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How to catch up with Australia
May 22, 2007
Sanjay Manjrekar analyses the gulf between Australia and the rest with Ian Chappell and Tony Greig
 
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Hi, I'm Sanjay Manjrekar, welcome to the Cricinfo Roundtable, the place where we discuss all that matters in the world of cricket.



Ian Chappell: The gulf is pretty big between Australia and their opponents and it's about time the other teams got off their backsides. © AFP

Another World Cup and once again it's Australia who emerged triumphant. At the start of the tournament, this World Cup was touted as the most 'open' ever in recent editions, keeping in mind the form dip that the Australians had before the start. But once the tournament started, there was no holding them back. This brings us to an important question. Can the Australian juggernaut ever be stopped? Where do the other countries stand in relation to them? What can they do to emulate the Australian success story or even threaten them?

To answer these and more I have with me Ian Chappell, the former captain of Australia and Tony Greig, the former England captain.

Looking at the recently concluded World Cup, Australia seem to have taken there game even further. Is the gulf between them and the rest of the world really big? Ian, if you can answer that first and then Tony.

Ian Chappell: I dispute the fact that Australia have taken their game to another level. You can't tell me that Glenn McGrath is a better bowler now than he was in 1999 and in '99 Australia still had Shane Warne. I have trouble believing that Australia have gone to another level, I think it's the other teams that have gone to another level and sadly it's down; and that I think is a major problem with world cricket. I find it ludicrous that Australia haven't been defeated in 29 games in the World Cup so far and that Ricky Ponting has captained 22 World Cup games and hasn't lost a match. I think that it's ridiculous and is a indictment on the other teams. The gulf is pretty big between Australia and their opponents and it's about time the other teams got off their backsides.

SM: Tony, do you agree with that? As Ian said it's the rest of the world that is struggling - Australia aren't climbing to greater heights, it's the other countries who are falling down.

Tony Greig: I think that is partly correct. I do believe that there are some aspects of the Australian game that have improved a bit. I think they are a bit more athletic in the field. Looking at the two teams [the Australian team in the World Cup in 2003 and 2007] and the difference in the personnel - Michael Hussey in place of [Damien] Martyn, [Michael] Clarke came in for Lehmann, Shane Watson for [Michael] Bevan, [Nathan] Bracken for [Andy] Bichel, [Shaun] Tait for the injured Brett Lee - I do think they are a bit more athletic now. I think [Ricky] Ponting's a bit more confident with the captaincy. But having said that, well, that's about it. So I suspect that it is right [that the other countries are falling down]. I really do believe that with the exception of Sri Lanka - and I do believe that they are an exception because they really have come on and they have closed the gap, certainly from where they were last time to where they are this time and it was appropriate that they were the ones that got to the final.

SM: Exactly. But did you see a different approach from the Australians in this World Cup? It's almost like they want to intimidate the opposition even more. Do you see a more 'in-your-face' kind of approach from the Australians in this World Cup with more power coming in than in 2003, Ian?

IC: Well, you can only intimidate those people who allow themselves to be intimidated. Australia have always played a very aggressive brand of cricket. I always found that teams that didn't want to be intimidated were always very difficult to intimidate. I think a lot of it has to do with equipment. There is probably a bit more power in this [Australia's] line-up and some of that is to probably to do with the equipment. I think some of the opposing teams just look at Australia and say, 'they are too hard to beat; we'll try but we don't expect to beat them so we'll try to beat the other teams.' If you're taking that sort of an approach against the Australians, they'll realise it very quickly and then they will intimidate you. But, as I've said before, you'll only get intimidated if you allow yourself to be.

SM: That's one of the feelings even I had. Tony, if you could add to that - do you think the rest of the world is becoming a little lazy saying, 'okay, we've got Australia tomorrow, we'll lose to them but then we've got New Zealand after that and we can make up for the loss to Australia against them' - they're not trying hard and are just becoming a little sluggish and lazy against Australia.

TG: I don't like to say it, but I think there is an element of that. I don't think it quite exists with sides like New Zealand and Sri Lanka - they might have felt it a little bit in the finals - but I don't think that they are quite bad. England on the other hand are definitely inclined that way.

