By Karthik Parimal
What transpired during the course of last two years must have certainly rattled Australian cricket. Notwithstanding the exit of stalwarts, ones who were the last representatives of arguably Australia’s greatest team, the off-field antics, too, contributed significantly in wiping a little of the sheen off the revered baggy green. Just a few months ago, Michael Clarke and his battalion were labelled incompetent, and rightly so, for the direction in which they were headed was perplexing. Belting in the Ashes in England soon shed light on their ineptitude and the multiple crevices, but what ensued before the commencement of the series indicated its inevitability.
No doubt, they’d hit a low point, and the only way out from there was to buckle up and move forward. But go back in time a little, and you will see that it wasn’t the first time an Australian unit had ventured into troubled waters. They were an insipid side during the mid-1980s, before Allan Border instigated a turnaround, and they certainly weren’t world-beaters in One-Day Internationals (ODIs) before Steve Waugh drilled into his entourage a sense of responsibility during the 1999 World Cup. At both the aforesaid crossroads, victory arrived when it was least expected, and at a time when the teams were split on issues pertaining to discipline.
Prior to and during Border’s rein, as is often the case, the players were seldom on the same page owing to multiple points. The 1987 World Cup saw the team divided on topics such as captaincy and the combination, but what they unanimously, and uncharacteristically, agreed on was refraining from alcohol for the duration of the tournament. Apparently, it was one of the factors why they went on to clinch the trophy for the first time. Two years later, under the same leader, a much-ridiculed Australian side pummelled the English in the Ashes, as Terry Alderman, the right-arm fast-medium bowler who was least touted to shine, bagged 41 wickets at an average of 17.36. The next highest wicket-taker was miles away. Graham Gooch, the England batsman, was a casualty then. A good phase commenced.
Barring the 1992 World Cup, the Australians began to give oppositions a run for their money post 1987. Most teams took pride in beating them, but a feeling lingered that they became complacent once a tournament turned into a dead-rubber and also, they weren’t quite adept at winning the big games. Moreover, personality clashes pushed the entire unit down a slippery slope — the friction between Steve Waugh and Shane Warne being the case in point. Things came to a head during the early stages of the 1999 World Cup as the elder Waugh and then Australian coach Geoff Marsh imposed an alcohol ban and, unlike in 1987, it caused more harm than good.
After gulping down a few defeats and recognising the fact that his men didn’t enjoy being treated like kids, Waugh called off the ban and worked on his strained relationship with Warne, too — another factor which until that point had been eating away at the side. Thereafter, Warne — whose career was on a wane at the time — spun Australia to a World Cup win and the graph was on the ascendancy, regardless of the format, for almost a decade. Waugh had backed himself and realised what it takes to get a bunch of players from being one of the best in the world to unarguably the best. Captaincy changed hands and other mantles were duly passed, but Australian cricket kept leaping over one hurdle after another.
The last couple of years almost mirror the above mentioned junctures. Like Border, doubts had been cast over Michael Clarke’s leadership abilities and questions were raised over tactics employed by him alongside then coach Mickey Arthur.
Like the alcohol ban, the homework-gate affair ruffled many feathers and raised even more eyebrows, only this time a drastic, and some would say sensible, step of axing Arthur had been taken. Like Alderman and Warne, Mitchell Johnson — who was not considered for the previous leg of the Ashes — has bowled Australia to unanticipated victories, and like Gooch, albeit for reasons very sensitive and different, Jonathan Trott has been the casualty from the English camp. Also, like Waugh and Warne, Clarke and Watson have cast aside their differences for the betterment of the team, and the results are there for everyone to see.
Victory this Ashes could well be the launch pad Australia so yearned for, and that being etched against all odds could be the shot in the arm that could propel this side to greater heights. Clarke’s tactical acumen is now legibly chronicled, and with a set of players fully aware of their roles, he could well be the architect of one of Australia’s most formidable teams and embark on a lengthy purple patch, just like Border and Waugh. Is this finally the much-awaited resurgence?
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)
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