Home / Industry / Media /  Steve Waugh’s advice to Australia: relax and enjoy the game

Auckland: When the one-day international (ODI) season started here in January, Australia set a target of winning every game they played until 29 March. Victory on that date will make them the World Cup champions for a record fifth time.

At this point in time though, not only has that target been broken by a one-wicket loss to New Zealand in Auckland on Saturday, the path ahead is tough and unpredictable.

Australia are placed fourth in Pool A at the moment, with three points from three games. Prior to this loss to the Kiwis, their match against Bangladesh in Brisbane was washed out and they have a solitary win against England on the opening day of the tournament to show. Former Australian skipper Steve Waugh believes that the team needs to relax a bit in their pursuit of a world title at home.

“In 1999, we were focused on winning the World Cup too much," he said, drawing from his team’s title-winning run in England. “We went in as favourites and we kept talking amongst ourselves about winning the title. ‘Let’s win the World Cup, make our mark and get a piece of history.’ We forgot about the next game and how to enjoy ourselves. But after our poor start, we relaxed a bit. Once we did that, we played some excellent cricket.

“I remember when we made the finals, the last team meeting before we went out to play Pakistan, I told the team to enjoy cricket. Why did we take up the game in the first place? Because we love it. Let’s get out there and really love playing cricket," he added, almost as advice to Michael Clarke and his squad.

Australia reeled under a 40,000-strong crowd at Eden Park, Auckland, on Saturday. The partisan crowd got under their skin: It could be seen from the reactions to David Warner taking the field and the manner in which Mitchell Johnson lost his cool. Thankfully perhaps, they will not be playing in New Zealand again, unless they meet the co-hosts in the semifinal.

If there was one Australian who didn’t give in though, it was Mitchell Starc, bowling stinging, in-swinging deliveries as he bagged 6 wickets for just 28 runs and set up the game for his team. If there is one side in this competition who could defend a 150-odd total, it is this team and Starc almost proved this single-handedly.

“Bats are bigger nowadays and growing wider. The grounds are getting smaller. Bowling is getting tough and definitely more challenging, particularly in the death overs," Waugh said. “Using in-swinging yorkers like Starc is definitely the best bet and more bowlers have to go back to it, using it as a main weapon. It can either be on the stumps or wide off the stumps, because it is very hard to get a good yorker in."

Despite a one-wicket loss, however, the former cricketer didn’t see much similarity with his team’s opening day loss at the same ground back in 1992, when the tournament was first played Down Under.

“I might have erased that from memory," said the former Australia captain, half-jokingly.

“No; it wasn’t similar to 1992. Back then, we were just coming straight from a Test series. We hadn’t prepared well and were ambushed by (then New Zealand) Martin Crowe’s side. They used some fantastic tactics over here with their slow bowlers and we couldn’t recover. In the end, we missed out on the semifinals by a point. So the lesson we learnt from that was you have to be prepared for every game and be prepared to go from ball one," said Waugh.

While there has been significant preparation from Australia’s point of view, they did not play active cricket since the opening day of the tournament, thanks to the washout. It could have been a possible factor in the loss, as the Kiwis had notched up three wins in the mean time. Even so, Waugh deems a different aspect to their strong run, one which now sees the Kiwis elevated from joint favourites’ status to firm favourites for a first World Cup crown.

“You need to enjoy the experience of playing in a World Cup because you never know if you are going to play another one. It is a major event, billions of people watching it, worldwide event," Waugh said.

“But at the same time, you cannot get too carried away that it is a World Cup. You have to try and play the same way you have been playing leading up in the tournament even with lot more pressure at stake.

“You need to stay relaxed and be calm in the pressure situations. Those teams that do that will do really well, and at the moment, I think New Zealand are playing with a nice calmness about their cricket and are probably leading the way."

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