Australian Empire crumbling but some way short of collapse

Well what a good time to start a new cricket website. We’d planned that all along. As a new star enters cricketing cyberspace, so the game sees a changing of the guard on the pitch as well. Which is pretty pleasing for a Pom as I was not really looking forward to having to continually write about Aussie domination of all forms of the game.

However I would not be too quick to write off Australia. Their loss to England in 2005 was followed by a spell of irresistible form winning 20 of their next 21 tests over 2 ½ years, including a run of 16 wins in a row. Beware a wounded wallaby.

Granted, this time it is rather different. Australia’s recent dominance was built on the happy coincidence of having some of the finest players of all time in the same team. They had the finest spinner of all time, the finest wicketkeeper batsman of all time, one of the finest seamers, several of the finest batsmen, one for the best captains (Steve Waugh) and a supporting cast who ensured that, when the champion players were resting, the opposition enjoyed no respite.

Now they have no such luxuries. Most of their leading lights have departed and the players replacing them are not of the same calibre. In the past, new men of equal quality have slipped seamlessly into the side. As the Waugh twins, Mark Taylor, Ian Healy, Greg Blewett drifted out of the team, so the likes of Damien Martyn, Matthew Hayden, Mike Hussey, Adam Gilchrist and Michael Clarke slipped seamlessly into their places and the team barely broke stride.

Yet the consistency of selection which comes with a winning team is now proving a double edged sword. As was widely expected many of the established players have come to the end of the road in quick succession. Now several inexperienced players are coming into the side together. They have a new wicketkeeper, a new opener, a new 3rd seamer, a new spinner. It is easy to bed in one new player into a winning team but four? That is a much bigger challenge.

On top of that, many of their established players have failed to step up to the mark when needed a very un-Australia-like occurence. In the top 6, Matthew Hayden, Mike Hussey and Andrew Symonds are all woefully out of form while Brett Lee is bowling worse than at any stage since he returned to the test side in 2005. Katich, Ponting, Clarke and Mitchell Johnson have been carrying the team.

It is this last point which leads me to believe that Australia will be back, and to fear that England may be on the end of the backlash. This confluence of circumstances is unlikely to be repeated and Australia have had their shortcomings amply demonstrated to them. If anyone can turn it around, they can. Hayden may be coming to the end of his shelf life but Phil Jaques and Chris Rogers are waiting in the wings. Symonds has been half fit and Shane Watson is injured. The consistent Stuart Clarke will bolster the seam attack when he returns and Brad Haddin, after an impressive start, will continue to grow into the wicketkeeper-batsman role.

By the time the Ashes starts, we will see an Australia team with some differences in terms of personnel, but also in mindset. They have some wrongs to right and we saw in the 2006-07 Ashes what happens in those circumstances. I still believe that, for all their struggles over the past months, the one area where Australia have no equal (and where England struggle) is mental strength. In a series where the teams are likely to be fairly even on ability, this could make all the difference.

That is why I believe that there is still plenty more to come from the Aussies. They certainly will not regress like the Windies did after their dominance came to an end. They do have long-term problems, namely the lack of a spinner and problems with the leadership. They will undoubtedly start to lose more often than they have been but that was inevitable at some stage and they will remain a formidable force.

India and South Africa have shaken up the world order in recent months and we could be about to embark on a thrilling period in which South Africa, India, Australia and potentially England if they can gain some consistency, vie for supremacy, driving up the standard of the world game. That is an enticing prospect for any fan of test cricket. But Australia will still be very much in the mix.

by Stuart Peel

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