By Karthik Parimal
A professional sportsperson is known primarily for his exploits within the confines of an arena. Once his career concludes, he often looks to give back to the sport in whatever way feasible. While coaching or mentoring is one of the likely options — and a bankable one, too, for weight is a given when a former elite performer divulges snippets of wisdom — media has been a frequently travelled route during recent times. Not all sportspersons, though, take to their new profession in the same elegance with which they often graced the field in their flannels. Some, however, look cut for the job with their timely insights.
Weekly columns and opinion pieces by current and former cricketers make for a riveting read, since it’s the only way a normal viewer gets a quick view of what is likely to transpire behind the scenes or within the sanctity of the dressing rooms. Autobiographies provide a great understanding of what makes a successful sportsman tick. But it must be noted that although the players have their by-lines published, their columns or books are often ghost-written. In this sphere, too, former Australian captain Steve Waugh proves that he’s cut from a different piece of cloth, for he writes his books longhand.
Waugh’s autobiography, Out of My Comfort Zone, was published almost nine years ago (in 2005), and the book featured over 800 pages of ingredients that went into the making of one of Australia’s finest cricketers and captains. The anecdotes were priceless and the lessons invaluable. The book housed a detailed description of Waugh’s journey from the backyard of his home on Picnic Point Road, Panania, to his exit as one of Australia’s best batsmen in the summer of 2003-04 at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG).
In his new book, The Meaning of Luck: Stories of Learning, Leadership and Love, Waugh gives a sneak peek of his life after cricket, and puts together a personal collection of stories, which, in his words, “offer something of a guide to what I think winning is about.” He suggests fortune can be influenced, for better or worse. “Based on what I’ve seen in sport, business and charity, if you make the most of what you’ve got by preparing in the right way and sustaining the right attitude, then you’ll get lucky more often than not. A positive mindset attracts good luck like iron filings to a magnet, while a despondent demeanour marshals negativity like a doomsday prophet invites calamity,” writes Waugh.
The book commences on a heartrending note, as Waugh describes his wife Lynette’s illness, in 2006, and the battles that inevitably followed. The brain bleed turned the family’s life upside down, and it threatened to snatch from Waugh his childhood sweetheart, one who’d been a constant source of support as he jumped block after block in his race to the top as an Australian cricketer. During that restive phase, Waugh explains how despite being one of Australia’s greatest cricketers, despite being named Australian of the year in 2004 and Australian Father of the Year in 2005, his helplessness put life into perspective.
Synonymous with the Waugh mentality, Lynette fought through the illness, although the path was beset with hardships. The fact that the family could see a few humorous moments even during this phase speaks a great deal of their attitude in general. She remarkably describes the experience as ‘a stroke of luck’, for it “gave her a clearer understanding of what she wants from life, for she came so close to losing it.” Lynette is one of the many characters in the book who’s emerged stronger from an unfavourable juncture in life. Almost every story carries with it a faultless message, which is perhaps best described in Waugh’s words: “there’s no position so hopeless it could not be regarded as a challenge and so turned into a positive force.”
The subsequent chapters emphasise the importance of putting yourself out on a limb if you’re to tread paths very few have ventured; of consistently operating out of your comfort zone. A few interesting anecdotes back this theory — notably Waugh’s sojourn from a reluctant public speaker to a formidable one. He talks about taking a stand, and how at times a tough call has to be made, regardless of immediate fallout if it’s going to be beneficial in the long term. He refers to the move of dropping Shane Warne, his champion leg-spinner for a Test in the West Indies in 1999, a decision which had lasting repercussions on their relationship. Waugh was seldom shy of backing his instincts and standing his ground despite the eventual judgement, and this incident brings to fore those traits.
At certain points in the book, Waugh mentions the attribute of making the most of the opportunities that pop up when things go our way, while aptly noting that it’s the responsibility of the well-to-do to present to the underprivileged, ones faced with ‘bad luck’ owing to things beyond their control, an even keel. Waugh writes: “Today, more than ever, I believe it is the duty of the fortunate to take care of those who, through circumstances that are no fault of their own, are faced with the most challenging of problems. We can do this by giving money, time or knowledge. We might start with small step.” Here, he speaks about his renowned association with Udayan — a foundation in Kolkata which is a refuge for the children of leprosy sufferers — and the gratification this instilling of hope in the less-fortunate brings.
It’s the zest with which Waugh discusses leadership, examples of which are evenly narrated throughout the second half of the book, which is noteworthy. A glimpse of what ensues in the minds of successful businessmen, managers, coaches and Olympians, and their intriguing modus operandi is highlighted. The hard work and single-mindedness, blended with right proportions of patience and trust, of the characters mentioned is inspiring. They turned the tables in their favour, and at times were forced to operate against the odds (the story of Australia’s Synchronous Swimming team in the Olympics tugs at the heart). Regardless of your chosen profession, the anecdotes penned by Waugh are meant to uplift and can duly act as a handy guide.
One quote that’s often been reiterated by Waugh since his playing days is Gary Player’s “The harder I practise, the luckier I get.” It is the underlying theme of almost every story in the book. The positives of steering yourself into a favourable position, this by constantly sneaking out of your comfort zone, is neatly stated. Waugh’s autobiography put forth the characteristics that shaped him into an extraordinary cricketer, and his latest book provides evidence of how the same traits can set you up for excellence in whatever you choose to do.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)
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