The story of David and Goliath poses much relevance to what happened on 24/03/2011 when Australia was ousted from the World Cup 2011 by India. Goliath, a fearsome and giant warrior, was defeated in battle by David who then paraded Goliath’s head through Israel.
It was understood even by Australia’s keenest supporters that the slow and low, spin producing pitches of the subcontinent would trouble their team. However, cast your minds to three or four years ago and the thoughts of teams like India and Pakistan defeating Australia anywhere in the world would not even surface. In this World Cup, Australia did enter as a vulnerable team, but they were actually ranked no 1 in the ICC ODI rankings.
The World Cup has produced some unpredictable results. England tied with India, Pakistan and India comfortably beat Australia, NZ ended South Africa’s World Cup campaign etc. Yet, no one could imagine Australia being booted out in the QF stage. Who could imagine that Australia would not even finish in the top 4?
So what are the reasons that has led to Australia’s downfall? It all obviously started with the composed and shrewd captaincy of Steve Waugh. A stage for future domination was being set when the likes of Mark Taylor, David Boon, Craig Mcdermott were leaving the team and the very talented and mentally strong Shane Warne, Waugh brothers, McGrath, Gilchrist were either starting their careers or peaking. In Steve Waugh they found a leader who was composed yet passionate, methodical yet dynamic and most importantly of all, inspirational.
Steve Waugh left the Australian team with an aggressive and destructive Ricky Ponting, a rock solid run machine Matthew Hayden, a consistent Test opener Langer, a tenacious match winner Michael Bevan, an unplayable legspinner Warne, a wicketkeeper who deserved selection solely because of his batting- Adam Gilchrist, a bowler with an unabatable hunger for wickets- Glenn McGrath and the quick and wicket taking machine Brett Lee. In fact these players are just the cream. There were others such as Damien Martyn, Greg Blewett, Damien Fleming, Jason Gillespie, Symonds etc who were all good cricketers in their own right and helped Australia maintain their no 1 ranking for years.
Ricky Ponting is hailed by many to be a very good captain, but in his case he benefited from Waugh’s legacy. A captain who leads a team which practises a
culture of not just being loyal to the skipper, but a captain who has on board players like Hayden, Warne and McGrath at their peak, is the luckiest captain in the world. What glorified Ponting’s captaincy was his outstanding batting. Ponting, apart from Lara, was the player who could come close to Tendulkar in terms of sheer skill. For most of Ponting’s career cricket pundits acknowledged him along with Tendulkar to be the best batsman.
But then Hayden, Gilchrist, Warne and McGrath retired. Symonds started facing continuous discipline problems. Martyn left, Bevan left, and all of a sudden
Australia was experiencing a descent. Those who planned Australia’s rise in the 1990s did not envisage the fall that would ensue after the exit of Australia’s match winners. Twenty20 cricket came and initially Australia appeared to struggle globally but then improved its team. However, as with every team, Twenty20 will be blamed for Australia’s relatively poor recent Test performance.
It is a mystery to many why Australia is not producing a Warne, Hayden or McGrath. Perhaps it is just due to the fact that trends have changed as the BCCI has risen as a hugely influential cricket body. The focus of the world has shifted so much to Indian cricket and BCCI that perhaps ECB or Australian Cricket Board are not very interested in ensuring that good Test cricketers are produced. It is indeed strange that a sizable number of England’s recent cricketers have either come from Ireland or South Africa, or are originally Indian or Pakistani with cricket running through their veins. An Australian-Pakistani, Usman Khwaja, was reportedly included in an international squad so perhaps Australian cricket will also go in the same direction.
The story of Australian dominance and then its downfall is a fascinating read. Other teams have cashed in on Australia’s recent decline. The rules of the game have changed and cricket has become more competitive. Whereas three years ago you could confidently say Australia had a 90%+ chance of winning an ODI or Test, now teams like India, South Africa, England and Sri Lanka are treated with more respect. Further, teams like Pakistan and New Zealand are as unpredictable and occasionally brilliant, as ever. From the interest and competition perspective, this can only be good for world cricket.
The teams that thwarted Australia’s hunt for another piece of world domination are a stark contrast to one another. A raw, mercurial and passionate team defeated them ending their WC reign of 30+ consecutive victories. And perhaps it was fitting that a giant trounced another giant on 24/03/2011; India, the modern day centre of world cricket with legendary batsmen and a match winning strike bowler.
To conclude, this is well and truly the end of an era. After three consecutive WC victories (which is a record) Australia has been destroyed at the QF stage. For Australians this will take months to sink in, this blunt realisation that they are champions no more. Kings are overthrown, legends are written, myths are created. Every tenure comes to an end, life throws up many reminders that everything that was ever made or formed has to come to an end. This is part and parcel of the circle of life.