The cricket teams of Australia, India and South Africa
· Towards the end of 2008, Australia lost two very important test match series. It went down 2-0 to India in an away series in October and followed it up with a loss to South Africa by a similar margin at home, with one test remaining in the series.
· These defeats, by convincing margins, have raised questions as to whether Australia’s dominance of world cricket is on the wane.
· For nearly two decades, Australia dominated world cricket in all forms of the game. It was not just that they won all over the world, but it was the ruthlessness with which they crushed oppositions that was more impressive.
· But the Aussie juggernaut was not unstoppable. The first chinks in the armour were exposed as early as 2001, when India came back from one test down to win a home series 2-1, set up by a memorable victory at the Eden Gardens. This series showed for the first time that the almighty Aussies would also wilt in the face of resistance.
· The Aussies suffered another jolt in 2005, when an inspired English team regained the Ashes after 18 years.
· But, these occasional defeats seemed like mere blips and Australia remained the dominant force in world cricket.
· Then came the retirements of stalwarts like Shane Warne, Glen McGrath, Adam Gilchrist and Justin Langer in quick succession. The exit of these cricketing greats from the international stage hit Australia hard.
· The players who replaced them were talented, but not really match winners. For as long as it takes for these players to step into the shoes of the cricketing legends, Australia will remain in the rebuilding stage.
· Australia’s woes do not end here. There is at least one more high-profile retirement, that of Matthew Hayden, in the offing. Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey and Andrew Symonds are also not that far from walking away into the sunset.
· Suddenly, the world order in cricket is no longer as rigid as it has been for nearly two decades. Young teams, like India and South Africa, see an opportunity to topple the might Aussies and usurp their throne.
Why is Australia on its way out as a cricketing superpower?
· The Aussies relied heavily on their proven match winners. As long as players like Warne and McGrath were around, the Aussies refused to tinker with a winning line-up. This gave very limited opportunities for other players to prove their worth at the highest level.
· The Aussies were the first to come up with a rotation policy for their cricketers. But this came much too late for top-class players like Stuart MacGill and Brad Hogg, who were overshadowed by Shane Warne for most of their careers.
· Young players often found it very difficult to break into the Australian test squad. Players like Adam Gilchrist and Michael Hussey had to wait till they were 28 and 30 years respectively to make their test debuts.
· The domestic cricket structure in Australia, comprising six teams, is very strong. While this improves the quality of cricket, it also limits the database of players available for national selection.
· With the retirement of Shane Warne, Australia lost a quality spinner. Their bowling attack, with its over-dependence on pace, looks one-dimensional and is not penetrative enough. South Africa won the first two tests by 6 wickets and 9 wickets respectively, a clear indication that the current Australian bowling attack is struggling to get oppositions out.
· Of late, Australia has been losing from winning positions. Australia lost the Perth test to South Africa after it had posted a target of over 400 runs for the visitors to win. It dominated the first two days of the Boxing Day test, before allowing South Africa to get away. It appears that Australia has lost the killer instinct needed to finish teams off.
· There are also reports of rift among players in the Australian team. Captain Ricky Ponting has had to cop a lot of criticism from the media and former players. He has also had fall outs with some of his teammates after defeats.
· Other teams, like India and South Africa, have blooded in a lot of youngsters over the last few years. Both these teams now have an ideal blend of youth and experience.
It is too early to write Australia off
· Many teams undergo a period of rebuilding after their top stars retire. Australia underwent such a period in the mid-80s, but they quickly bounced back by winning the 1987 Cricket World Cup.
· To vie for the top spot, it is more important for other teams to step-up their games, rather than hope to capitalize on the fact that the Australian team is on the decline.
· Already a core of good, young players, like Michael Clarke, Mitchell Johnson and Shane Watson, is forming within the Australian team.
· None of Australia’s recent defeats have been one-sided. The team has not really lost its competitive edge.
Australia mourns end of era
South Africa on verge of becoming world's best – but don't tell India
1. Who are the main contenders for Australia’s top spot – India or South Africa?
· India has a healthy blend of youth and experience. Even in the absence of seasoned campaigners, like Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, the team did really well and won the T-20 World Cup.
· The Indian team has always had a phenomenal record at home. Their away record is also rapidly improving.
· In Sehwag and Gambhir, India has the most feared opening combination in the world. Gambhir has had an exceptional 2008.
· The middle-order is bolstered by the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, and M.S. Dhoni. If Rahul Dravid returns to his consistent best, India will have a solid middle-order.
· In M.S. Dhoni, India has an imaginative and astute captain, who has proved his leadership abilities in all forms of the game.
· Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma are being talked about as the best opening bowling combination in the world. Harbhajan Singh is a proven match-winner on home turf.
· India’s away record is improving, but it is still not as good as South Africa’s. Unlike the Africans, India has struggled to win test series’ abroad.
· The likes of Tendulkar, Dravid, and Laxman are at the fag end of their illustrious careers. Like Australia at present, India will struggle to replace these great players.
· The Indian bowling attack lacks bite. Opponents know that once the new-ball pair is seen off there will be some easy pickings to be had off the rest of the attack. This is one reason why India has struggled abroad.
· The Indians are not as sharp in the field as the South Africans.
Advantage South Africa:
· The South Africans have had one of their best runs in international cricket in 2008. Their record is a staggering 11 wins in their last 15 tests, with a 100% record at home.
· They are now the only touring team to have inflicted a series defeat on Australia in about 16 years.
· Like India, they also have a healthy blend of youth and experience.
· They are probably the sharpest fielding side in the world.
Disadvantage South Africa:
· Ever since its return to international cricket, South Africa has earned a reputation for choking. They have displayed a tendency to succumb under pressure in big-match situations.
· They lack a quality spinner. As a result, their bowling appears one-dimensional and makes it difficult for them to win in the subcontinent.
· The racial quota system in existence in South Africa has cost it talented players like Kevin Pietersen. This policy also ensures that the team representing South Africa is not necessarily made up of the eleven best players in the country.