Taking the game to new heights

"Well, when you play you learn to adapt. The game changes with conditions. You play more backfoot shots in Australia and in the sub-continent you need to use your feet to play the turning ball. Tough demands but exciting. That's why I love coming to India. It's a good learning guide for the future,'' says Damien Martyn. — Pic. REUTERS-

The passionate desire to succeed is what drives an Australian cricketer to raise his level. There are many factors that contribute, but nothing is more significant than the rich history of success, and, of course, the talent available, writes VIJAY LOKAPALLY.

Winning has become a habit with the Australians, in fact it has become a part of their well-planned culture. The team has quality players and plenty of reserve strength. When the seniors miss contests on account of injuries, there is depth in the reserves.

The Aussies have set new standards. They have taken the game to new heights, beyond the reach of the rest. The rest of the world can only dream of trying to emulate the deeds of the Australians, led so successfully by Steve Waugh in Tests and Ricky Ponting in the one-dayers.

"I take pride in representing Australia. It has taken me years of hard work,'' declares Matthew Hayden, the batsman the bowlers dread. His rise to the top speaks for the Australian way of developing a player. Hayden was once sidelined for not possessing the right technique and now he rules the crease with a near-flawless approach.

"It's flattering when people call me matchwinner but it feels good when the team wins. My batting has been guided by the needs of the team. It's a bit different. Maybe the experience has helped me but the improvement over the past one year or so is satisfying," says Andrew Symonds. -- Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

The passionate desire to succeed is what drives an Australian cricketer to raise his level. There are many factors that contribute, but nothing is more significant than the rich history of success, and, of course, the talent available. "We've done well because of the good cricket structure no doubt but probably 10 to 12 things go into making us a good team. The domestic cricket is a great start and then we've a lot of outstanding players. Look at our batting line up. We've four of five batsmen who figure in the top ten in the world. And then look at our bowling strength. I think it's all about winning being a habit. It's a culture thing really,'' says Ponting.

It is also about adjustments. "We look at adapting quickly. Conditions are different for all of us. It's the bounce for you in Australia and the turn for us in the sub-continent. It could be seam and swing for some. You must learn to adjust quickly and this quality is one of our strong points. We adapt quickly. To me, that's the key of succeeding at the international level,'' the Australia captain confirms.

Coach John Buchanan agrees. "You'll always need to make adjustments regarding food, travel, climate, culture, crowd. It's part of the cricket preparation these days.''

It is also about leadership. Ask Ponting and he says, "I've always been pretty excited about captaincy and have come a long way. The guys have responded well.''

Buchanan adds "we've done well because we have quality leadership. We've talented players and there's a culture of success that we try to build upon. We think about tomorrow today.''

"I knew I wouldn't get helpful tracks but it's helped me to be mentally strong when bowling in India. In Australia we learn to make the most of the conditions and it counts when you're faced with difficult playing conditions. You must bowl to take wickets and that's what I follow when I step on to the field,'' says Nathan Bracken. -- Pic. HAMISH BLAIR/GETTY IMAGES-

The Australia coach points out the presence of youngsters as one of the significant gains. "Look at (Brad) Williams, (Ian) Harvey, (Nathan) Bracken. They've always looked forwards to the challenge of replacing the big guys. Such competition is good stuff. They all have a different approach to the game but a common goal. They all have their own strong points and build upon them individually. When it becomes a collective force, it works well for the team.''

Williams is aware of his role. He puts it simply "my job is to take wickets, bowl a good line and length. Easy on paper but can be tough depending on the conditions. I've worked hard and prepared well to assume my responsibilities. I enjoy my bowling and nothing excites me more than an Australian victory. It's a great thing to play for Australia,'' says the bowler who promises to serve the team for a long period.

Bracken is a quick learner. "I knew I wouldn't get helpful tracks but it's helped me to be mentally strong when bowling in India. In Australia we learn to make the most of the conditions and it counts when you're faced with difficult playing conditions. I've always aimed at taking wickets because restrictive bowling in one-dayers makes you defensive and that's not good when you play Test cricket. You must bowl to take wickets and that's what I follow when I step on to the field.''

"My job is to take wickets, bowl a good line and length. Easy on paper but can be tough depending on the conditions. I've worked hard and prepared well to assume my responsibilities. I enjoy my bowling and nothing excites me more than an Australian victory," says Brad Williams. -- Pic. HAMISH BLAIR/GETTY IMAGES-

For Andrew Symonds, the greatest joy is to wear the baggy green, the symbol of pride he has toiled to acquire. "It's flattering when people call me matchwinner but it feels good when the team wins. My batting has been guided by the needs of the team. It's a bit different. Maybe the experience has helped me but the improvement over the past one year or so is satisfying.

"My approach towards pacing my innings has become level-headed. I've learnt that one has to bat for oneself and not worry about the pressure at all. It doesn't help if you worry about the pressure.''

Damien Martyn is another key member who has grabbed the opportunity that came his way. Like most Australians, and Hayden in particular, he loves the crowds and different cultures of places he visits. "As part of today's cricket travel, one must learn to get used to different people and cultures. We want to be there for the people and don't want to get locked away. One must learn to interact more with our fans. I like big crowds and that's why it's such a pleasure to come and play in India.'' What about adjustments on the cricket field? "Well, when you play you learn to adapt. The game changes with conditions. You play more backfoot shots in Australia and in the sub-continent you need to use your feet to play the turning ball. Tough demands but exciting. That's why I love coming to India. It's a good learning guide for the future.''

As Ponting observes, Buchanan too notes "we've a quality system which is very strong in terms of quality players. The competition is strong and discriminates between good players and otherwise. There's no escape from good competition and this I think is quite a challenging phase in the grooming of a cricketer. To do well in a strong domestic structure and come prepared for the international circuit.''

How will Buchanan identify a good cricketer? "One who's the best coach. A good cricketer has to be a good coach to understand the game and prepare himself to take quality decisions on the field.'' And his mantra to be a successful cricketer is to "enjoy the competition. Our role is to keep pushing and setting new standards.''

Ponting makes a parting shot, which reflects on the mind set of a captain. "You've to work at your plans and learn to play in all conditions. We may have an inexperienced side but I look at it as the depth test. It's a great opportunity for the likes of Williams, Bracken, Harvey. The quality players have to put their hands up and do a good job for Australia.''

Precisely what the young guns have achieved in the absence of Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Shane Warne, Brett Lee. It is for good reason that Australia dominates world cricket. It has quality players and quality reserves too.