Glory days are back

The recent Test series victory in South Africa and the overwhelming Ashes triumph at home earlier have established Australia as the team to watch, the team to beat, the team to emulate, writes Vijay Lokapally.

Tough. Competitive. Inspiring. Well, Australian cricket can be quite intriguing; in decline and on the rise in the same season. Losing the Ashes 0-3 in England but reclaiming it 5-0 at home and then taming South Africa 2-1. Mere statistics it may seem but the results reflect the story of a team that can hit back from the brink. Cricket can never be mundane if one of the teams involved happens to be Australia.

History points to an Australian resilience that has come to dominate the game’s character from the time the Ashes commenced in 1882-83. True, England won the first eight series but down the line the teams came to indulge in some fierce duels. It is this ferocity that marks Australia’s cricket in the international arena where it is known to set benchmarks.

The recent Test series victory in South Africa and the overwhelming Ashes triumph at home earlier have established Australia as the team to watch, the team to beat, the team to emulate. India plays best at home. Australia plays best at home too but it is now beginning to prove its potential to excel overseas even in the most inimical conditions.

To beat South Africa in the latter’s den can be the most fascinating dream for any captain. For Michael Clarke, it must have been doubly joyful, for it came on the strength of his personal contribution in the decider at Newlands in the company of David Warner, who hit a century in each innings. It is this grit that Warner brings to the crease that sets Australian cricket apart. Warner, a terrific talent but equally prone to acts of indiscipline, is one of the key figures in Australia once again emerging a team of awesome strength.

Clarke’s captaincy and his ability to get the best out of individuals were the binding factors in the Ashes and the subsequent challenge in South Africa. A great sporting nation, Australia has often set the trend of aggressive cricket, a quality that South Africa had come to adapt. But the defeat at Newlands must hurt South Africa. It must also boost the Australian image, especially the thrilling circumstances in which the feat was achieved.

Ryan Harris has a tale to share with his grandchildren. He may have only got rid of two tail-enders in the most exciting phase but he had also snared two top run-getters to set up Australia’s most influential victories in a long time. Harris won the Test and Australia the series. Here was a contest that reflected the glory of Test cricket.

What makes Australia the team that it is? What makes it the team to beat in world cricket? What makes the team tick? The remarkable victory in South Africa has raised the team’s stock no doubt and silenced many critics who had reservations about Australia’s position in world cricket. Talent and determination surely played a huge part but it was self-pride that dictated Australia’s course in the series against South Africa, not to forget the Ashes.

The Aussies, bred on hard and demanding pitches, have always played for pride. Nothing hurts the team more than a defeat. It impacts other teams too, but Australia is known to analyse and come back to stake its claims. The desire to dominate and improve is what makes Australia a different team. With leaders like Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting and Clarke, the Australian team has always found the right men to show the way. This, many believe, is the decisive factor.

Australia has always been blessed with captains who have led by example. Some of the best students of the game have been Australian skippers, beginning from the astute Don Bradman to the innovative ones like the Chappell brothers, Ian and Greg. A veteran like Bob Simpson came out of retirement to lead a mediocre team to a 3-2 series win against India at home in 1978. Allan Border led an average team to the World Cup title in 1987. Mark Taylor brought immense dignity to the job. It all emanated from the self-pride that the Aussies associate themselves with when taking the field at home or overseas.

Today, with the Ashes win, and the triumph in South Africa, it is Australia that has emerged the most compact side in world cricket. There are a few shortcomings but the galvanising factor for the team is the fierce wish to dominate. Sometimes the team may cross the line in terms of sledging and gamesmanship but then the Australians are among the first to acknowledge the opposition and lavish praise too.

With the best infrastructure in place, Australian cricket is an example for the others to follow. Look at the number of Australian presence in the support staff the world over. It is the Australian way that is at work in most systems, notably in the sub-continent. Most young coaches and players look to imbibe the Australian way of training and grooming. They rarely regret because it is a system that prepares you to play aggressively and play to win.

It is thus in the interest of world cricket that Australia, led by an able captain, has come to realise the winning ways. It will lead to intense competition in international cricket and also ensure that quality remains the deciding feature of assessment.

THE SCORES

Third Test, Cape Town, March 1-5, 2014. Australia won by 245 runs.

Australia — 1st innings: C. Rogers c Smith b Steyn 25; D. Warner c de Villiers b Duminy 135; A. Doolan c Steyn b Philander 20; M. Clarke (not out) 161; S. Smith b Elgar 84; S. Watson c Amla b Duminy 40; B. Haddin c Amla b Duminy 13; M. Johnson c de Villiers b Duminy 0; R. Harris (not out) 4; Extras (w-6, nb-6) 12.Total (for seven wkts., decl.) 494.

Fall of wickets: 1-65, 2-138, 3-217, 4-401, 5-456, 6-489, 7-489.

South Africa bowling: Steyn 10.1-0-44-1; Philander 26.4-2-116-1; Morkel 23.5-2-94-0; Duminy 17-0-73-4; Abbott 28-11-68-0; Elgar 22-0-99-1.

South Africa — 1st innings: G. Smith c Haddin b Harris 5; A. Petersen c Haddin b Johnson 53; D. Elgar c Haddin b Pattinson 11; H. Amla b Harris 38; A. B. de Villiers c Clarke b Johnson 14; F. du Plessis c Warner b Johnson 67; J. P. Duminy c Haddin b Harris 4; V. Philander (not out) 37; K. Abbott b Watson 3; D. Steyn c Watson b Johnson 28; M. Morkel c Watson b Pattinson 7; Extras (b-8, lb-3, w-6, nb-3) 20. Total: 287.

Fall of wickets: 1-7, 2-42, 3-95, 4-121, 5-133, 6-146, 7-241, 8-249, 9-279.

Australia bowling: Harris 22-9-63-3; Johnson 19-5-42-4; Pattinson 18.5-4-77-2; Watson 9-1-34-1; Lyon 12-1-53-0; Smith 2-0-7-0.

Australia — 2nd innings: C. Rogers (run out) 39; D. Warner c de Villiers b Abbott 145; A. Doolan c Abbott b Morkel 37; S. Watson c Duminy b Abbott 25; M. Clarke c sub (de Kock) b Abbott 0; S. Smith (not out) 36; B. Haddin (not out) 3; Extras (b-3, lb-12, nb-3) 18. Total (for five wkts., decl.) 303.

Fall of wickets: 1-123, 2-188, 3-245, 4-257, 5-290.

South Africa bowling: Morkel 13-1-67-1; Abbott 14-2-61-3; Philander 6-0-42-0; Duminy 19-3-76-0; Steyn 3-1-24-0; Elgar 3-0-18-0.

South Africa — 2nd innings: A. Petersen lbw b Harris 9; G. Smith c Doolan b Johnson 3; D. Elgar b Johnson 0; H. Amla lbw b Pattinson 41; A. B. de Villiers c Haddin b Harris 43; K. Abbott b Pattinson 7; F. du Plessis lbw b Smith 47; J. P. Duminy c Lyon b Johnson 43; V. Philander (not out) 51; D. Steyn b Harris 1; M. Morkel b Harris 0; Extras (b-8, lb-5, w-2, nb-5) 20. Total: 265.

Fall of wickets: 1-12, 2-12, 3-15, 4-68, 5-95, 6-136, 7-173, 8-246, 9-265.

Australia bowling: Harris 24.3-15-32-4; Johnson 34-11-92-3; Pattinson 27-10-62-2; Lyon 22-17-10-0; Watson 9-6-6-0; Smith 13-3-43-1; Clarke 5-2-7-0.