The first time you see Austin Waugh up close, you’re taken aback a bit. The resemblance with his father Steve is uncanny. Those who have watched Austin at the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup will tell you that his walk to the crease is similar as well, as are some of his mannerisms. Then there is the medium-pace bowling, which when he is on song can bring back memories of the time Steve ran through South Africa in Cape Town in 1994, returning 5/28. You can even spot a wispy moustache on Austin that wouldn’t be out of place on Steve back when he was a teenager.
All of which are reasons why it is important to point out the differences between the two. Certainly Austin’s coiffed hair counts. As does, perhaps, his love for XBOX – he is, according to himself it must be said, the reigning champion of Call of Duty in the Australian dressing room. But what else does Austin think sets him apart from his father?
“I think our batting styles are pretty different,” said Austin. “But our bowling is a bit similar. I move better than him in the field as well! (dad is) not very athletic, I guess. We have a few similarities, but on the whole, I’m a pretty different player to him.”
Austin has over the years realised that any cricket-related interaction with him would involve questions of his father. That’s simply a fact he has grown used to. Asked if he is bored of the dad-related questions, he doesn’t give a direct answer: “I just answer the question as best as I can. Got it enough times, so I’ve practised it pretty well. I guess people see him as a different person. I just see him as my dad. I see him in a different way to everyone else.”
It does help having dad around to talk about the sport – “He always has something to say. I can go to him whenever needed” – but it must be said there has been no influence or pressure for him to take up cricket.
The apple just doesn’t fall far from the tree. Austin tried his hand at every sport he felt an interest in, but eventually ended up choosing cricket. “Cricket was actually the last sport for me. I played everything before. I played AFL [Australian Rules], soccer, anything I could think of. Gave cricket a try one year and thought it was pretty fine so I just went from there, made a few good mates and I really enjoyed it.”
Austin’s journey in cricket so far has been testament to that. He picked the sport of his own volition, and has earned his way up every level. The journey has not been without its wobbles though – he had to overcome two stress fractures on his back in consecutive years, at U15 and U16 levels.
“It was just from over-bowling. My action wasn’t too great to start off with,” he said. “I changed my action. I was falling away a lot, I had to get my body more upright. I changed my action, got my arms moving across more, got my body more side-on. Going to the gym a lot more, getting stronger, better core and stuff like that helped. I’m not built too big, but just getting stronger through the core allowed me to keep more upright and my back stronger.
“I guess we were into the pathway that had fierce loads. There were bowling coaches that helped us work out the actions and keep them repeatable for long periods of time. I was lucky enough to be in the pathway and be provided with a lot of good doctors and stuff like that to get me back in the field pretty quickly.”
Austin considers himself a batting all-rounder, a middle-order batsman who likes “to change the game a bit, manipulate the field. Bowl some medium pacers with a change of pace.” He likes his variations as a bowler, and has a “very skiddy bouncer, if need be, to surprise the batsman and keep them on their toes.”
All of which helped him rise through the ranks at New South Wales, progressing from their Under-15 side to the Under-19s. Some good performances at the level raised his stock, including a 5/27 against Western Australia in the semi-finals of the national U19 championship. It meant he was soon playing for the Australia U19 side against Sri Lanka in Hobart, where he did enough to ensure his place in the World Cup squad was cemented.
His dad has followed him at the World Cup, and the TV cameras have been quick to pan the cameras on him in the audience. Austin doesn’t mind.
“He’s always going to be there, people are going to have an interest in him, being the player that he was,” he said. “I’ll just keep focusing on my game, I am not worried about that. I’m not going to look at the screen when I’m playing cricket, so I’m not going to see that. Just focusing on my game is the key.”
Austin seems to particularly enjoy speaking about his hobbies, his own game and his own interests. “I love fishing. I love woodwork as well, I did a bit of carpentry at school,” he said. Also a bit of video games, XBOX and stuff like that. But I enjoy fishing, love going fishing. It’s a pretty big hobby of mine.”
Of course he would. He might have a few similarities with his dad, but he is his own man.