Cricket World Cup: Australia's renaissance leads to World Cup final
Australia`s trip to a seventh World Cup final on Sunday may seem standard fare for a nation that has already won cricket`s ultimate prize four times, but the achievement marks a stunning turnaround from the depths of two years ago.
Melbourne: Australia`s trip to a seventh World Cup final on Sunday may seem standard fare for a nation that has already won cricket`s ultimate prize four times, but the achievement marks a stunning turnaround from the depths of two years ago.
Battling mediocrity in all formats, Michael Clarke`s side lurched from crisis to crisis in the annus horribilus of 2013, as reports of in-fighting, sackings and bar-room assaults dominated newspaper headlines.
Pundits debate the exact moment of Australia`s nadir, but few would have tipped the team`s spectacular implosion during a 4-0 test series white-wash in India.
The second loss of that series made Australia the first team to lose a test match after declaring their first innings closed and was to be the catalyst for the infamous "Homework-gate" scandal.
With the support of captain Clarke, four players were stood down for the next test for failing to provide then-coach Mickey Arthur ideas on how the team could turn around their fortunes.
Shane Watson, vice-captain at the time and one of the four offenders, threatened to quit international cricket after returning home from tour to be with his pregnant wife.
Branded a much-needed "line in the sand" by South African Arthur, the punishment was intended to whip an ill-disciplined team in to shape but two further test defeats followed and Australia entered the defence of their Champions Trophy title in England with morale at rock-bottom.
Their batsmen were skittled for 65 in a 243-run warmup loss to India in Cardiff and the one-day international tournament was a debacle, with hot-headed opening batsman David Warner stood down for punching England`s Joe Root at a Birmingham night-spot.
News that Australian players were out drinking rather than stewing in their hotel rooms over a loss to England reinforced perceptions of a team in disarray, and management acted swiftly by sacking Arthur and replacing him with former Australia batsman Darren Lehmann less than three weeks before the Ashes.
Australia would go on to lose the series 3-0 after squandering dominant positions in a number of matches but under Lehmann`s calm direction and the renaissance of fast bowler Mitchell Johnson, turned the tables spectacularly in the return Ashes series on home soil.
Completing a 5-0 series whitewash of the tourists to kick off 2014, Australia`s success would filter down to the one-day team, who trounced England 4-1 in the subsequent series and would finish the year with a 13-5 winning record.
The year was not without its challenges, however, with a stunning one-day loss away to minnows Zimbabwe and Clarke`s leadership questioned amid a series of injuries.
Such concerns appeared trivial on Nov. 25 when batsman Phillip Hughes collapsed at the Sydney Cricket Ground when struck by a short ball in a domestic match.
The youngest player to score two centuries in a test, Hughes` death in hospital at the age of 25 cast a pall over the World Cup co-hosts less than three months before the tournament.
Their ability to put their grief aside and complete a 2-0 test series defeat over India in the leadup underlined Australia`s resolve in the face of adversity.
"We`ve come from the depths of depression, I suppose, from where we were in November," Cricket Australia boss James Sutherland told the Australian Associated Press on Friday.
"It was a very difficult time and every credit to the players and the way that they`ve responded and gotten on with their job, without in any way forgetting their grief.
"So we`re here and congratulations on the great effort they`ve put in -- all that hard work."
Ahead of Sunday`s World Cup final against fellow co-hosts New Zealand, captain Clarke`s team may reflect on the two roller-coaster years when they walk out onto the Melbourne Cricket Ground turf.
Recollections of the dark days and their ability to overcome them should stand the hosts in good stead during the clutch moments when the roar of nearly 100,000 fans rings out from the terraces.