Steve Waugh captures the spirit of India with a camera lens

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Australian great Steve Waugh has long held a deep affection for India and first toured the country in 1986. But all too often his experiences were fleeting glimpses, before he had the chance to return and photograph everyday cricket in the powerhouse of the sport. Traveling from one ground to the next as a player and acting as the captain of Australia, Waugh felt that he had never properly seen and felt the melting pot of life in the teeming South Asian country. But that little peek into backstreets and alleys from Kolkata to Jodhpur never left his mind.

Waugh, one of the most successful boatmen in cricket history, recalls being overwhelmed by “the absolute and complete bombardment of my senses,” and vowed to go back one day when his star shone a little less bright.

“It’s something that has always been in the back of my mind, I was always fascinated by what I saw from the bus window, the everyday life, the minds of the people,” the Australian player with the most capped players told AFP in an interview.

“I couldn’t quite comprehend how important cricket was to the people and how it was almost a religion.”

Waugh, 55, has put it off for years, until the Australian team was in crisis in 2018 over the scandal of messing the ball in South Africa.

While Australian cricket was at an all-time low, he began planning a feel-good project that culminated in an 18-day journey through faraway parts of India with his camera capturing the essence and simple joys of the game. and collect money. for sick children at the same time.

100-year-old cricketer

“It was just a fun project. You know, 18 months or so ago people said cricket had lost its soul after what happened in Cape Town,” said Waugh. “I just wanted to do a feel-good project that I was passionate about.”

Accompanied by a mentor from professional photographer Trent Parke, Waugh left in January before the coronavirus pandemic changed the world.

His journey took him to the desert of Rajasthan, the foothills of the Himalayas and the teeming streets of Mumbai, where he stopped where he saw the game play.

He met cricket monks, a 100-year-old player and three-year-old Instagram batting sensation, while being inspired by blind and physically disabled players.

Longtime friends like Sachin Tendulkar got involved and the final product was a book – The Spirit of Cricket – and a documentary that aired in the run-up to India’s limited-overs and test tour of Australia.

Proceeds will support his work with charities in India and the Steve Waugh Foundation, which raises money for children with rare diseases, a philanthropic role he has embraced since meeting decades ago with the late nun and missionary Mother Teresa.

Waugh, who made his international debut against India and led Australia through a golden age from 1999 to 2004, took about 17,000 photos and had to cut them down to 220 for the book.

Bamboo stools

‘That was more difficult than taking them because you don’t want to leave any out. Everyone brings back a memory, ”he said.

“There were so many great scenes – playing cricket with monks for the Himalayas was something I never thought I would see or do and the physically disabled cricketers were incredible.

“These guys were missing limbs or polio, things like that, and it was a great life experience to see them land through the air on these kind of bamboo crutches while they were bowling.”

It was a memorable journey for Waugh, who had always been interested in photography.

He said he hoped the finished product would help people better understand what cricket means to Indians.

“It’s hard to do it justice unless you’ve been there, but there are 1.4 billion people who almost all know about cricket and all feel connected,” he said.

“Especially for the people living below the poverty line, which is probably 800 million, it gives them hope and gives them something to be proud of, they feel connected and in some way responsible for doing their right thing. team.”

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“It doesn’t take a lot of money to play cricket – a bat and ball and the rest is up to your imagination,” he added.

“You don’t have to be physically big or imposing to play and they have these role models and heroes so cricket, they are really fanatic, passionate about it.”

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