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Conclusions from Aus-SA Test series 2008-09: Part II
by Chetan Narula
Jan 16, 2009
Read Part I here.

Basically, a lot of factors have been blamed for the sudden demise of Australian supremacy from international cricket. Now, some of them are somewhat true and some of them are completely absurd. What is strange is that in both the cases, they are related in one way or the other to Indian cricket and that is what stokes the fire that it has been the losses to India that have really inflicted a psychological damage on the minds of the Aussies.

Obviously, the scars of the Sydney fiasco earlier last year were still fresh in their mind, for as late as November, they kept talking about it, in either books or journals. Even Andrew Symonds blamed his fishing excursions and club brawls on the events of Sydney, and all this before a series against a South African team at home clearly meaning that they were having trouble focusing their energy on the right opponents.

Come to think of it, at some level, maybe the above reason might hold value for mind games are a part of cricket, and advocated vociferously by none other than Steve Waugh (remember mental disintegration?). But the other blame on the IPL and its fat cheque books was completely uncalled for. Now one may not be a fan of the IPL either, but accusing something totally unrelated to Aussie cricket is something strange.

Why strange? Don't people find lame excuses when faced with adversities? Well, in reality, this is exactly what is strange, for one can't really remember when was the last time the powers that be in Australian cricket blamed anyone else for their faults. They just don't do it and that is what made them world champions. To be doing this now, at a juncture when cricket in that country is undergoing a phase shift is perilous.

So what really ails cricket's world champions? Well, for one the obvious answer is they are missing their big names who have left over the years. Justin Langer, Damien Martyn, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath would be the four really big names that they are really finding hard to replace. Of these four, the latter two are the most significant names, for it is imperative to take wickets on the international stage if you have to win. And after them, the new sets of bowlers are mere mortals who just can't seem to get the job done, at home or away!

Pace can be looked after for Mitchell Johnson and a fit enough Stuart Clark might just do the job, especially with Tait coming in again, but spin is the biggest problem for them as of now. Why Jason Krejza wasn't persisted with throughout the summer is a big mystery. Why did he alone take the fall for defeat at Perth when the fast bowlers were spared? It is not as if they had lines of spinners waiting outside their offices to choose from. The two real contenders are Beau Casson (whatever happened to him?) and Nathan Hauritz. Krejza should have been persisted a bit more but wasn't. So who ever they find and select next, consistency is the key here and this is a path they need to tread very carefully.

And then there are the ailing stars! Mathew Hayden is on his last legs (retired at the time of publishing and rightly so!) and he of all people should know that it is time to bid adieu. For the openers are the ones who really have a better sense of judgement than any other in the batting order about the timing of it all! This is because facing the new ball and setting the pace for the entire innings rests squarely on their shoulders and when they themselves are shaky, they take the entire team down with them.

Blaming Hayden would be very easy but there are other culprits in the team too. Brett Lee has not been able to sort out his off-field problems and therefore struggling. Symonds can't seem to resolve his either and that is becoming a ticking time bomb for his career. Shane Watson should have really stepped up after his antics in the IPL, but another injury means no one knows if he will ever return again. And then there is Michael Hussey, who seems to have lost it all just as he had gained it, in a flash!

When talking about Hussey, it is important to note one point in particular. He came into the side at a time when he was at the peak of his prowess. And the same goes for most of the new names that we have been seeing over the years. At age 28-29, they are very much their own players and if found out on the international stage can't really make the necessary changes which the younger players would do easily. As a result, the new players seldom have any time to make their marks. Warne and McGrath grew in the team itself and were able to become so lethal for they had the experience of the international stage to fall back upon. And so, the 'horses for courses' policy that these selectors persisted with for so long, needs to go for the times are changing.

The blame doesn't rest squarely on the shoulders of the selectors only. Ricky Ponting till now could have sleep walked through most of the victories that the Australian team of yore notched up. It doesn't really take a Mike Brearley to explain to the likes of Hayden, McGrath, Warne and Gilchrist what they need to do on the field. What is needed though that a young team sees their captain really marshalling them when the going gets tough! Like when they are defending 434 in ODIs or 414 in the last innings of a test match. And this is where, by coming up short on ideas, Ponting has brought his stock down from an average captain to a poor captain.

Yes, Ponting was never a great captain! At best, he would make the list of captains who were in the right place at the right time, giving credence to the adage that a captain is as good as his team. The fact that he was always behind Graeme Smith in this series, or even MS Dhoni in India goes to show that he is not in the running for the best leaders on a cricket field anymore, if he ever was in the first place. The best support to this argument is Ponting's selfish approach in the Nagpur test when India were really on the block and he chose to play safe.

And then he had John Buchanan doing almost all the thinking and stuffing his pockets with great ideas. Now it seems Tim Nielsen isn't putting high quality ideas on the chits of papers Ponting carries in his pockets. Nielsen is a strange case in study. Under him, in the last twelve months, the Aussies have really only won against New Zealand, West Indies and Bangladesh. They won against India at home when they shouldn't have, lost the CB series, lost in India and then lost at home to the Proteas. And for all this, his contract has been extended till 2011. Indeed, Cricket Australia is behaving in the queerest ways.

So now, that the diagnosis is done, what's the way forward? Well, the call for the selectors' heads is not really a good one. Each set of wise men have their own ideas and so must be backed for a short term atleast. The thing is that they can have all the time that they want, just be a bit more courageous when dealing with ailments like Hayden and give more time to average Joes like Krezja to develop into full blooded match winners. They have the potential, that is why they are wearing the Baggy Green, isn't it?

And what of Ponting and Nielsen? We know this Australian team is a bit lowly rated than their predecessors but that doesn't mean that the skipper and coach can hide behind them for their own shortcomings. So, is it time for them to start packing up? No, not just yet, not until the Ashes atleast!

But after that, there really needs to be a crystal clear thinking as to who is the right man to lead a young team to the 2011 world cup for it is a new world in cricket today. A world where even Australia now needs to plan ahead, and really plan well at that!
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