Steve Waugh – And judging captains ..

In the big picture, history will judge every captain by what his team achieved. Thats all it comes down to. Results . Wins. Losses. Stats. And how the players under him progressed.

In terms of pure results, Steve Waugh’s numbers are pretty straightforward.

Captained Australia in 57 Tests. Won 41. Lost 10. Drew 6. Thats a 71.92 win %age.

Enough Said.

This is not about that.

This is about why captaincy is not about just the skill at your disposal. Its about harnessing skills. And a captain can be the reason a team is better – or worse – than the sum of the skill of its parts.

And its not always about the high profile players.

Steve Waugh took over from Mark Taylor. It was considered a bit of a surprise. (There were three people in contention. The two Waughs and Shane Warne.)

On Friday, 12 February 1999, the news broke. Stephen Rodger Waugh had become Australia’s 40th Test captain.

For all that, the ascension of Steve Waugh to captaincy was not greeted with universal acclaim. Ian Chappell, for example, came right out on Sydney radio station Triple M.

“I think he’s been a selfish cricketer,’ Chappell declared. ‘I’ve always felt that the things you do as a player leading up to getting the captaincy do have an effect on how players perceive you. I’ve had the feeling that a selfish player when he becomes captain … gets a little less out of his players than someone who is not selfish.”


From Steve Waugh’s “Out Of My Comfort Zone” – about his debut address as captain of Australia…

….the thought of my initial address to the team caused me a degree of anxiety, because I wanted to make an impact but at the same time, did not want to reinvent the wheel. I have found that there are normal nerves and another version that is twice as hard to overcome, and turn up when you are talking to guys you know intimately. When I tried to begin, I thought the words were going to be  shut off by a voice box that was tightening and a swarming invasion of hot cells that threatened to invade my system. In the end, my debut address would have been marked as passable rather than historic; I was glad it was over and the preparation for battle could begin.

I hoped that the team understood the style of captaincy I believed I could deliver. I wanted to see everyone playing their natural game and being in control of their own situation. I wanted each player to think of himself as the vice-captain, always proactive in his thinking, able to offer advice and, above all,  willing to take responsibility for his actions. I envisaged us becoming the benchmark team, which opponents would describe as ‘the most professional, most relentless and toughest we’ve ever come across.’ Pride in one’s own performance and enjoyment of each other’s success would lead to character and bonding, and we had to be aware of the two dangers that could threaten our plans. Complacency and poor preperation had been directly to blame for our losses in recent times such as at the Oval in 1997 (complacency) and in Delhi a year before that (poor preperation), and we knew they needed to be ticked off our checklist before each game. I wanted to take people on a journey and get them to believe in themselves and in what we were trying to achieve. Empowerment by infusing self-belief was the mantra I wanted to create.

I knew that all successful sides have a certain ‘X factor’ that comes from each individual giving more than he takes. We believed we could foster that set of beliefs in the individuals who made up the team, something I explained in one on one meetings with each of the players. As a follow-up, I gave each of the guys a single page that outlined my expectations for that player.

This is what I gave Jason Gillespie.


  • Enjoy the tour – your time is now.
  • Work with Pigeon [Mcgrath] to establish the best opening bowling combination in world cricket.
  • Controlled aggression couples with ‘in the corridor’ bowling will take wickets in the Carribean.
  • Use your intimidating body language on the West Indian batsmen – they don’t like it.
  • Set the tone for their tail-end batsmen – go for their jugular – get personal, then get them out !
  • Work on your batting – you are capable of getting good partnerships going, which could be very important.
  • Keep the intensity up at fielding practice – take it into the game with you.
  • Be the man – make it your series.

Play well,


No hype, no analysis, no stereotype. Just a pursuit of results.
Resource in question – Jason Gillespie since has a Test double century and is now amongst the top 25 wicket taking bowlers of all time. A couple of 50s are added in there. Not too many of us will forget a 26 in 2004-05 either.
Earlier post on Steve Waugh here .


