Monday, June 8, 2009. A seismic shift was taking place in the world of Cricket. The Australian cricket team, which had straddled International cricket like a Colossus for the past decade, crashed out in the first round of the ICC World Twenty20. The old order was crumbling. For the first time since 1992, an Austrlian team failed to progress beyond the first round of a World Cup. No one wept…outside the boundaries of the land down under that is. Fans around the cricketing world rejoiced and celebrated, the mighty Australians were brought to their knees.
But was this Australian team really mighty? A large majority of the great players of the past decade, who had lent an aura of invincibility to the Australian team had retired; some did it on their own accord while others were forced to. Despite the the Australian selectors’ bellowing from the rooftops that they had already identified replacements for the great players, the fans, the media, and most importantly opposition players knew that the so called replacements were mere pretenders. Stuart Clark is McGrath’s replacement, they insisted. He bowls exactly like McGrath, comes close to the stumps, has a high arm action, and bowls wicket to wicket, they said in all seriousness. I’m sure they will win the World Poker Championship hands down, if only they cared to participate. Haddin was supposed to be Gilchrist’s replacement – he can hit the ball hard. Only if he can connect! Clarke was Mark Waugh’s replacement. I am dreading the day they call James Hopes, Steve Waugh’s replacement. He can bowl medium pacers and can bat lower down the order you see.
I looked at Ponting’s face after the loss to Sri Lanka , and felt a tinge of sadness. The dejection and frustration was evident. The contrast couldn’t have been more stark as I was reminded of the Aussie celebration after the farcical 2008 Sydney Test, which they played with 13 players. Yes, 13 players, of which 2 were placed very strategically; one behind the stumps at the bowler’s end and the other at Square Leg. I was also reminded of the numerous occasions when they rubbed opposition players and cricket administrators from other countries the wrong way. All my sympathy evaporated.
The typical Aussie hubris is still quite evident though, among fans, if not the players. Comments from Aussie fans on cricket websites like Cricinfo, would suggest that they don’t care about Twenty20 cricket. ‘Hit and giggle format’, they call it. “We are still number one in Tests, the real cricket”, “Twenty20 is not cricket”, “This loss does not matter” is the usual refrain. The case of sour grapes, I say. Time for a reality check!
There’s an interesting theory about why Australia can’t win in the twenty over format. In Test and 50 over cricket, they get enough time to ‘mentally disintegrate’ the opposition players. Say a few nasty words, hurl abuses, chirp from behind the stumps, say things to players about their families…All good natured banter, they claim. So I guess Healey was just indulging in some good natured banter when he asked Thorpe, whose marriage was on the rocks, as to who his wife was sleeping with. When Sarwan asked a similar question to McGrath, all hell broke lose. It ceased to be banter. Talk about double standards!
So, where does Australia go from here? Are they in a downward spiral? The answer is No. They still have some very good players in their ranks – Ponting, Hussey, Johnson, and Brett Lee. They also have some very good talent which has not been exposed to International cricket too much. The likes of Shaun Marsh, Callum Ferguson, and Phillip Hughes have loads of talent and they will keep Australia afloat. However, it is highly unlikely that Australia will be able to regain their old glory. They just don’t have players of the same class anymore.
Who will the crown go to now? Who will take Australia’s position at the top? The answer is that we will not see the same kind of dominance from any team in the near future. World cricket will be a three horse race between South Africa, India and Australia. Interesting times, if you are a cricket fan. The era of Aussie dominance is over!