Sickening Steve Waugh moment changed everything

To this day Steve Waugh remains one of Australian cricket’s most revered captains — and one of the country’s most respected athletes — but he may never have reached that status if not for a horrific on-field accident.

Waugh began his Test captaincy career in 1999 after Mark Taylor retired and he started his reign by retaining the Frank Worrell Trophy in a dramatic 2-2 series draw against the West Indies in the Caribbean.

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Next stop was Sri Lanka, but things took a disastrous turn for the new skipper. He was involved in a sickening collision with fast bowler Jason Gillespie in the first Test in Kandy when going for a catch that saw both men hospitalised.

Waugh broke his nose and Gillespie broke his leg. While it was shocking at the time, looking back, Waugh believes it was the turning point in his captaincy.

Up until then, he wasn’t doing things his way, instead relying too much on others to provide guidance on how to lead. But lying in hospital facing the possibility he might not play another Test — let alone captain again — Waugh decided to make a change.

“At 33 it still probably took me 6-12 months to realise my style. I was still probably leading by consensus a bit early on because I’d been mates with these guys (teammates) for a long period of time and all of a sudden I was the leader,” Waugh told Damian Barrett on a recent episode of the AFL journalist’s podcast In The Game.

“So having to separate myself a little bit from the rest of the guys was a challenge.

“I finally realised that when I was in a hospital bed in Colombo with a broken nose and Jason Gillespie had a broken leg.

“I was sitting there in a hospital bed thinking, ‘If I never get to captain again, have I done myself justice? Had I done it my way?’ And the answer was, no I hadn’t.

“From that point on I said just trust my gut instinct and do it my way. And that was probably the turning point in my captaincy career.

“I wasn’t a certainty to play the next Test. I had compound fractures of my nose and … all these other broken bones, so I was thinking maybe I’m not going to play the next Test and if I don’t, somebody else will be captain and I might never get the chance to do it again.

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The captain’s face wasn’t a pretty sight after colliding with Jason Gillespie.Source:News Limited

A hospital stay in Colombo gave Waugh plenty of time to reflect.Source:News Limited

“That was the moment where I sat down and thought, ‘OK, from now on I’ve got to do it my way’ — and listen to a few people but not listen to a lot of people.

“I think the problem is, or one of the hard things about captaincy is, you get a lot of advice from a lot of different people and they all want to tell you how to do it.

“You’ve got to work out who are the people you trust and stick to the ones … you really respect.

“At the end of the day you’ve got to look in the mirror and make those tough decisions yourself and that was one of those moments where I thought, ‘I’m not doing it the right way, let’s turn it around and do it differently’.

Waugh’s change in approach certainly worked. He led Australia to 41 wins from 57 Tests in charge — including a world record 16 consecutive victories in 2000-2001.

Known for his ruthless approach to cricket — best symbolised by his penchant for the “mental disintegration” of opponents — Waugh said he didn’t mind how he came across, as long as is benefited the team.

“My leadership was about getting the best out of people. I really enjoyed seeing people fulfil their potential,” he told Barrett.

“One thing I didn’t want to see as a leader or a captain was the team to be complacent and not realise how good they were.

“For me it was always about trying to raise the bar. If that came across as cold-blooded and ruthless that was fine, but I was just maximising our potential. That’s all I was trying to do.”

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