May 19, 2003

Fatigue catches up with Steve Waugh's Australians

The West Indies may have had the last laugh but Australia won the war and ultimately that is all that matters. Steve Waugh and his side again put on a dominant display to retain the Frank Worrell trophy. Their cricket with both bat and ball was of the highest order and it was only fatigue which managed to haul them in.

Many of the cricketers have been living out of a suitcase since last October. There was the trip to Sharjah to play Pakistan, followed by a home Ashes series, followed by the World Cup, followed by the trip to the Caribbean. Seven months of straight cricket eventually catches up with you.

Without the services of Shane Warne for the series and Glenn McGrath for half of it, the Australians covered for them well, everyone doing their bit from one to eleven.

When Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer had a 200-run stand in the fourth Test, they broke the record for the amount of 200-plus run opening stands. It's amazing how this pair have rejuvenated themselves considering they had both struggled to hold their places earlier in their careers. Now they are in the record books as one of the best opening duos in the history of the game.

Ricky Ponting has struck a rare vein of form and would have loved to have played in the fourth Test to try and accomplish scoring a hundred in all four matches. His absence weakened the batting line-up considerably and had he been there, Australia may not have batted as poorly in the fourth Test as they did.

As good as Martin Love and Darren Lehmann are, they are not finding it so easy converting their first-class runs into Test ones. When Love and Lehmann are the understudies, Australia suggested they could be as successful with their second XI, but it's not so simple when the understudies are suddenly in the limelight.

Playing five bowlers was a courageous ploy by Australia and it worked. On the manufactured wickets in the West Indies, they realised that that was the way to go to collect 20 wickets, but even with the quintet they lacked variety.

You wouldn't field two of the same type of spinner so why doesn't the same hold true for the quicks? Australia would be well served by a left-arm pacer of some variety and even a medium-pacer in the Adam Dale mould.

Andy Bichel, Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee are all much of a muchness in terms of variety only differing in speed.

An interesting series for Stuart MacGill. He was the series leading wickettaker but also it's most expensive. His 20 wickets came for 679 runs.

When West Indies were chasing a world record 418, he bowled 36 overs, eight maidens, 1 for 149. Four years ago he was preferred to Warne in the corresponding match. Now it was his bad balls which were costing Australia the clean sweep.

He is not the bowler Warne is. He gets wickets from bad balls and the batsman under-estimating him. And he would have conceded more sixes then Warne has ever had. But his biggest weakness is also his biggest strength. He is a wicket taker and he does that well. The only issue is how many runs he leaks along the way before he claims them.

The 'dead rubber' syndrome is an interesting one. Australia come out and finish off a series like a hyena ravaging a carcass. When they have it in the bag, obviously their motivation and desire drops off.

What is the point of playing dead matches anyway? In golf matchplay, they don't play the dead holes. In Davis Cup, it's much of a muchness in playing out the dead rubbers. In play-off sports, when the series is over - it's over.

Matches are scheduled even though they may be dead, but when the players are suffering from cricket overload, it is expecting a tad much from them to stay focused the whole way through.

Some people who seemed to have more problems focusing were the umpires. The amount of poor decisions in this series were staggering. Clearly neutral umpires is not the easy solution the ICC were hoping it to be. Something has to be done about the standard of officiating in cricket. Basic lbw errors are being made and catches behind the wicket are also being ruled on incorrectly.

The umpires should be younger. The fact that Steve Bucknor and David Shepherd are the top umpires in world cricket in 2003 as they were in 1993 should be a concern. Bucknor is approaching 57 and Shepherd is 62. That is too old.

Unfortunately for the Australians, the series won't be remembered for the beautiful cricket they played, but their on-field misdemeanours.

The Australians played some audacious and, at times, breathless cricket and they inspired the West Indies to play way above themselves. In fact only against Australia could an opponent play such confident and free-flowing cricket and still be thumped 3-1.

Again it was proved that if you wish to defeat Australia you have to break world records. You have to play better cricket then you have ever played and play some of the best cricket your country has ever seen. Think Laxman and Dravid. Think Butcher. And now think Lawson, Sarwan, Chanderpaul and Banks.

The games were so action-packed due to the tempo which the Australians force it to. In the second Test, 1510 runs were scored and there was never the slightest chance that the match would finish in a draw.

But all that will be forgotten due to the antics of the Australian side. The puzzling thing is why the Australians feel the need to descend to that level when their cricket is so good? They don't have to. And even though they may only give as good as they get, it appears that they are the ones who can dish it out but have trouble taking it.

Players as role models of the game should take it upon themselves to solve this blight on the game. If it never starts, it can't turn ugly.