The fall of Australia
From Ashok Sridharan, India
Blasphemous as it may sound, I'll stick my neck out and say that the current Australian side is not a great side, it is merely a good side with a few great individuals. For all the talk of their complete dominance and being head and shoulders above their opponents, the simple fact is that their dominance has been on the wane, especially post Warne-McGrath.
There's no doubt that Australia's complete dominance in the late 90s and the early noughties would have never been possible but for them. The only time in recent years that the two were missing (Against India in 2003-04), the Australians had to fight tooth and nail to avoid being beaten by an Indian attack that was little stronger than a club attack (missing two key bowlers in Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh by the way).
Coming to more recent times, Australia beat India 2-1 at home last season in a series that could well have gone the other way but for some appalling umpiring at Sydney. That they were beaten at Perth - the Australian equivalent to Barbados for the West Indies in the 80s - by a team from the Subcontinent with an attack peopled largely by rookie fast bowlers (Pathan, Sharma and RP Singh, whose combined age was 64 years) shows just how far their powers are on the wane. Their recent outing in the Caribbean too would have been a lot closer but for Brett Lee, whose 18 wickets at 23.7 was the difference between the sides. That they should have been stretched by a West Indies side rated only better than Bangladesh by itself speaks volumes about their decline.
While Australia have commendably managed to remain perched on top of the Test table despite the exodus of several key players in recent times, its hard not to get the feeling that they are ripe for the plucking. Their decline may not be as marked as that of the West Indies in the 90s and beyond, but there's no doubt that the age when Australia just walked over any opponent is now over. India came close to pulling that off last season and it remains to be seen whether India, South Africa and England (in chronological order) can expose the cracks that outstanding individual performances have papered over.
Brett Lee, who turns 32 this November is unlikely to be able to go on at the same rate beyond another season or two at the very most. Of the younger lot, Tait has so far been injury prone and Mitchell Johnson, touted as a once-in-a-generation bowler, is yet to establish himself in the team. There appears no seriously talented spin bowler anywhere in the horizon. Michael Clarke apart, none of the other young batsmen have so far made a serious case for themselves at the highest level. Hayden will be 37 and Ponting will be 34 later this year. Players like Hussey, Stuart Clark and Brad Hodge, all in their mid 30s might be more than useful, but are not going to help the future and are unlikely to be around too much longer.
For sure, all or at any rate nearly all the above-mentioned players are not going to be around another 3-4 years down the line. Only time will tell whether Australia's rise to the summit was due to the much vaunted Australian system or whether it was simply due to the coincidental appearance of several supremely gifted players in the same generation.