TV and we're getting (totals of) 220 and these guys are getting 400.
"I said 'you're doing a great job, you're embarrassing the older players the way you're playing'.
"(It was) just simple stuff about how great this opportunity is and really to enjoy what's going on because sometimes you get caught up in these big tournaments and put too much pressure on yourself.
"At the end of the day it's about why did you first start playing cricket - because you love the game, and nothing's changed, so don't forget that when you get out there for the big games."
Waugh signs autographs at Australia's training session // cricket.com.au
Waugh is the latest in a parade of former greats that Bupa Support Team Head Coach Darren Lehmann (a member of the successful 1999 World Cup team that Waugh captained) who have been invited to speak to the current team about their tournament memories and advice.
Former opener Geoff Marsh spoke to the group during January’s Carlton Mid ODI Tri-Series in Perth and ex-'keeper Ian Healy has also shared some insights.
But Waugh's experience is unique in that not only was he a foot soldier in the successful 1987 campaign in India and Pakistan and skipper in the UK in 1999, he was also a member of the team that crashed out early from Australia’s previous home World Cup in 1992 and the one that lost the final to Sri Lanka in 1996.
As a result, the focus of his counsel to Lehmann's team, which plays its first knockout match of the tournament against Pakistan in Adelaide on Friday, was on mental preparation rather than skill execution.
He recounted his squad’s final discussion before they took the field at Lord’s for the 1999 Final, coincidentally against Pakistan, as he believes the message from that June day remains relevant for Michael Clarke's team as they prepare to face the same opponent in Adelaide.
"In 1999 before the World Cup final against Pakistan the last thing we said was 'why did we start playing cricket?'" Waugh revealed today.
"When I looked back to 10 years of age, the last thing I did before I went to bed was (visualise) how many runs I was going to score and wickets I was going to take and first thing I thought about in the morning was same thing - how am I going to go today?
"That's why we started playing cricket and so just remember a few of those thoughts."
Waugh holds aloft the 1999 World Cup trophy // Getty
The 49-year-old's wisdom clearly struck a chord with the contemporary wearers of the gold and green, with opener Aaron Finch happy to echo Waugh's mantra when he spoke to media at the end of Australia’s lengthy training session in Adelaide today.
"Yes it’s a knockout (game) but as soon as you’re worried about losing a game you tighten up and you don’t play with your natural flair," Finch said.
"So that’s what a lot of our chats have been about and Steve was great with his chat last night.
"He said there’s a reason why there’s pressure, it’s because you’re expected to perform and you’re expected to do well and (that’s) because we’ve been successful and we’re good players.
"So we’re excited about that challenge and we’re not fazed about losing."
Having dined with the team last night, Waugh donned an Australia kit and cast a close eye over today's practice session chatting at length with former teammates Craig McDermott (now bowling coach) and Michael Clarke, as well as comparative newcomers Steve Smith and George Bailey.
It's a few years since the former allrounder has found himself in the nets just prior to a crucial one-day international, and he was impressed by the tempo of training during which Finch copped a nasty blow on the hands from Mitchell Johnson to add to the bruised shoulder he copped from Mitchell Starc yesterday.
Waugh batting during Australia's triumphant 1987 campaign // Getty
While the changes that have resulted from improved bat technology and rule changes that permit less fielders outside the restrictive circle in ODIs are self-evident, Waugh's renowned eye for detail was caught by the manner in which the Australians approached their drills.
"Batting-wise, you look at the session there and how hard they're hitting the ball and the technology with the bats has changed," Waugh said when asked after today’s training how different cricket practice has become since he was plying his trade.
"Bats seem to be better but the guys are stronger.
"It was a pretty impressive session, it's much more focused on match simulation, even the fielding was very intense.
"(It) was high-class in quality and very intense.
"It was take no prisoners with the bowling, there was short stuff there and guys were playing as if they were in a match situation, so I don't know how they've been training (previously) and I can only judge on how they went today and it was pretty full-on."
That observation was endorsed by Finch who, while dismissing any injury concern over the couple of blows he sustained from his teammates and who responded by letting loose a bouncer when bowling his gentle off-spin to Starc today, claimed it was ideal preparation.
Finch says Australia will play with their natural flair // Getty
Especially for Pakistan which has built its success over decades, including their 1992 World Cup triumph when the tournament was last staged in Australia, on the strength of quality pace bowling.
"I wouldn’t say it’s gone up a notch, everyone is just on edge at the moment,” Finch said of the intensity on show in the Australians’ recent nets session.
"There's a lot of excitement and a few nerves around and everyone is trying as hard as they can in the nets to improve.
"There’s been no way that we’ve slackened off at all, our training has maintained a real high intensity which over a long tournament can be hard to do at times.
"You do have ups and downs when you’re a week out from a game but the training intensity has been fantastic and when you’ve got our quicks steaming in in the nets you know you have to be sharp and you know you have to be on your game.
"If you're playing well against them than that gives you so much confidence going into the game."