Programmed to win

One of the reasons for Australia doing well consistently is the leadership. Steve Waugh in the Tests and Ponting in limited overs cricket command total respect from the team. And they lead by example, writes VIJAY LOKAPALLY.

ANOTHER night. Another final. The glare of the floodlights focussed on the gladiators engaged in the middle, the arena one grand spectacle, the game fierce and engaging. The intensity of the players was obviously raising the level of the game with some of the best names in the business competing to wear the champions' crown. Well, at the end of it, there was just one winner — Australia. Quite a predictable finish to the TVS tri-series, which Ricky Ponting and his men had dominated right through, as if winning was their privilege.

The Australian team, after winning the TVS Tri-Series. -- Pic.V.V. KRISHNAN-

"Oh, it was expected," said one of the fans at the Eden Gardens as Ponting's team formed a winning huddle on the pitch. An Australian victory in a final was taken for granted. True, it was expected, but it would be improper to dismiss the achievement so casually. Great teams perform on the great stage and the Australians have played some great cricket to attain the current stature that sets the team apart.

What is it that makes Australia such a formidable outfit? Well, many factors contribute, but nothing is more prominent than the desire to win. "Winning is a habit,'' Ponting often remarks, but then this is a trait cultivated through meticulous planning, and of course the inherent talent that is best recognised by the player himself.

It is again easy to say that the Australians draw motivation from their extraordinary mental strength. Again, this strength is a quality developed through vision and it is not possible to attain this overnight. So, it is the system which needs to be understood.

The Australians have a strong belief in themselves that they can dominate. The aggressive streak comes from their attitude to life where nothing comes on a platter. The stiff competition creates awesome challenges for any budding sportsman in Australia and as he progresses through the system he learns the most important thing about sport — winning.

The difference between Australia and the rest of the cricketing world is huge. Not good for the game, some say. But as coach John Buchanan says, there is also merit in Australia setting high standards for every one to meet. The emphasis on quality is the most striking feature of the grooming process of an Australian cricketer. For any youngster to make an impact on the selectors in Australia, the prime ask would be consistency. More than talent, what counts is consistency and the Australians are not known to make any compromises on any front.

The careers of Michael Slater, Michael Bevan and Matthew Hayden should throw some light on the Australian way of picking the men from the boys. Slater, who batted with aggression in the Tests, was not considered for the one-dayers despite the ability to score briskly. Bevan was said to have a weakness against the short ball and was restricted to playing limited overs cricket. Hayden too was out of favour for sometime since he could not tackle the moving ball. With such talent to pick and choose from, it becomes a hard task for the Australians to select the best without letting those left out feeling dejected.

The Australians are cock-a-hoop after Ian Harvey (being lifted by Andrew Symonds) has claimed the last Indian wicket in the TVS Tri-series final in Kolkata. — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

"We don't just concentrate on the first 14. We look at the replacements, too,'' says Buchanan. The replacements earn their places through hard work and consistency over a period of time. Ask Andrew Symonds who opted to play for Australia and did not mind waiting for his chance. And when the chance came Symonds was ready to grab it.

The Australians came to India with a depleted attack. Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee were nursing injuries and Shane Warne was serving a dope-related ban. But at no stage did Ponting lament the loss of the seniors. "We're here to win and it doesn't matter if we've a few inexperienced guys in the side,'' he had declared on arrival.

Look at how the Aussies responded to Ponting's call. The likes of Brad Williams, Nathan Bracken, Ian Harvey and Michael Clarke return home with some fond memories of India. The Australian bench strength was best judged by Ponting who had the confidence to experiment and plan for the future as his team crushed the opposition in the tri-series.

The Australians know how to win and how to enjoy the game. Ponting was quick to remind his mates that the World Cup triumph was history and that the expectations were greater, despite the strength of the team being affected by the absence of some players.

In fact, one of the reasons for Australia doing well consistently is the leadership. Steve Waugh in the Tests and Ponting in limited overs cricket command total respect from the team. And they lead by example. Their faith in their colleagues stems from their own experience in the formative years.

The Australians are also very sound students of the game. Each member who travelled to India was aware of the playing conditions and the character of the people he was expected to encounter. The acclimatisation process, too, was fast and it helped because the Australians looked the most comfortable in all conditions.

The Australian grooming system also involves a player's individual understanding of situations. Ponting made a significant revelation when he said, "we don't prepare ourselves for situations. We chart our strategies when we encounter situations. It helps to build up the team's overall attitude.'' The Indians, in comparison, have been adopting all kinds of measures but the team has not identified the weak areas and the methods to conquer them.

In the Australian team, the ability to learn and improve counts as much as talent. Effort is made not to tamper with originality and the individuals know they would get a proper stage to showcase their potential. In Australia, a youngster is given a fair trial before judgement is passed regarding his utility to the team. In comparison, the selection policy in India hardly gives a player time to settle down.

Australia has gained immensely by its policy to give the players the breaks at the right time, even if it means restricting the great Steve Waugh to just Test-match cricket. The recent tri-series provided ample opportunities to the younger lot to try and cement their places with the emphasis always on matchwinning performances. It would be worthwhile to share an anecdote here. Ponting was a worried man in one of the matches with Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid going strong. Sensing his captain's predicament, the young Michael Clarke offered to take the responsibility. The left-arm spinner then removed the two obstacles to demonstrate his self-belief. And, of course, the confidence that marks an Australian cricketer.

The tri-series has once again focussed on the strong character of Australian cricket. The convincing fashion in which Australia conquered India and New Zealand only reconfirms the faith in a hard, but productive cricket structure. A number of factors go into preparing an Australian cricketer and the team fortifies that impression with sterling performances.

The next time Australia records a win, let it remembered that it is the result of a well-crafted and immaculately-executed plan that involves the young and the experienced, with the mission being to win. It is a habit in Australian cricket.