Australia v South Africa, 1st Test, Perth, 5th day December 21, 2008

Australia's aura fades away


The attack that was once the most threatening in the world is now no more than moderate © PA Photos

The full extent of Australia's decline over the past year has been hard to gauge until now. Wins against weak opponents have masked the problems but a demoralising series-opening loss to South Africa in Perth has brought them crashing down to earth, so much so that Ricky Ponting doesn't know if his batsmen or his bowlers are the bigger concern. It is a most unpleasant position to be in.

In the lead-up to the series there were hints that Australia felt vulnerable. Ponting and Tim Nielsen tried to pile the pressure on South Africa by raising their poor past history against Australia. It wasn't on the level of pre-series bluster that Graeme Smith had launched in 2005-06 but it brought back some of those memories. Smith later admitted he was trying to deflect attention away from his own developing side and, with such an evolving Australia line-up, it looked like Australia had hatched a similar plan this season.

It didn't work then and it hasn't worked now. The fact is that Australia are not the side they were and their No. 1 ranking is more a legacy of their past dominance than a reflection of their current situation. They beat New Zealand and West Indies this year but those are frail teams and they are currently trying to bore each other into submission in Napier. A 2-0 loss in India was more revealing, as was Australia's narrow escape at home against India last summer.

The attack that was once the most threatening in the world is now no more than moderate. Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath have been replaced by a succession of bowlers, who have gone through the selection revolving door. Currently Jason Krejza and Peter Siddle are being given opportunities and as much as Ponting has insisted the men are up to Test standard, it is unrealistic to expect a pair with a combined 39 first-class matches' experience to be matchwinners.

Neither of them took a wicket in the second innings at the WACA, when Australia could not defend 414. Siddle alternated between bowling too short and too full and South Africa rarely looked worried by him. Krejza was never going to replicate his 12 wickets on debut in Nagpur and while he bowled some potentially wicket-taking balls with bounce and turn, he also sent down some of the longest hops since Qantas started its kangaroo route from Sydney to London. It was a joint effort that has forced Ponting to reassess his opinion of them.

"They're kids really that haven't got a real solid foundation if you like of first-class cricket under their belts," Ponting said. "So maybe my expectation on those couple has to go down a little bit. But they're out there playing for Australia and I expect them to be able to do a job."

Ponting readily conceded that Mitchell Johnson was the only man who really looked like getting wickets. He picked up 11 for the match but it wasn't nearly enough. Brett Lee did not bowl badly as such but one strike for the game was an underwhelming result from the man who is supposed to lead the attack.

"His pace and swing probably weren't there this game but he actually bowled pretty good areas and kept things as tight as or probably tighter than anyone else in our side right through the game," Ponting said. "But saying that, that's probably not his role in our team either and we expect him to have some impact with the new ball and that wasn't there in this game."

There are also concerns over the batting. Matthew Hayden's future is unclear after another failure, Michael Hussey is not in danger but needs to regain his form and Ponting's own contributions are becoming less reliable. Several Australian batsmen threw their wickets away with streaky shots in Perth, including Andrew Symonds and Michael Clarke in both innings, and it was a trend that left Ponting fuming.

They are problems Australia need to solve quickly. Following a return-tour of South Africa, Australia head to England to defend the Ashes. Ponting has lost the urn once and it would be an irredeemable stain on his legacy if he handed it over again. The immediate job is to come back from 1-0 down to win a three-Test series. It is something Australia have never achieved in 130 years of Test cricket. For a team whose aura is fading by the day, it might just be too great a task.

Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ARUN on December 24, 2008, 12:20 GMT

    1st Test was a Thriller. I really enjoyed the Test match. It was a seesaw battle. But in the end It was too easy for Proteas who won by 6 wickets. They could have chase 500 or more runs on that pitch. That gives the good idea of the pitch and how well Proteas Bowlers had performed in this match. It is very good to see all the Bowlers are among the wickets Unlike Australia only Mitchell Johnson has performed well. If this thing continues surely Australia will really struggle to match with Proteas because Proteas can only concentrate on Johnson's Bowling and they can dominate the other Bowlers. Australia's Top Order failed on both the Innings and It will also cause a major trouble to Aussies. Proteas bowled well fielded well and batted well and they deserve this victory. And If they win the series against Australia at Australia they thoroughly deserves to be world No-1. I rate this victory as the Best Victory since their Readmission.

