Monday, 7 January 2008

Saluting the Australian machine

The tumultous fall-out to Australia's remarkable victory over India has rather overshadowed their equalling of the Test record 16 wins. Over eight years after the first run began, Australia continue to be imperious and awesome. Their aggressive self-belief is simply phenomenal. Every professional cricketer possesses this, of course, but collectively Australia's is perhaps unsurpassed in cricketing history. And, as the Sydney Test proved, sometimes even the umpires are unable to stand in the way of the juggernaut.

The big test for Australia remains how they will deal with the long-term loss of Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, two of the five or so greatest bowlers in their history. However, Brett Lee has stepped up to the plate with remarkable - and inevitable - good timing and swiftly seems to be becoming the consummate fast bowler, having already claimed 29 scalps in the four games of this Australia summer. Stuart Clark, meanwhile, has fitted seamlessly into McGrath's void; unerringly consistent, he averages just 20. So, far from having a weak bowling attack, Australia clearly have two of the best seamers in the world. Hope for the rest of the world centres on the indifferent performances of Mitchell Johnson and Brad Hogg against India. If Lee were to get injured, then cracks would start to appear in the bowling line-up. Yet somehow, someone always comes to the fore, as illustrated by the six wickets shared by Andrew Symonds and Michael Clarke in the SCG win.

With the bat, Australia are even more exceptional. While their bowling prowess is likely to wane, they remain, and promise to remain, one of the finest-ever batting units. Additionally, the likes of David Hussey and Simon Katich, both of whom have consistently figured in the highest echelons of the first-class averages in England, are waiting eagerly for a chance, and would be permanent fixtures in many sides by now.

Aided by good batting tracks, short boundaries and less-than-awesome opening bowlers throughout the world, Australia amass scores of 450 with supreme regularity. Matthew Hayden's bludgeoning bat continues to pulverise opponents - and Phil Jaques looks like his heir apparent. Below the openers, Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey (despite having just played 20 Tests) will almost certainly end their careers as all-time greats, while Clarke and, increasingly, Symonds, are exceptional talents also. What stands out in the batting unit is the incredible hunger for runs, epitomised by Ponting's anguished reaction to being dismissed for 196 in the Brisbane Test against England in 2006. Doing just enough is never enough. The aim is to grind the opposition into the dust, eliminating even the possibility of victory and relenting only when their spirits are spent. England's batsmen, with their penchant for stylish half-centuries, should be watchng in awe.

John Buchanan once remarked that he believed the Australian side could, one day, be genuinely ambidextrous. While that remains one of Buchanan's more curious observations, Australia have pioneered a form of 'total cricket'. Besides Jaques, there are no weak links in the field; their fielding unit is supreme, with players able to field anywhere with distinction. They have no need to play five bowlers when Clarke and Symonds, seemingly relatively innocuous, are able to prove match-winners through sheer force of will, and the intoxicating pressure the side can exert. And the days of tolerating a rabbit at eleven are long since over, such is the side's constant desire for self-improvement. In any other side McGrath's batting would have been allowed to descend into a source of hilarity; instead, he worked indefatigably on being able to hold up an end. The upshot? A once unthinkable Test fifty.

Behind it all lurks Ponting. Villified after the 2005 Ashes, his captaincy skills are now beyond doubt. The side's aggression, win-at-all-costs mentality and downright determination to maximise every ounce of talent also mirror his traits. Australia's supremacy in skill, and personnel, is unquestionable. Yet what sets that apart from the rest, above all, is their collective belief and constant striving for self-improvement. It is a force that transcends mere individuals; as such, their dominance looks sure to last for several years yet.

1 comment:

Chrispy said...

The aussies also seem to get their fair share of luck and their over hostile attitude at times undoubtedly benefits their game. The question of when enough is enough is difficult to answer though. If you antagonise an opponent and cage him in, acting with aggression and nastiness, then he is going to lash out. It doesn't make what Singh did right, but it is slightly contradictory to pull up Singh for one comment compared to the hostility he was subjected to whilst batting.

The aussies are formidable, but a line needs to be drawn and I think it has become a little too blurred recently.