9 thoughts on “Steve Waugh – And judging captains ..

  1. That is a measure of the Waugh personality. Every Captain will speak to his players in his or her own way…. but the point is that Jason Gillespie was marked out as a special bowler with genuine pace even before he was selected to play for Australia. Even Adam Gilchrist has admitted that Australia have been lucky to have had “once in a generation” cricketers in most positions in their eleven at the same time.

    Mark Taylor by all accounts was a “better” captain than Waugh – and he got hammered in India in 1998……. he could not get out of Paul Wilson and Michael Kasprowicz what he could get out of Glenn McGrath. Steve Waugh himself could not get out of Andy Bichel and Brad Williams what he could get out of Gillespie and McGrath. Hell…… he couldn’t get out of Warne against India what he could get out of him against other sides.

    My point is – how much does a captain really affect things? Does he turn a 9/10 side to a 9.2/10 side ? Or does he turn a 7/10 side to a 9/10 side?

    The key to the whole thing is deep batting and quality fast bowling. That decides whether a side is 7 or 9. And that 7 or 9 decides where you stand in contest.

    Every captain who ever lived has wanted results and every captain who ever lived has communicated with his bowlers – hell if great stories are what we are looking for – how about this one about Vithal Palwankar…. an untouchable captain of Hindu’s in one of the Pentangular finals of the early 20th century at Bombay Gymkhana….

    His spin bowler Joshi had not bowled well in the first innings… and seemed a bit low on confidence…. Vithal threw the ball to Joshi and just as he was about to bowl….. whispered in his ear “Ata bhairavi suru karuya”… Joshi was also a classical singer…. and the bhairavi is traditionally the finale of an evenings music concert. Joshi proceeded to bowl the opposition out….

    The story that Waugh reveals – indeed, Waughs whole book, forms the Steve Waugh stereotype. Dravid may be different from Waugh, and Ganguly may be different from Waugh and even Mark Taylor may be different from Waugh – but are any of these three better or worse captains than Waugh? The Waugh book offers you nothing to help you answer that. Until Ganguly, Dravid and Taylor’s books are written and read, and if they are written in as much painstaking detail (Waugh’s book is as detailed as it is because he maintained copious diaries through out his career)….. they will not be comparable to Waugh’s book and hence will not inform the Ganguly, Dravid or Taylor stereotype the way Waugh’s book does.

    That is the core point (im not sure if you’ve been following the discussion on my latest post) about protocols. Everything a batsman or bowler does is observable with the help of defined batting or bowling protocols…. not only that, the development of these protocols from time to time is also traceable – such as the differences between English and Australian techniques – front on and side on bowling actions, new strokes being invented…. the impact of the laws on each of these things.

    In the case of captaincy – the only Data that are available are anecdotal…. Rahul Dravid may provide Ajit Agarkar with a 7-2 field with a strong gully cordon against a particular player with the best of intentions ….. but will look stupid if Agarkar strays on to middle stump twice an over and gets taken for runs to mid wicket. Now…. Agarkar is more likely to do that than McGrath. Does that make Dravid a better or worse captain than Waugh? Is Dravid a better captain because he’s backing his bowler to bowl well even though he has enough evidence to suggest that this will not always happen? Or is he worse because he seeks to take wickets with bowlers who are at best erratic?

    The Data, being anecdotal are also not useful from a survey point of view because they are not randomly selected….. they are what are offered.

    Now…… you could establish a protocol for captaincy….. but that would require observing (video + audio, interviews, questionnaires…. the whole lot) the behaviour of a reasonable number of captains over a reasonable period of time.

    Thats why this Waugh story is purely an addition to the Waugh legend and little else….

