How much has changed in our lives since the onset of the new millennium? The iPods have replaced the audio cassettes and even compact discs. The class room activities often happen on DVDs for school children. 2GB memory space is too little nowadays. Roger Federer emerged and raised comparisons with his predecessors. Rafael Nadal came and even conquered Federer! Michael Schumacher isn’t in the ascendancy anymore in Formula One circuit. So is the Australian cricket team.
As 10 years of our lives have passed by, a champion cricket team is grappling, on the shores of Sydney, to rejuvenate itself at every dawn. The search for that hero they’d dearly want to have in each of them, continues endlessly. Australia is a land of strong-minded sportsmen. From the likes of Rod Laver to Lleyton Hewitt to Sam Hill to Ian Thorpe, Australia has produced legendary fighters in sport. Australian cricket has also been a witness for its share of heroes, who would live to fight another day.
These heroes make a champion team and never the other way. Watching the current Australian team buckle down under pressure almost every other day, makes you think whether they’ve lost that idiosyncrasy in them.
The perception that champions and heroes are more powerful than their peers is nothing but plain incongruity. They simply carry that extra will power and determination, a tinge more than their opponents to taste victory, ever so desperately. At the same time, it would hugely unfair, if we forget to appreciate the true skill and talent of the legends as well.
Each and every player carries a story of failure behind them, early in his career. Matthew Hayden had to come back after seven long years. Simon Katich had to endure a long wait in the dressing room, to even get a look in. The legendary Shane Warne was tonked all over the park in his first few games.
The real flair of Australian cricket lies in their togetherness and the resolve to stand up, even if they are hit hard on their face. There was a time, in the last decade, when no one could constantly challenge the Aussies. As the decade slowly came to an end, Australians witnessed a host of retirements. For many, the world became flat, after a long time. Fast forward a couple of more years, Australia find themselves in a phase where they are actually beaten black and blue across all formats and at all venues, both home and away. They are as vulnerable a team, as you can ever imagine. There is at least a new face, in every test series they play nowadays.
Impatient selection of spinners is probably their biggest problem. Since Warne’s exit, Australia has tried about 10 spinners, which is a mammoth number in itself. None of them were given a long rope and were always put under pressure after every poor performance. The batsmen failed to convert starts, with Shane Watson being the guiltiest among all their batsmen. Watson has forgotten the technique to convert a good fifty into a match-winning hundred. Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke have been searching for some form and luck for the past six months. Marcus North has been very disappointing and now doesn’t command a place in the team. Michael Hussey has found his touch after a long time, but none of them apart from him, look threatening. Even Hussey’s spot was under scanner before the Ashes began.
Australia’s traditional strength, their fast bowlers, were also found wanting in the past year. When fast bowlers tend to become consistently erratic, there is little a captain can do to stop the run fest. Mitchell Johnson swayed from being a very attacking bowler to someone who got wickets at a high price and then turned into a fast bowler whose strike rate and average became higher game after game.
With every loss, each glitch became a serious one. With every loss, each failure got scrutinized more and more. With every loss, the shoulders drooped and heads went down in the dressing room. The fundamental joy of playing the game took a beating. In such a situation, what more can a team do than keep badly losing matches?
The Sydney Test will not be the last time Australia would lose ignominiously. There is more agony in waiting, for Australian supporters. This free fall started some time ago, but it doesn’t look like stopping now.
The only saviour and the most trusted entity for a hard-core Australian fan, at this point of time, is his system. Australia’s cricketers are still respected all over the world. That is the same reason why Australian cricketers go for a lot of money, even during IPL auctions, more than their international counterparts. Australia’s cricket system has been well researched and studied by other cricket boards, in order to imbibe the best practices, back home.
Great cricketers will definitely emerge from the system. But until that happens, there is more grief and agony left in the bank for an average Aussie fan. Good players might fail, but in the long run, good systems wouldn’t!
(Anantha Subramaniam is an ardent cricket enthusiast, who spends most of the time either playing or clicking or watching or writing cricket.)