Over the last couple of years it was apparent that the bench strength in which the Aussies had taken a lot of pride was not up to the standards of the players they replaced.
By Partab Ramchand
All good things come to an end and it was always on the cards that Australia’s reign as World Cup champions would not last long once they had lost the services of many of their star or even superstar players in the last few years. In 2007 in the Caribbean the Aussies still had the services of Glenn McGrath, Andrew Symonds, Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist and it came as no surprise when they took the title for the third successive year. But over the last couple of years it was apparent that the bench strength in which the Aussies had taken a lot of pride however good was not up to the standards of the players they replaced. They were for a short while overtaken by South Africa when it came to the No 1 spot in the ICC rankings and lost to India in the CB series in 2007-08.
The chinks in the armour were getting slowly exposed and even the Australians have clung on to the No 1 ranking for some time now they were always going to find it tough in the World Cup. It was only their reputation of fighters supreme that kept them in the hunt till the quarterfinal but to be candid their loss to India at this stage was not entirely unexpected. The Aussies underwent a similar scenario in the eighties following the simultaneous retirement of Greg Chappell, Rod Marsh and Dennis Lillee. It took them years to recover following a period during which they went from one debacle to another.
In many ways the Aussie reign at the top for about a decade ranks alongside the reign of the West Indies in the seventies and eighties. The Australians in successive World Cups finished runners-up once and winners thrice while the West Indians were winners twice and runners-up once. And Australia’s run of 34 matches undefeated in the competition through four World Cups will rank as one of the most memorable feats notched up by any team in any format of the game.
Through their extended run the Aussies provided some of the most glorious moments in cricketing history. They set unbelievably high standards raising the bar every time and it was virtually impossible for their opponents to catch up. In batting, bowling, fielding, captaincy, physical fitness, mental strength and yes, even mind games they were in a class of their own. "Never Satisfied" was the title of one of Steve Waugh’s books and this summed up the Aussie approach.
The Australians have slumped badly in the Test rankings sliding sharply to No 5 and have lost two successive Ashes battles. But they still retain the No 1 spot in ODIs though it is unlikely they will be perched there for long following the events in the World Cup. Indeed the ramifications can be seen with the departure of Ricky Ponting and the expected appointment of Michael Clarke as captain though Shane Watson and Michael Hussey were not without their supporters. It is now left to Clarke to inspire an Aussie resurgence though he will be comforted by the thought that Ponting will still be around as a batsman.
But the road ahead will be long and hard. For one thing the Aussie line-up does not have the aura of old. There are certain areas which are quite vulnerable and this was brought home in the World Cup following the defeats to Pakistan and India and generally during their unsuccessful campaign. Secondly the competition these days is much tougher and as events in the World Cup drove home there is very little to choose between about the top half a dozen teams. There is little chance of Australia quickly regaining the kind of form which had opponents awe struck time and again over the last decade or so.
One just cannot see them enduring the kind of slump like the once mighty West Indies have been subjected to over the last 15 years. The Aussies, unlike the West Indies, still have the personnel that no opposition can take lightly. They could even climb back to the top slot should they lose it but one doubts they will regroup and have the arsenal to win the World Cup in their own backyard four years from now. They may have a longer time languishing in the middling category though one can never see them really hit rock bottom. Their resilient qualities and positive approach will see to that. But now the time has come to make a fresh start under a new captain.