SM: India, for sure, I think, think that way. I don't think everyone in the side believes they can beat Australia, say, if they are playing them tomorrow.

TG: Yes, they have lost a little bit of ground. But one of the things that I want to address over here is this power cricket that everyone keeps talking about. It seems to me that the rest of the world keeps talking about Australia and power batting. Now I agree that [Matthew] Hayden is a bit different - he charges down the pitch and he is a bit of a power player, very strong around the shoulders. Now guys like [Adam] Gilchrist - he's just a great timer of the ball and a very adventurous - in the air type of cricketer. Ponting is quite simply a superb batsman. Clarke is an orthodox player - I wouldn't describe him as a power player. [Andrew] Symonds is somewhere between Gilchrist and Hayden. Basically, that line-up is just a very good line-up and they are also very unselfish. They've got a formula there, they've got confidence in the lower-order and so they are just making hay while the sun shines and unfortunately the other teams seem to be fading away almost as if they are accepting the consequences of this Aussie barrage which in a lot of ways is dreadfully sad.

SM: Talking about Australia and their dominance in world cricket, they seem to find replacements very easily. For example, Glenn McGrath may have retired but there is a Stuart Clark to come in and take his place. Do you think this steady supply of world-class talent that will dominate world cricket will keep coming and what is it that is so right with Australian cricket, even at the grass-root level?

IC: One of the reasons why Australia is better than the rest of the world is because of the system that produces their cricketers.

SM: But has it changed over the years?

IC: Well, it has been diluted a little bit but that's not because of changes in Australian cricket, it's because of changes in international cricket and in the programming. But when people start telling me that it's the academies and the coaches that make Australia better these days, I tell them that that's a load of rubbish. The reason why Australia is a good side now, is the same reason why it was good side in 1948 - it's because of the system that is producing the cricketers. If you are sending rubbish cricketers to the academies then I defy any coach to change rubbish cricketers into good ones. It boils down to the fact that good, young, competitive cricketers are turning up at the Academy and the Academy is just a finishing school. The system starts with the younger cricketers, then goes through the clubs and then to the first-class level. It's a good system but not as good as it was when I started for the simple reason that when I came into club cricket, I ended up quite often, playing against Test match cricketers quite occasionally. And when we played first-class cricket - and we played eight Shield matches those days - we would come up against the Test match players definitely five times and probably six times out of the eight games. That doesn't happen so often anymore but that's not because Australia chooses it to be that way, it's because of the international programming. But it's still a pretty good system.

They've got a formula there, they've got confidence in the lower-order and so they are just making hay while the sun shines and unfortunately the other teams seem to be fading away almost as if they are accepting the consequences of this Aussie barrage which in a lot of ways is dreadfully sad

SM: And much better than what the rest of the world follows ...

IC: The reason why it's a good system is because you get tested - whether as a batsman or as a bowler - many times on the way through. And you had asked me a question, Sanjay, during the Champions Trophy, when West Indies were piling it on in the first few overs of the finals and Australia still managed to come back, how Australia keep managing to come back whereas the other teams fail to do so and that is because of the system. Bracken was the guy who got Chris Gayle on that occasion. Now Bracken has probably been mauled a few times on the way through, as a young cricketer, as a club cricketer and as a first-class cricketer and he's found a way to come back from that and that stood him in good stead when he got to international cricket. So, atleast he knows that he's got a way to come back. It may not always work but he knows that atleast he's got something to fall back on. The English system used to be perhaps as good as Australia's. The Indian system - with the amount of players that they have got - should be able to match Australia in the same way but they don't seem able to do it. The other countries - well, I'm not so sure about them.

SM: Has it come to a stage where Australia are competing with themselves, Ian, they are not looking so much at the opposition, but raising their own bar?

IC: It's much easier to keep raising the bar if you know you can beat the opposition. If you are not threatened by the opposition, you can play unbelievably good cricket. But what makes it harder to play at your best is when you walk on to the field, not knowing that you can beat the opposition, and that they might throw up their own challenges.

SM: Tony, you have followed Sri Lanka quite closely. If Sri Lanka are looking to challenge Australia over the next three or four years, what would be the smart way for them to beat Australia consistently?

