It was just another day of an “Ashes series” when the hapless Englishmen were treated with extreme brutality by the ever so dominant Aussies. Sitting inside the commentary box – when asked by his co-commentator if England would ever be able to win the much celebrated bi-lateral Test series – the former cricket great and ever witty Ian Chappell jokingly remarked that it was never going to happen in his life time.
Well, that happened over a decade before, and since then the tables have turned completely in England’s favour, except for a minor blip in 2006-2007.
England won the Ashes in 1987, but it continued to elude them for almost two decades afterwards, and so they had always been tagged as underdogs. There was a time when Australia could do nothing wrong under the captaincy of Ricky Ponting and the team was doing phenomenally well in all forms of the game.
When no one expected the English to even trouble the Aussies in 2005, leave alone winning the series, Freddie Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen pulled the rabbit out of the hat by doing the impossible. That Ashes victory, which came after 18 years, finally changed the composure of the team entirely, with the team members starting to believe in themselves more than before.
However, the very next Ashes series, which was played in Australia, left the visitors crushed. The men from “Down Under” avenged their earlier defeat by ruthlessly inflicting a whitewash on their opponents in the 2006-2007 series. Little did they realise by then, that in another six years time, they would be in danger of facing the same plight in England.
Moulded well under the leadership of Allan Border two decades ago, the Aussies had been able to produce remarkably consistent performance over the years.
When Border left the scene, his successor Mark Taylor had a far better side at his disposal. He had the luxury of having young bowlers like Shane Warne and Glen McGrath, in addition to the dexterity of the Waugh brothers, who were on the right side of their thirties.
He had decent performers like Michael Slater, Mathew Elliot and at times, Greg Blewett, to open, especially in Test matches. When he retired, the baton was passed on to the senior of the Waugh brothers, who was lucky to manage a well groomed side. By that time, many aggressive players like Langer, Hayden, Martyn and Gilchrist made their way into the team, further intensifying its strength. Under his captaincy, they went on to dominate the world.
However, leading any side could not have been as burdenless as it was for Ricky Ponting, who succeeded Stephen Waugh. It was a well settled team by then, and not taking anything away from the “Punter”, he was really fortunate to lead a rare combination of such fantastically talented individuals who excelled in every department of the game.
What more one can say about a team which had managed beating “India in India” in a Test match series – something which even Waugh and his men could not do, in spite of coming closer to doing it in 2001. The Tasmanian was in charge of a set of individuals who were rated as “Invincibles” in world cricket then.
So much was the talent of the side that it now looks like the Australian administrators had failed to notice the danger lurking, in the form of the growing age of the players, who were well over their 30s. It is quite evident that they did not seem to have figured out their bench strength – something which was helping the team’s cause for quite some time then.
Probably because winning had become a habit for them, they did not foresee what was ahead of them, when all the “big guns” of the side would retire at some point of time. Perhaps that is the reason why the team has gotten into a very bad shape, as we are seeing it now. There seems to be no fight or resistance in the players right now. Just a few days ago, they lost their sixth Test match in a row and it won’t be a surprise if that losing streak goes up to nine at the end of the Ashes.
Truly speaking, England has not become a great side overnight for the Australians to experience such a pounding at the hands of the hosts. Waugh’s men or Ponting’s men – should they be playing now against England – would have had the hosts rattled. Michael Clarke and his team, though, are in such a pitiable state that they are desperately looking for every opportunity to avoid the possible humiliation of a whitewash at the hands of the Englishmen.
Though the Australians can always argue that if not for the incident involving Stuart Broad in the first Test match, the series would have been tied 1-1 by now, the fact of the matter is – they hardly looked like a winning side. Apart from Clarke, who is a class apart, no one in the side looks to be blessed with the abilities of batting against quality bowlers, especially when it comes to facing the spinners.
Burdened by the pressure of captaining a weak side, even “Mr.Pup” is now struggling to preserve his wicket for very long. The string of low scores off his bat is really a cause of concern for his team. Just like the West Indies, which was once an indomitable side during 70s and 80s, before surrendering its supremacy once and for all, the current Australian team seems to have given up its invincibility.
It is no secret that the people from Caribbean Islands have resorted to playing other sports more than cricket, and so, the two time world champions are not able to produce great players any more. But has something of that sort happened “Down Under” too? Surely it can’t be so, as cricket is the ‘numero uno’ sport over there, which is even recognized as the country’s national game.
The highly acclaimed Sheffield Shield tournament, which used to produce so much back up for the national side, also seems to have gone down in quality.
It was a tournament which was once rated as better in quality in comparison to the County championships held in England. Now, what back-up has it given for the team? For the past five years or so, their domestic set-up has been unable to nurture the same sort of talent which had made the national side the best team ever once. If the current team is what the best they could offer, then Australia is going to witness more calamities in the future.
Is there any logic in having Shane Watson as one of the openers? Forget about openers, is there anyone, barring Clarke, with a respectable Test match average in the middle order?
Do they have any top class spinners or quality fast bowlers in line with the former greats like Warne, Mcgrath and Gillespie? The openers in Test matches, you would expect, should be having an average of at least 45 or more. That’s what people like Slater, Langer and Hayden had throughout their career, giving a very good foundation for their side.
Former middle order players like Ponting, Steve Waugh, Gilchrist, Hussey used to add on to their opponents’ woes by piling up runs aggressively. Each one of them enjoyed a mind-blowing batting average. You cannot just compare the current players in the middle order with those stalwarts of the past. Not only do they lack aggression, they are also found wanting in playing a defensive game.
Cricket Australia should identify new talents from the domestic tournament and give them opportunities to play for the national team. May be they should bring in overseas players to Sheffield Shield competition, so that the younger players have a chance of learning a thing or two to compete at the international level.
Greg Chappell has stated that Australia may improve after two years. But the way it is going, it looks like this team would face more disasters in future. The whole team needs to be realigned and restructured to get back to its winning ways. For now, it is for sure that Australia is in for a meek surrender in England. A complete whitewash is certainly on the cards in the ongoing Ashes series.