The presence of World Cup-winning captain Steve Waugh in the Australian squad has helped reassure the players that they can cope with the pressure of entering the knockout stage of their home tournament.
In the latest example of Coach Darren Lehmann’s strategy of having former greats gracing their dressing room, Waugh attended a team dinner on Tuesday night and again joined the squad on Wednesday for their training session at Adelaide Oval, in preparation for their day-night on Friday against Pakistan – the team the Waugh-led Australia beat in the 1999 final.
Rather than give a formal pep talk, the intent of recruiting Waugh is that players can seek advice from him, or simply just ask him to share his experiences of having led Australia in the 1999 tournament victory in England, the first of three consecutive titles for Australia.
In that tournament they lost two of their first three matches but were unbeaten thereafter, including securing a tie with South Africa to progress from the semi-final when their elimination looked assured.
Australia would not have qualified for the semi-final had it not been for captain Waugh scoring an unbeaten 120 in the preceding match to lead them to the target of 272 with two balls to spare. He should have departed for 56 in that innings after offering a regulation chance to Herschelle Gibbs at mid-wicket, only to be spared after the South African sought to throw the ball up in celebration and allowed the ball to slip to the turf before he had conclusively held it.
Waugh, a batsman renowned for his steely determination, also played in Australia’s first victory, in 1987.
Finch welcomed the presence of Waugh among the squad.
“He’s been good. We had a team dinner last night . . . and we had a quick chat before we headed off from there. It wasn’t anything that was really planned. Guys just threw a few questions out at him,” Finch said on Wednesday.
“It was good to sit down over dinner with him and just chat about cricket really, and World Cups. He’s obviously captained a winning one [in 1999] and played in another one as well [in 1987]. There’s not many better-credentialed players to talk to about it.”
Given less than half of Australia’s squad has World Cup experience Finch said for him and many of his teammates this was a career pinnacle.
“Absolutely, It’s a lot of our first World Cups. It’s an exciting time,” he said.
“The beauty of our team is we don’t fear losing. Yes it’s knockout but as soon as you’re worried about losing a game you tighten up and you don’t play with your natural flair. That’s what a lot of our chat has been about.
“Steve was great in his chat last night when he said ‘There’s a reason why there’s pressure – it’s because you’re expected to do well and expected to perform’. And there’s only one reason for that. It’s because we’ve been successful and we’re good players, so we’re excited about that challenge.”
Wednesday’s training session at Adelaide Oval was expected to be the only one Waugh, 49, would attend in his role as temporary motivational role.
Waugh, whose twin brother Mark is on Australia’s selection panel, joins Geoff Marsh and Ian Healy as former Australian players to have joined the Australian squad during the season.
Former Australia all-rounder Tom Moody, who played under Waugh in the 1999 squad, commended the policy.