TG: They have got to play their own game. They have got a natural, aggressive game - certainly their batting is inclined that way. They now have a collection of bowlers that makes up a lovely, balanced attack. Lasith Malinga has made a good difference to the team - they have always had Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan - so they have got some good bowlers. They have got a good leader as well. There is no doubt that the leadership of Mahela Jayawardene and Tom Moody - this partnership - has made a difference to them and they have played good cricket. I suppose they have got to get over the psychological factor and for that, what they need, is a home series against Australia. The thing they'll be looking forward to doing then is trying to get one over Australia. But they need to be careful - they must not fall in to the trap that India seem to have fallen into. And that trap is - make helpful conditions to win at home and that is enough. If they keep going down that course they will never really be competitive. There needs to be a concerted effort to make the pitches more bouncy all across Asia. If they do that, they will be better cricketers. The effect of Malinga, of Vaas and indeed Murali will be exaggerated because of the bounce.

IC: To me the rest of the world was stupid when the West Indies were dominating because the rest of the world charged around like a chicken with its head cut off. Everybody was trying to find four fast bowlers even to the point of stupidity where you had a team like India trying to find fast bowlers. Now, to me, that wasn't the way to beat the West Indies.

SM: So, it basically involves focusing on your best strengths ...

IC: The way to beat the West Indies was by swinging the ball and changing the pace ... and particularly with wrist spinners. That was the way to beat the West Indies and not by bowling pace at them. They loved the pace - they were facing that in their nets day in and day out. The world was stupid in that regard and if the world goes trying to beat Australia by playing Australia's game, then they will be equally stupid. You have got to play your game.

SM: Is skill going to be enough? Two good spinners, two good fast bowlers or two world-class batsmen in a side against Australia - is that going to be enough, now? You need a strong, all-round team to beat this Australian team isn't it? So a Pakistan or an India who generally tend to have two or three matchwinners - a Shoaib Akhtar for Pakistan who has had some success against the Australians or a Harbhajan Singh for India who did it four years ago - is that enough; or do they have to be like a Sri Lanka and have an all-round strength - good athletes, good fielders and good catchers too?



Tony Greig: They [Sri Lanka] have got to play their own game[to challenge Australia]. © AFP

IC: You always need to have a good all-round side to win consistently and more importantly to win under all conditions. That's the point that Tony was making earlier - it's no good being a good side at home - that to me doesn't win you a lot of respect. You get respect from winning wherever you go and to do that you need to have a good all-round side. This is one of the reasons why Australia is so far ahead of the other teams - unlike most of the other teams Australia don't just rely on a handful of star players. In most teams you have four or five players who are exceptionally good players, but if they happen to miss out in the game against Australia, then Australia win...

SM: That happens quite often, doesn't it?

IC: Yes it does. While Australia have got some star players, they also have other players who are not big names but if it falls on them to do a job, they will do the job for you. And you always need that sort of a team to win consistently.

SM: Final question, gentlemen. West Indies surprised all of us [with a collapse] after their dominance over world cricket. Could something similar happen to Australia, Tony?

TG: No, I don't think so, actually. I think what happened with the West Indies was a bit of a one off. It is quite incredible - going right back to the World Series - they don't seem to have learnt anything at all. Every year the Board and players seem to be at each other's throats in the Caribbean. They just cannot resolve anything down there; maybe this has something to do with the fact that they are so diverse with all their islands. They seem to be arguing with each other all the time, even when you speak to the greats - the Holdings and the Andy Roberts' - they give me the impression that they are down on West Indian cricket, that they've lost hope. My personal view is that they need a couple of really good fast bowlers to emerge - that seems to be what they love more than anything else over there - and we may see them bounce back a little bit. They have got to learn a little bit from Australia; the Australians have the same fights with their board here with negotiations, but when they strike a deal and it is in place for 3 years or so. So, you have got to settle down and do some work - build your talents and your team up. It's a hard one - the West Indian one - and it is a sad one too.

SM: I think the general consensus is that the Australians start as favourites for the 2011 World Cup at this stage! Thank you, gentlemen for joining me on the Cricinfo Roundtable.

That's it for this week. Don't forget to send me your feedback at sanjay@cricinfo.com. Until next time, it's goodbye.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. @sanjaymanjrekar


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