February 18, 2007

Is Parity Restored In Cricket?

February 18, 2007 Posted by Vijay No comments
Today I witnessed the virtual obliteration of a mammoth total that Australia (Aussie) posted, by a re-vitalised New Zealand (Kiwi) Team. To overhaul a total of 336 with more than an over to spare, and that too by 5 wickets can be described as nothing but obliteration. That is precisely what the Kiwis did to the Aussies in the 2nd ODI in the Chappell-Hadlee trophy in Auckland today. And for the first time in a very long time, their No.1 spot has been usurped from them by South Africa in the ICC ODI rankings. Australia, without their Big Guns are now like any other normal team in the World Scene. Or, frighteningly for the Aussies, maybe even worse than the rest.

What started as a loss to England in the Commonwealth Bank Series in Australia, has now started to take alarming proportions. Not because the Aussies have now lost 5 of their last 6 ODIs, and not even because they have now lost 4 in a row. But because of the manner in which they have lost these past 4 ODIs. Attributing all the losses to the absence of a world class all rounder like Andrew Symonds is akin to how India attributed it's chances of winning and losing to the presence or absence of Sachin Tendulkar in the 90's. India has come a long way since then, and can beat any team now without Sachin's services. And to Australia's credit, never had its team depended on one player for its performances. But, it does seem now, that the absence of Symonds from the team has had some impact.

Without Ponting, Gilchrist, Symonds, Clarke and Lee, Australia seem as vulnerable as any other team. The interesting fact though, is even with the services of Ponting, Gilchrist and Lee, they lost to a supposedly weak England team in the Tri-Series in Australia, and that too 2-0 in a possible 3 match finals. This is not something the Aussies are accustomed to. Aussies have been all along known for their fighting spirit, to win matches out of nowhere, to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. But to lose 2-0 in the finals in Australia, and then to lose convincingly to New Zealand in the Chappell-Hadlee series, must be worrisome for Cricket Australia.
The cricketing world was rebuking the England Team for their lacklustre performances in ODIs and a disastrous 5-0 loss in the Ashes series a couple of months back. But, what no one seems to notice, is the spate of injuries England has had to contend with in the past 2 years. The Ashes team which beat Australia in England was at full strength. But from then on, England lost the services of Vaughan, Harmison, Pieteresen, Simon Jones and Trescothick. The list seems endless. The have always had fitness concerns with most of their players .The team which stepped onto the field in any match was so inexperienced, it was almost unfair to blame them for the losses coming their way. Australia now, is facing the same situation. Lee, Ponting, Clarke and Symonds - all have fitness concerns ahead of the World Cup. But because of their reputation as being world beaters and their never-say-die spirit, no one discounts the Aussie team. Has that spirit suddenly disappeared?

The Aussies in the last 4 ODIs have lost by substantial margins, quite unlike what they are used to. Losses by 4 wickets (to England, Ist Final), 34 runs (D/L) (to England, 2nd Final), 10 wickets (to New Zealand, 1st Chappell-Hadlee match), and now by 5 wickets (to New Zealand, having made 336!). Is the Aussie spirit cracking, or is it just the flattening of the Cricketing World?

The World Cup now is certainly wide open. Australia now has definite trouble. Their performance in today's match was particularly appalling, especially in the field, with dropped catches and misfields. It was scratchy to say the least, and the bowlers were pretty ordinary, except maybe an aging McGrath. New Zealand took full toll of these weaknesses and romped home. The Aussies are now facing a crisis similar to the one England has been facing with their long list of injuries. But England have come out of the dumps and beaten a near full strength Aussie team, in the finals, in Australia, and that too convincingly. Can the Aussies bounce back the same way?

The Cricketing world may say, it's too early to say that it is the end of Aussie domination. But couple the losses with their substantial margins, one can certainly sense that the invincibility is fast disappearing from the Aussie team. Even if the Aussie team comes back to its full strength, their bowlers would still remain pretty ordinary, and if an inexperienced England Team can convincingly beat them, the rest of the teams would certainly back themselves big time. For me though, the way England has come back from nowhere, they certainly are the dark horses for the World Cup. Particularly with Pietersen back in their team.

There was a need for a change at the top. The time seems right, with an era of World Domination coming to an end. This had to be expected, for no one can replace a Warne or a McGrath. Australia is already finding those boots too big to fill in.