The most striking part in his autobiography is that Steve Waugh was considered a super talent in his home land and was even compared to Don Bradman at one point of time. Such was the breeze of opinion that Greg Matthews apparently once said, “Steve Waugh has more talent in his little finger than I have in my whole body.” However to attain the consistency (forever the bane of free-spirits), at one juncture in his fledgling career, Waugh opted for a safer approach to not end up as another wannabe Mozart of batsmanship. Amazing as it might seem, he hardly ever played the hook shot once he decided to let go of it. It is one of the many examples that showcase his resolve. For, is the hook not the most difficult shot to avoid playing?
Out of my comfort zone is an apt title for this mini-epic of a book. Pages counting unto 720 are written by Waugh; his wife, Lynette, provides a refreshingly different perspective while Tim May and Rahul Dravid eulogise the former Aussie captain. The first thing you realize as each word leads to the next and one sentence passes the baton on to another, is that these are his words, and his sentences. His diary, a constant companion in his cricketing years, is conspicuous as the source even if invisible. Few cosmetic changes might have been necessary for the editor, but content-wise, it is entirely Waugh’s and given the colourful career he’s had, there wasn’t a dearth of stories to tell.Coming back to the reason why the issue of his talent stands out in the book is largely due to the perception we have towards flair and the lack of it. Steve Waugh was always regarded the untalented brother of the supremely graceful Mark. While for his part, Mark Waugh was the terribly casual twin of the gritty, determined Steve. There is another perception which tells us that talent amounts to grace, elegance and, in effect, a thing of beauty. While anything that looks ugly and succeeds is pure hard work.Steve Waugh debunks this theory (though it wouldn’t matter to him whether he does so or not) on two counts. Firstly, by detailing his schoolboy-reputation as being a gifted player, and two, promising that behind Mark Waugh’s careless expression lay a tense, contemplative mind.
There are only a handful of sportspersons who can extol their virtues in an analytical, yet fluid way so as to form a source of information which can become a guiding force for anyone who cares to read it regardless of his or her profession. Waugh was always known as a man with great awareness of the world around him. His charities and his love for the worn-out baggy green cap are well-known. While he recognized the value of history (once he took his all-conquering team to the site of the Gallipoli battle), believe-it-or-not, he was among the most adventurous of the Aussie cricketers, like his trips to dangerous neighbourhoods in the Caribbean and India might suggest. One aspect that would interest business and administration students is his detailed study of each player he played with, under or against. Even though he ended up part of a very successful team, he started his career, under Allan Border, in a very ordinary squad. Waugh is succinct in his descriptions of cricket matches, but makes a conscious effort to translate the unsaid words he encountered during his 18-year career. Thus it becomes fascinating to read when he lays bare much that he read between the lines and all that he saw first-hand. It becomes a roller-coaster ride where Waugh’s perception of people changes as time wears on and it is his integrity in telling his story which gives the book a rare depth that quickly-written, commerce-oriented showpieces would never have. For instance, Ian Chappell, a boyhood hero of his is a source of much-anguish with his “black and white” criticism, while Allan Border starts off as a role model, reveals his weaknesses and yet retains a special place in Waugh’s mind, until as a selector, he fails to inform him directly of his omission from the One-Day squad.
When Steve Waugh was captain, the most charitable a critic would be to his captaincy was that with the quality at hand, he better be successful. But, as with everything, there is a lot that happens behind closed doors where Waugh’s man-management skills were tested. The Michael Slater story is one such. Slater, with his mad-bomber attitude, was a match-winner of the highest order. But given his volatile temperament, handling him was never an easy issue. Waugh explains the finger-wagging outburst of his colleague against Rahul Dravid in the 2001 series and marks it as the first time he came to a stage where he couldn’t control a fellow player. Slater was going through a marital problem and according to Waugh, would just not accept his demotion to the bench.
On the lighter side, Waugh unearths plenty of anecdotes, quotes and wisecracks from his time at the crease. It includes everything from his abuses at Curtly Ambrose after which the quickie was just pulled back before he could commit a murder; to the Herschelle Gibbs drop at the 1999 World Cup (its official, Waugh said, “Do you realize you cost your team the match?” What is not known is Shane Warne had foreseen Gibbs’ show-boating tendencies in a team meeting just prior to the match) and as far forward as to the time Parthiv Patel ribbed him. The red-rag of his made its debut in an Ashes Test at Headingley, while Warne cracked the jigsaw that Carl Hooper had become for him when he observed that the West Indian would charge down each time he stared at the bowler during his run-up.
Steve Waugh also does not forget the media and has reserved enough space for journalists. Yet again, he shows his acumen in judging people as he jots down the ones that most annoyed him and those he respected for the work they did. Much of his criticism of players, administrators and journalists is bunged with a degree of reasoning which makes his opinion all the more credible.
His family forms the basis for many a chapter as he paints an emotional picture of the difficult times away from his wife and children, even though they invariably were exhilarating ones on the field. At times, the book is a huge thank-you letter to his wife, and understandably so. A relationship in that milieu to survive for more than two decades is indeed a modern marvel.
It is tempting to look at this book as just a sports book and add another to the fairly long list of very good cricket writings. However, there is more to it. Every cricketer who walks in and out of this book has a character that shows through the protective equipment of his. It was just as well that Waugh is frank and forthcoming in his views, acknowledging his mistakes and coming tantalizingly close to calling himself a genius. Aptly titled, the book represents the at times gutsy at times out-of-the-box (left-side field as he calls it) approach of the former Aussie great. It is a monumental effort and a must-read for anyone who is comfortable holding that big book in hand. Or indeed for anyone who isn’t. Thank god, he kept a diary!