(I did this piece in 2003)
“I LOVE playing at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. It has 90,000 people in the stands, with perhaps just three cheering for Australia. Six years ago, we had just lost a match there against India. I was feeling sorry for myself when I returned to my hotel room, where I found an invitation to visit the children of leprosy patients. It sounded genuine to me,” recalls Australian Test captain Steve Waugh, 38, in a live chat session with the head honchos of industry and government at the ITC Hotel Windsor Sheraton and Towers in Bangalore on August 18.
“I found Udayan, a facility for 250 boys. I asked to visit their parents in the slum, where there was no water, no electricity, no sewage clearance. I asked a woman there: ‘What do you look forward to in life?’ She said: ‘Nothing.’ That shook me… My daughter, one of our three children, was just six months old then. I wondered why there were no girl children. I learnt that girls of six or seven often sold their bodies to support their parents. That’s when I decided to raise the $400,000 they needed to set up a facility for 80 girls. I keep going back to visit them,” he confesses with a shy smile that belies his formidable leadership record, and over 10,000 runs off his bat.
Waugh, up close and conversational in an informal interview with star Indian athlete Ashwini Nachappa, was participating in an evening sponsored by AMP-Sanmar life insurance, an Indo-Australian venture for which he is the brand ambassador. It was the first of the new Parikrma Humanity Foundation’s “Change Your World” leadership series. The invitees included the crème de la crème of Bangalore’s masters of business and industry ~ including Mohandas Pai of Infosys, Pratap Thambuchetty of Capital One, Kalyan Ganguly of United Breweries, Chander Baljee of Park Hotels, Subodh Bhargava of Eicher and Ashok Rao of ING Vysya Bank.
As Waugh faced over after over of fast-paced questions from Nachappa, he emerged as a person in touch with his own potential, responsive to the cries and whispers of the underprivileged world. By the end of the session, he had earned the unqualified admiration of even non-cricket buffs. To them, his 32 Test centuries and 162 Test caps since 1985 meant little. But they were bowled over by his tremendous social commitment. “Udayan is a lifetime involvement for me. We’re planning to start another facility for 200 needy children. We’re hoping to raise funds from Indian and Australian corporate bodies,” adds Waugh. “There’s only so much you need to live comfortably. If you have enough to spare, just money in your bank, look beyond your offices.”
He seemed perfectly in tune with Parikrma which, over the past four months since its inception, has set up two schools at Yelahanka and Koramangala for orphaned, abandoned, street and slum children, in a bid to create equal opportunities for them to realize their dreams. Through a network of hub and satellite schools, it hopes to “take full responsibility of a child until he/ she starts earning a living.”
The corporate majors could take a cue or two from Waugh, whose tour diaries have become best-selling books. When he began his cricket career, Australia was struggling to find its form as a team. Today, there is no more formidable side. How come? “We believe in strong motivation. As a team, we share the responsibilities,” Waugh mulls over his words. “We have tremendous pride in performance. We’ve learnt to appreciate the achievements of others. Partnerships are important, both on and off the field. Each player is free to express themselves. But finally, cricket remains a team game.”
What motivates Waugh to play with equal passion as a 20-year-old drafted into the international arena after just his second season in first-class cricket and as seasoned captain, who led the Australian one-day side in 1997-98, then in 2001-02? “Cricket has given me opportunities to meet different people, experience varied cultures… When I scored just one run in my first match against India, I thought I wouldn’t survive more than a couple of Tests. But I’m still here. That proves anything is possible,” he answers. “I love competition. I still believe my best innings will be the next one I play. That’s the great thing about sports. You never know what’s coming next.”
As the audience remained riveted by the stylish verbal cover drives and fluent hooks with which Waugh treated Nachappa’s googlies, they were offered insights into captaincy strategies by a man lauded for his performances under pressure. Remember his breathtaking battles against West Indies pacer Courtney Ambrose? Or his twin centuries against England at Old Trafford in 1997? Or even his blood-and-guts 120 against South Africa in a must-win match at the 1999 World Cup? “It’s all about putting pressure on the opposing team, perhaps through body language. We do make mistakes, but we’d like to be remembered as a great team. The current team is very well-behaved,” Waugh smiles, dismissing media hype about sledging. Could corporate home truths be summarized more pithily?
Despite his track record, Waugh’s personality remains low-key, almost media-shy. Yet, the person within the Test captain since 1999 and 1989 Wisden Cricketer of the Year encompasses an uncompromising player, who treats both victory and defeat with the philosophical nonchalance their transience deserves.
A Parikrma school child tosses a question at Waugh off a huge video screen: “Steve anna, how can I become a cricketer like you?” The cricket star dwells on the importance of nurturing dreams, of aiming for the stars. “I once took classes at a teachers’ college, dabbled in music and drama, and a part-time job. But at the end of it, I found myself full-time in professional cricket. I’ll always be associated with cricket in some way,” confesses Waugh, who once wrote an inspirational poem for his team.
Parikrma Founder-CEO Shukla Bose’s introduction to “making hope work” for 400 children through their schools, ensuring 98 per cent attendance, found a responsive chord within Waugh. “Steve is the captain of one of the world’s best cricket teams. Our audience comprises captains of the corporate world,” she noted. “This event is all about sharing leadership qualities. And acknowledging that it’s time to give a little of what we have to others who are not so fortunate.” Or the first steps towards changing our collective world.
And so, Waugh urged the corporate assemblage: “Get out your cheque books. Help the children out there.”
As an auctioneer called for bids on a large canvas done by the Parikrma kids at a workshop with Bangalore artist Milind Nayak, a pony-tailed hotelier-businessman offered Rs. 1.10 lakhs for the cause. Matching his words with spontaneous affirmative action, Waugh offered an autographed bat for auction. And a CEO, who chose to remain anonymous, won it with a bid of Rs. 1 lakh.
What’s left to say of an encounter with an individual equally inspired on and off the field, who seems to have mastered the art of living? Waah, Waugh!
(The Hindu Business Line, 2003)