The way to go for Australia

After its recent series win in Sri Lanka, Australia is ranked number four in Test cricket. The coming series against South Africa and India should provide the platform for Australia to take a realistic stock of its strength, writes Vijay Lokapally.

The Australian Way is a priceless document, prepared by the coaching committee of the Australian cricket board after consulting some former captains. It reflects the mindset of a typical Australian cricketer and emphasises the significance of performance as the way forward. In the segment, ‘Captaincy in Cricket,' there is a portion: “‘Heads,' he called, and up went the coin. The mandatory toss to determine the choice of innings, and possibly the outcome of the game places everything in the hands of lady luck. Fortunately, however, not all decisions made by the captain rely on luck. He will have a great deal of data at his disposal to assist his judgement. The role of the captain in sport varies according to the game being played.”

In the modern era, Australian cricket has boasted of great leaders. Allan Border, Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting led by example and set new benchmarks. They had a legacy to live up to in Don Bradman, Richie Benaud, Ian Chappell and Greg Chappell, not to forget the maverick Kim Hughes, claimed as worth watching before he quit the scene in tears.

Michael Clarke, the present captain, is saddled with the immense responsibility of arresting the decline of a team that ruled world cricket. Suffering a thrashing in the Ashes and then losing the World Cup after winning it thrice in a row has put pressure on Australian cricket. The onus clearly lies on Clarke to restore the pride and dignity that marked Australia's dominance of world cricket in Tests and one-dayers.

The recent Test triumph in Sri Lanka is an indication of Australia having identified its course of action. Shane Watson summed it up bravely when he slammed Cricket Australia for creating “panic” as Australia prepared for the 2010-11 Ashes. Ponting and his men were soundly beaten and the 1-3 defeat at home did not go down well with the critics and fans. It was Australia's first series loss to England at home since 1986-87. “I felt there was a growing sense of panic all over the place, which, to be honest, wasn't helped by Cricket Australia,” Watson wrote in his recently-released book, ‘Watto.'

The Ashes loss took its toll and as the team plummeted to alarming depths, a major overhaul left Australia with a set of new guides. The rebuilding motion was set in process with the formation of The Argus Review, which included former Test captains Waugh, Taylor and Border.

Following the report given by the Argus Review, which took seven months to be completed, chief selector Andrew Hilditch lost his job; so did Greg Chappell as selector and coach Tim Nielsen. The remedy to reconstruct Australian cricket was identified in quick time with Clarke at the helm. The Argus Review has also asked for more importance to be given to domestic cricket.

A good measure of the famous Aussie grit is evident in Clarke. His decision to skip the Indian Premier League (IPL) was indicative of his commitment to the responsibility given to him. That he has been invested with more powers in selection matters speaks of the confidence that the administration has in this wonderful cricketer.

The 30-year-old Clarke set a glowing example with his 15th Test century at Colombo, an innings that enabled Australia to draw the contest and win the three-match series 1-0. Credit is also due to Clarke for motivating an inexperienced side where off-spinner Nathan Lyon made a memorable debut with a five-wicket haul.

Fast bowler Ryan Harris too impressed, while Trent Copeland showed promise with the new ball.

Australia's batting looked sound throughout the series. Shaun Marsh's 141 on Test debut should help the left-hander establish a place in the team now. The left-handed Phil Hughes, with his third Test century, promises to be a batsman for the future and a gifted cricketer like Usman Khawaja is waiting in the wings.

Mike Hussey, at 37, continues to serve the team with distinction and remains the key to its success too. Rated high by Ian Chappell, the gutsy Hussey proved why he is termed the eternal solution for all critical situations. “Hussey can survive and then prosper in alien conditions. He is a complete batsman,” wrote Chappell.

On a minefield at Galle in the first Test, Hussey produced an astonishing 95. It was the base for him to launch one of the most eventful series of his career. His aggregate of 463 runs in five innings at an average of 92.60 was just the performance expected of Hussey. Two centuries and two half centuries got him the ‘Man of the Series' honours.

The team's determination to erase the dark moments of the last season was an encouraging sign because Sri Lanka has proved almost unbeatable at home. Australia's transition period continues, but it will take some time before it can find replacements for the likes of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden.

But Clarke remains eternally optimistic. “We've got a lot of tough cricket. We've got to be ready for that as well. This is a great start. I heard that we're now ranked four in Test cricket, which is fantastic and I'm really happy with that. But it's a long journey.”

Indeed, it is a long journey and tough one too for Clarke and his team. The coming series against South Africa and India should provide the platform for Australia to take a realistic stock of its strength.