BOOK OF THE WEEK; Waugh shows twin skill off the field

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The Independent Online
Steve Waugh's World Cup Diary (Harper Collins, pounds 10.99)

A couple of things emerge from this book, one which succeeds in capturing a great deal more than the usual "I am", "We did" run-of-the- mill journal manages.

First, Steve Waugh is not only a great cricketer, but he is also a fine photographer. There are some memorable shots, in black and white and colour, which suggest the Australian all-rounder could break into the media as a photographer rather than as a writer. He certainly has an eye for pathos and character. His shots, like those of the professionals in a beautifully produced book, are compulsive viewing.

Second, is his sense of injustice at the way the Australians were pilloried in the Far East for forfeiting their opening match of the tournament against Sri Lanka.

Waugh gives an excellent account of the events leading up to a breakdown in relations between Australia and Sri Lanka. It began with Sri Lanka being reported by the umpires at Perth for ball tampering (not proven) early on their pre-tournament tour Down Under. Then, in the World Series Cricket final, there were ugly clashes on the pitch between Sanath Jayasuriya and Glenn McGrath and Ian Healy and Arjuna Ranatunga. After the match Ranatunga, the tourists' captain, refused to shake hands with his Australian counterpart, Mark Taylor.

Muttiah Muralitharan was then called for throwing by the Australian umpire Darrell Hair during the second Test, which was followed by the terrorist bombing campaign in Sri Lanka and death threats to Shane Warne, Craig McDermott and Bobby Simpson. Finally, the Australian authorities received a fax from Colombo warning that the Australian party would be greeted by a suicide bomber on their arrival in that country for their pre-tournament training and opening World Cup match.

Thankfully it all ended happily (or nearly) and Waugh manages to provide a sensible perspective on all the issues while retaining a degree of humour throughout an exceedingly well written book.

It does not, thankfully, hover over the practice sessions, except for moments of self-mockery, nor does it dwell unnecessarily at matches, although there is a superb, comprehensive records and statistical section. Waugh shows a sensitivity to his surroundings and a great deal of interest and respect for another culture. His description of his meeting with Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu (Mother Teresa to the unenlightened) is moving, at moments comical (her "business card" should provoke a smile) and, above all, memorable.

Out of all that early adversity was welded a team spirit which carried Australia into the World Cup final, via what Waugh reckons was the greatest one-day match played by an Australian team, the semi-final victory over West Indies.

After the final, famously won by Sri Lanka, came reconciliation and handshakes between the two countries. This book should go a lot further to repairing relations between the two countries. There is little surprise it has become a best seller.

David Llewellyn

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