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By Partab Ramchand
It may be too early to be talking of an Australian resurgence but their emphatic victory over Sri Lanka at Galle could just be the first step towards the long, hard road back to the top. They may have slid to No 5 in the ICC Test rankings but their performance in the opening match of the three Test series against a team ranked one place above them was heartwarming. It is never easy to beat Sri Lanka at home as so many teams have discovered over the years. Even without Muthiah Muralitharan they remain a fairly strong bowling unit while the batting continues to be formidable. So there is a positive ring about Australia’s victory that could signal a climb back. After all let’s not forget that they remain the No 1 team in ODIs.
The Aussies are still in the rebuilding process following the retirements of greats such as Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer and Damien Martyn. But they have adopted the right approach to the task picking the right young talent, discarding a couple of older players and persisting with those who can still contribute substantially. And under a new captain things seem to be falling into place.
If there is one player who symbolizes the feeling that the Aussies are on the upswing it is Shane Watson. Not too long ago he was regarded as a limited overs specialist who could chip in usefully with bat and ball. In the last couple of years even as he has played an even bigger role in ODIs it is his Test record that has caught the eye. He is suddenly indispensable to the team in the longer version of the game too and his batting and bowling skills have burgeoned.
And then you have the new kids on the block who have made an immediate impact. How many times in a Test match have two debutants struck in their first over, one with his second ball and the other with his very first delivery? And yet this was the double feat pulled off by Trent Copeland and Nathan Lyon. With a five wicket haul in his maiden Test innings Lyon has pushed Nathan Hauritz into the background. And the emergence of Copeland and Ryan Harris has meant no place for tried and trusted bowlers like Doug Bollinger and Peter Siddle. If anything this illustrates the depth in the Aussie pace attack.
Finally you have the veterans who can still pack a punch as events at Galle indicated. Ricky Ponting even at 36 has still a lot to contribute with his bat. The former Australian captain who has just become the first player to figure in 100 Test victories is the third highest run getter and century maker in Test history and somehow one feels that after being relieved of the captaincy one could see the return of the commanding Ponting who peeled off 12 hundreds in 25 Tests in the period 2005 – 2007. Mike Hussey and Michael Clarke are an integral part of the squad and if any proof was needed it was provided at Galle when on a turning track they notched up the two highest scores on the Aussie side. Usman Khawaja brings a touch of Asian elegance to the middle order while Mitchell Johnson fast approaching the 200-wicket mark in Tests is still a very fine bowler. Brad Haddin’s reputation behind and in front of the stumps is growing with every match.
And with Phil Hughes, David Warner and Shaun Marsh around Australia have the nucleus of a side that could well enjoy an upturn in their fortunes. The current series in Sri Lanka and the contest at home against India in the winter could well determine that. You can never really write off the Aussies can you? You do so at your own peril.