Suddenly the pendulum has swung. The Australians have been pushed off the mighty pedestal. It is not to write them off or to say they are on the descent, but they have received a jolt. More than anything they have been exposed as lacking in certain departments of the game. No team can continuously win every game and every tournament. However, for close on two decades the Aussies have produced teams of balanced strength.
What has to be of immense concern is the margin of defeat and the manner in which they were crushed. A 320 run defeat is a comprehensive loss, indicating a loss in all quarters. They were outplayed in batting, bowling, fielding and mental toughness. It does not mean they should be written off, yet it exposes fragileness in the entire outfit.
Sri Lanka can learn from what has taken place. No question, the loss of top players over the past couple of years has caused the present debacle for the Aussies. Sri Lanka is enjoying a run with a number of world class players. Mahela Jayewardene, Sanath Jayasuriya, Kumar Sangakkara, Chaminda Vaas, Muttiah Muralitharan rank amongst the best. Add some of the support players to that list, T.M. Dilshan, Dilhara Fernando, Chamara Silva. Most of these could be gone between the next two to four years. Similar to what has happened with Australia. In the last couple of years they have lost Shane Warne, Glen McGrath, Damien Martyn, Justin Langer, Adam Gilchrist and Stuart McGill. Never easy or near impossible to find replacements for such quality performers.
What every team has to remember is that while the going is good, shadow players for the top rung must always be in the fray. Sometimes near impossible. How do you find equivalents to McGrath or Warne or Muralitharan or Jayasuriya. No way can immediate replacements be unearthed. What can be done is that two or three replacements can be groomed.
Most often what happens when players play for a long period of time those knocking on the door and are a few years younger are going to miss the bus altogether. When a player in the calibre of Warne or Muralitharan occupies the spinners berth, no other player can get a look in for maybe ten, twelve or even fifteen years. Although it is expected that such players can motivate many others to take up to their trade, it could also mean that a couple of generational could miss out on attaining national honours. There is no acceptable formula or remedy that can be applied.
What administrators have to do is to ensure that a very strong domestic first level competition is in place. The Australians have done that and it has helped them to end. They have had quality players roll off the conveyor belt year in, year out. Player with the ability and the confidence can step on to the next level and succeed.
Today, more than ever before the best have to succeed in conditions in all parts of the world. The pitches in the sub continent could be classified as one. Those in Australia and South Africa another and those in England and New Zealand as the third. It has happened over the years that not all can adapt to all these various surfaces and at times specialists succeed in given conditions. Home teams always have an advantage and that means the visitors have to be more than prepared when they tour.
At present the Aussies are suffering from the lack of a genuine spinner or two bowlers who can share the work load. In hindsight it could be said that Shane Warne retired too early. He definitely had two or more years of cricket left in him when he decided to call it a day, on international cricket. Spinners have a long life span in the game and Warne could definitely have contributed much more to his test team. Unfortunately for the Australians Stuart McGill who was expected to carry the baton failed, due to lack of form and fitness and retired without notice.
In the concluded test match the batsmen in the Aussie line-up also failed to deliver. They have the names in Hayden, Katich, Ponting, Hussey, Clarke and Watson. In Mohali they could not string it together. Quite the opposite, the Indian batting which failed miserably in Sri Lanka, clicked admirably on this occasion. Again, success in familiar conditions. With two more tests remaining, this will be a huge test for Ricky Ponting and his team. How can they recover from this massive loss?!
The unexpected debut for leg spinner Amit Mishra also reveals a picture. The necessity to provide opportunity for young players. Mishra only got a break because captain Anil Kumble was injured. India and the world have discovered another spinner. That is a difficulty in a team sport. To get in when there are established players is almost impossible. To grab the chance when it is a “one off” is still difficult, but Mishra has done it.
Just as much as players have to perform, those who select have to be clever. They have to look so much ahead and plan for the future. They have to go deep into domestic cricket and unearth players who can, in the future, deliver the goods. They must ensure that every position in a team has substitutes and players of varied ages, waiting in the wings.
The Australians are going through a difficult phase, which will please the other nations. They still look good to succeed in home conditions. It also gives the opportunity for team like Sri Lanka, India and South Africa to forge forward in the test rankings. Simultaneously, it has taught all, to be constantly prepared for the future with a group of player who can perform in different conditions and also in the different formats of the game.
= Ranil Abeynaike is a former Sri Lanka cricketer and curator of SSC