How Australia Lost Their Aura

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australian-captains1It’s 3 May 1995 and thanks to a brilliant 200 by Steve Waugh, Australia have beaten the West Indies in the final test to regain the Frank Worrell Trophy, surrendered by Bobby Simpson’s team in 1977-78, and ended West Indies’ 15 years without a series defeat. From this point on Australia have enjoyed a long period of dominance to match that of the team they beat on that famous day. Until now.

Although Australia are still top of the ICC test rankings, they are fighting to repel South Africa’s bid for their number 1 ranking. Last week Andrew Strauss, not known for making bold statements about opponents during the middle of a crucial series, said that he believes facing Australia “…feels like you are playing against any other Test team.” This was similar to comments made previously by Graeme Smith and Anil Kumble.

So have we reached the end of an era? Or, is this just a temporary blip in a continued era of Australian dominance?

Certainly if we look at the test match records of the five leading countries in the ICC rankings since January 2008, coincidentally when Adam Gilchrist, the last of the holy trinity along with McGrath and Warne, retired, Australia have definitely been brought back to the pack.

Most Australians will rightly point out that the baggy greens have had a tough schedule during this time with home and away series’ against South Africa and an away series against India, as well as the current Ashes contest. Fair point, but during their era of dominance, only tours to India proved to be consistently difficult to win for Australia.

During the same press conference Strauss went further saying that “I don’t think this Australian side has got an aura about it to be honest with you and prior to this Test series starting we didn’t feel they had an aura about them.” This is hardly surprising when you consider the long list of all-time great and/or very good players who have retired in the last three years: McGrath, Warne, Gilchrist, Langer, Hayden, Martyn, Gillespie and MacGill. Any team in any sport would struggle to replace players of that calibre in such a short space of time.

Although some of the replacements for these great names have already made a mark (Haddin, Johnson and Hughes to name but three), it will take some time to achieve the consistency that can only come from experience and the familiarity of playing in a team that has grown together. Indeed, inconsistency, a loss of the ability to kill teams off and the absence of the fear factor from other sides seem to be Australia’s main problems at the moment.

The inconsistency has been clearly highlighted during the current Ashes series with both Johnson and Hughes in particular struggling to maintain the excellent starts both had made to their test careers. In addition to Johnson’s travails, the absence of a genuine test class spin option, as well as injuries to Lee and Clark have made the Aussie attack toothless at times. On the batting side, given Hussey’s continued search for form, only Ponting and Clarke can be called genuinely world class at the moment.

The loss of the killer instinct is just as stark. In the Australian summer, South Africa chased 414 to win in Perth, recovered from 184/7 to post 459 in the 1st innings during their win in Melbourne, and then nearly survived in Sydney. All that added up to Australia’s first series loss at home in 15 years. The incredible survival by England at Cardiff is yet another example of Australia lacking teeth. Can anyone imagine a team with McGrath and Warne throwing away those winning positions in Perth, Melbourne and Cardiff?

As Strauss also said, the fear factor associated with playing Australia has gone, with teams no longer fearing a dramatic fightback when they’ve got the Aussies under the cosh. “We certainly felt that in 2006-07. Even when we had good days, we were thinking what is going to happen now. Is Gilchrist going to blast a hundred or Warne take five wickets from nowhere?” Who is going to take that quick five for now?

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Undoubtedly Australia are still a good side and they will always have that streak of competitiveness that runs through any team wearing the baggy green. They proved this by bouncing back against Graeme Smith’s side in the return series in South Africa, where not many sides win. Any team that can count Ponting, Clarke, Haddin, Lee and an in-form Johnson in its ranks is a dangerous side, and Strauss would be ill advised to think that winning back the little urn this summer is inevitable. However, whilst they will continue to be one of the top sides, the days of the all-conquering Australia are over, for now.

As such, cricket lovers can look forward to more evenly matched series’ such as the current Ashes battle and the recent contests between Australia and South Africa. Roll them on!


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