They say that self indulgence and self interest were the sole reasons behind the downfall of the great West Indian team in early 90’s. The seeds of the collapse were sown way back in the 80’s when the Caribbean team went about their winning ways in an almost arrogant spree. The question that the cricket world is asking as the Year 2009 begins is – Whether the once ‘Invincible Aussies’ are falling prey to the same old nemesis of self indulgence and self interest?
Australian cricket reflects a culture which undoubtedly is ferocious, far from remissive and counter attacking. It is a culture which boasts of an attitude where a captain orders his bowler and says, “If you can’t get him out then better knock him off.” It’s that very culture which wants to win at any cost, which knows no defeat. Australia had set that era of dominance by injecting that ‘killer’ attitude in its generation next cricketers.
The Australian team, which began its domination under the gracious leadership of Steve Waugh, went on to conquer the world- winning 17 Test matches on the trot. Oz under Waugh was a team which the world perceived as - killing, destructive, menacing, but yet admirable.
So what happened in 2008 which makes one come to the conclusion that the long standing Aussies era of dominance is on wane if not over?
The answer probably lies between Sydney and Nagpur. January 2008 saw Ricky Ponting and his men celebrate wildly after umpire Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson denied India their honour in Sydney. With no handshakes with opposition captain, no courtesies exchanged, Kangaroos presented a picture of an arrogant King going boorish in his superciliousness and exposing him to complacency.
What followed next in Perth was history. On Jan 19 Harbhajan Singh darting around with Tiranga at WACA Perth was a scene every Indian would carry with him forever. Australians were beaten in Perth and the rookie tall youngster, unknown and unheard of before, had dented a hole in Ponting’s bat.
What Peter Roebuck wrote in his column after the mighty were humbled probably explains the whole scenario. Roebuck wrote: "Ricky Ponting and his players must disregard the notion that in the space of one turbulent fortnight they have become a bunch of likeable losers. Doubtless, the usual assortment of boneheads will suggest that Australia played a lame game …”
The beginning of the decline is also stemmed from the retirement of players like Adam Gilchrist, Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Justin Langer and Jason Gillespie. Filling in those shoes anyways was not going to be easy and Cricket Australia failed to get their long term replacements.
Brad Haddin is good but he is no match to Adam Gilchrist. Similarly, McGrath in the team meant the opposition started from two down with Kangaroos having their tail up. Is there anybody who can even try to step in his shoes?
Failing to find a replacement for Shane Warne was probably the reason behind Australians’ dismal record in the India series. His absence was felt so much so that some former greats even went on to demand his return from retirement -funny suggestion indeed, but not so funny for Cricket Australia, for sure.
Ponting and company were humbled in Nagpur again. This time the opposition team (India) was lead by a young captain, strong enough to command the respect of his seniors, and humble enough to ask his former skipper (Sourav Ganguly) take the much deserved honour of leading the team towards the end in his final match. For the first time, tactics employed by Ricky Ponting and Co. did no wonders and never before did an Aussie dressing room looked so shattered and gloomy as it did in Nagpur. Australians were outwitted and out foxed as their legendary captain failed to score runs and even struggled to manage the over rates.
The trend continued when a comparatively new South African side led by Graeme Smith rubbed salt in Aussies wounds. Australia lost the Perth and Melbourne Tests and conceded a home series after 16 years. The Melbourne loss also meant that Kangaroos in their cricketing history had lost maximum number of Tests in the calendar Year 2008.
Having said that, it would be early if one jumps to the conclusion that Australia’s dominance is finally over. Yes the year 2008 would be remembered for some strange things which Aussie cricket had not seen before. But one at least knows, after a tumultuous year, that the Kangaroos are no more ‘The Invincibles.’