  • babai on December 23, 2008, 16:26 GMT

    Well for last 2 decades Aussies r the bench mark.. I hope they ll b back soon.. just give them some times.. I think their bowling is the worry at the moment...

  • Vibhas on December 22, 2008, 22:00 GMT

    Australia is still reeling from these defeats, as players do, teams do, because that's what teams are, a group of players. If you people cannot accept that Australia is currently out of form, and keep on telling us that India and South Africa are the top teams, well, you need to think a lot more. Australia are still THE top team, if they lose a few matches well, it's pretty easy to forget the wins they achieved only 1-2 years ago. Okay, they lost the best wk batsman, best spinner, and best paceman, lee is out of form, they struggle to find a quality spinner, but they are in a very important phase. If they keep their head down, they will slide down to no.3, over the next 2 years. However, if they keep their heads up, make some changes they will resume being utterly feared, where a win over them will be just like winning the ashes, even though you still lose the series.

  • Mark on December 22, 2008, 20:51 GMT

    The South African trend I think re-inforces a recent trend in world cricket that will continue for a long time to come. In view of the decline of Aus as the no 1.In future we will not see an all powerful team sweep all before it all over the world with awesome players who can win matches from any position. No those days are gone.The days when the West Indies being number one in world cricket during the whole of 1970s and 80s. And Australia being Number one in world cricket during the whole of 1990s and 2000s. With players like Warne, McGrath, Waugh and Gilchrist et al. They totally owned cricket in the 1990s and early 2000s. The days of total domination of one team for an extremely long time are over. What we will see in the future is teams like India, England, South Africa, WI and Sri Lanka hit number one and hold on for one or two years before declining markedly. Allowing other teams to take topspot no team can dominate for like a decade in Number one. Like WI and Aus in the past.

  • Sharad on December 22, 2008, 16:15 GMT

    It clearly is beyond every cricket lover's comprehension why Nathan Bracken is out of the Test team. To me personally, Stuey Clark is more an ODI bowler than Nathan - who is more a wicket taking bowler than a maiden-overs machine. So if Clark deserves to be in the team, Nathan deserves it even more. Taking nothing away from Mitch, this is partly why he got those 8 wkts in the 1st inning.

    The thing that puzzles me further is let alone the nonsense Chappell & co, even the aussie media doesn't put forth his case. Ridiculous. What else are the likes of M. Waugh and S.MacGill paid on television for anyway?

  • SRINI on December 22, 2008, 15:09 GMT

    Australia is still a strong side buy definitely on the downhill. Not for nothing do you call Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath 'great'. When such great bowlers retire together, along with another great Adam Gilchrist they are bound to leave a huge hole behind that cannot be filled by new talent like Mitchell Johnson overnight and consistently. It is sad to see a great side decline but then the wheel of fortune turns. It is time for India and South Africa to fight it out for the top spot in the next 4 to 5 years to come with England lurking as a dark horse.

  • Rajaram on December 22, 2008, 12:24 GMT

    How come all of you guys who are dancing to the Australian defeat,and you reporters,did not think it was doomsday when Steve Waugh's Team could not defend 417 against the West Indies? So quick to blame the current Aussie Team? Swallow your words,soon,mate.

  • Mahmood on December 22, 2008, 11:35 GMT

    Australians are on the decline. this series will dispel if there is any doubts in any bodies mind.

  • Mradul on December 22, 2008, 10:54 GMT

    I guess you have placed it right 'klempie'. All doubts have been answered well. Though i am an Indian but i sure feel that SA are currently the Best Team followed by India and Aus. I know people still cant believe that India has been doing better than Aussies since last 1-2 years. Those who didn't realize should know that India has beaten England in England (Actually English haven't beaten us in a series since 1996), WI in WI, Won matches against SA, Sri, Aus & Pak on their Home grounds. Look at the records from last 6 years (Statsguru- 2003-08) and you can see that Only Aussies have a better overseas record than India. But kudos to SA for a great performance... They have a Superb leader in Smith and a very strong team indeed.... best of Luck to both teams for the remaining matches.

  • Tony on December 22, 2008, 9:47 GMT

    Are Australia's bowlers really that bad. Mitch was the only bowler from both sides to live up to the hype. In reality SA has the same lack of potency as the Aussies, when you consider that at least 15 Aussie wickets were lost through stupid shots. I believe the Aussies issues are with their premeditated need to dominated no matter what. They got a cricket lesson yesterday, that sometimes it's better to score 414 singles and win rather that hit 20 boundaries and get bowled out for 150.

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