  2. Kartikeya ,
    First of all, – yes – this story is an addition to the Waugh legend on the blog and it wont be the last. I think that, in a number of ways, the guy is something special – some measureable and some which are way beyond identifiable or measureable protocol. But thats not all this post was about.
    I’m not trying to rate captains at all. I’m not trying to say Steve Waugh was better than X. I’m just trying to understand what it takes to be a good leader of men in an activity that is contingent on others performance. Because life throws up plenty of such opportunities.
    Any leadership position, involving performance by others which needs to be cohesive, will require “calculated gambles” (to keep the terminology of the posts going). Its wrong to assume that a calculated gamble by definition is outside the realm of identifiable process. Why is it ?
    My view is that most great leaders of men will take more calculated gambles than others. Chances are that because they are gambles, more of the gambles will fail as well. The key lies in getting more out of the ones that work than the amount you lose in the ones that fail.
    I’ll tell you what I think is a calculated gamble.
    Dinesh Karthik in his present avataar as a specialist opening bat is a calculated gamble.
    Irfaan Pathan in his allrounder role was a calculated gamble.
    Thats Rahul Dravid trying to do two things at one time – keep the win-loss record going and harness the skills of the players in his charge. And thats the reason I think Rahul Dravid is a good captain. He keeps saying it and I think he means it when he says that the every game is just a part of the whole process. Once its all over, that’s how he will be judged. By the win-loss record and the number of his calculated gambles that came off.
    I think the reason we seem to be on slightly different planes on this one is that we’re coming from slightly different time perspectives. In my view, a captain should be “judged” with what he ends up with. The rest of it is purely “observations”, or “tips” or “suggestions”. Some of it is of immense value though but not all of it is. (But it makes for some great blog posts once in a while !)

  3. I realize that we are at slightly different levels on this one…. and i appreciate very much your position…. The reason im trying to initiate a debate on this whole stereotypes issue, is because i believe that unlike in other walks of life, given the prominence of our cricketers, stereotypes about them are far more effective…. and therefore far more damaging than they might be about anyone else. And therefore, putting stereotypes into perspective is occasionally useful.

    I do agree ….. that all these constructs make for terrific blog posts….. 🙂

  4. Cheers Kartikeya ..

    I don’t think this is the last we’ve discussed on the issue. Hopefully we’ll keep fine tuning this as we go.

  5. My only problem with Rahul is that he is not proactive. Most of the time he acts when the horse has bolted: example: not setting a silly point to Ashraful though a catch popped there twice, not trying Sachin at Chittagong to break Shahadat-Mortaza partnership and so on.

    Unfortunately he has many poor fielders in the side who keep dropping catches too, while Saurav at least had safe catchers at his disposal. Pathan was ruined under Dravid and he didn’t take a single step to look after him or solve his problem, and the same is happening to Munaf now. Dravid also bowls his bowlers stale which I don’t like. Is there a wonder then that the bowlers want to cut on their speed?

  6. Hi Chandan and nice to see you here…

    Characterising that stereotype is what Kartikeya seems to find frustrating – (I think).

    My own view is that things such as the silly point or the Sachin example are no different from say “poor strokes” or “bad spells” in a batting/bowling context. Too short term to be assigned any generalisations…
    Which is why as I explained above, I prefer the longer term view of things in such matters…

    Pathan … I think Dravid was as responsible for his success as his “failure” and I hope the Dravid / Pathan saga is not over yet …The guy’s 23.

  7. I like this discussion on Steve Waugh. My 2 cents on calculated gambles – didnt Waugh take one when he sent in Adam Gilchrist to open the innings at one of the World Series finals?!
    I think he really did know how to harness the skills of the players at his disposal, didnt Langer bat at no.3 and didnt do too well there. Waugh pushed him to open and we got one of the best opening combinations in Test cricket!

  8. Hi Meg,

    Thanks for stopping by and joining in.

    Steve Waugh’s ability to turn his team to winners is the stuff which, in my view, should be compulsory reading for managers.

    We’ve had (and hope to continue having) a number of discussions on his work on this blog. Surf by on the “waugh” tag under categories on the right side.

    About Langer, try this post for instance …

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