We are presently seeing the last gasping throes of a great empire dying away.
I am not talking about the United States taking a beating on the economic front, but the Australian cricket team falling from its high pedestal. It’s no longer a question of ‘if’, but a question of ‘when’.
In every field, be it sports or political power or corporate world, there are one or two leaders who rule the world or jostle for supremacy with each other, treating the other participants as minnows or cattle fodder. But they never remain the super power forever. Just as a few advantageous factors and an extraordinary series of events contribute to their ascendancy, the leader starts losing its power after a period of time and the laggards catch up.
The first indication of the world-beaters-to-be was glimpsed during the Madras Tied Test of 1984 – where Dean Jones batted through diarrhoea and vomiting to take Australia to a position of strength. The impression was reinforced when Border held aloft the Reliance Cup by trouncing their old rivals, the Poms, at the Eden Garden in 1987.
Since then, they have never looked back sweeping all in their march to world dominance (even though the world only comprises of 9 test playing nations and a sundry associate members). Their magic mantra in Test cricket was to bat fast enough to put up scores that their bowlers could use to grab 20 wickets (easier said than done – but they did it relentlessly for 20 years).
The key to their success lay in
– Mental Strength – destroy the enemy mentally, apart from on the ground. Sledging (or mental disintegration) was a strong weapon, but it was backed up by their own superman confidence and winning spirit
– Professionalism – which percolated down to their Pura Cup & Sheffield Shield, every new player to put on the Baggy Green seemed infused with a cussed sense of capability.
– Fight to the death – you could never expect the Aussies to give up till the last ball is bowled. Many a victories have been snatched from the very jaws of defeat. Even in losses, they didn’t go down easily trying to contrive another escape. There were no free lunches.
– Team Effort – everyone has a role – even administrators who planned taxing itineraries for visiting teams (start with bouncy pitches, have tour all over the country).
Like death and taxes, the waning of the leader is inevitable. Like 1984 (after the sudden retirement of Lillee, Chappells and Rod Marsh), the legends that walked the cricketing world started retiring – starting in Sydney 2004 with Steve Waugh, the embodiment of Aussie team. Though worthy players have come in as replacements over the last few years, they are struggling to fill the mighty shoes. The other teams have also learned lessons from their tussles over the last two decades and have incorporated them into their game and strategies. Now India, England and South Africa are jostling to become the King of the Hill.
In the modern era, before the Australians, the West Indies were all-powerful. After the ’75-’76 tour of Australia, Clive Lloyd decided to adopt intimidatory tactics to “shock-and-awe” and stacked his team with fast bowlers. This juggernaut stopped only in the mid-80s, probably the 1983 loss to India in the World Cup finals in Lords the final nail in the coffin. Retirement of great players was again the cause. However, the main reason, which still ails Caribbean cricket, is the lure of American sports which is snatching away talented sportsmen.
Can the Aussies turn it around and avoid the fate of the West Indians:
– Maybe change the old Australian strategy of always being aggressive. Play within. Knuckle down and rebuild like in ‘84. Accept that sometimes draw is a “moral victory” giving one the momentum and chance to fight another day.
– With the retirement of the greats, there are enough places in the team for players excelling at the domestic level. No longer will players like Mike Hussey be cramped out of the team till his 30s. Blood them young and early
– Embrace 20-20. Like the ODI revolutionized how the Test match was played, 20-20 will teach some new tricks to the old dog. India and England (the two aspirants) have been T20 World Champions.
– Learn from other teams. Pick up strengths from them (like they have done from Australia in the past).
– Bring in the recently retired legends as coaches and trainers. Get the winning spirit back in the dressing room.
– Drop show-ponies (such as Clarke) from the team – who are mired in issues off-the-field. Get in players hungry for success.
The writing on the wall is evident for Ricky Ponting and his not-so-merry men. It will all be revealed during the Ashes and the upcoming World Cup. Can they continue the Australian dynasty – or will they fall victims to the grinding millstone of history?