October 15, 2010

Australia find the boot on the other foot

In this series a once all-conquering side found themselves being presented with questions they had often asked of others in the past

I feel like I've been invited to dinner, been offered a drink and starter, and then been thanked in the doorway by the host for coming. Two-Test series are neither here nor there, especially between two quality teams. They create a sense of anticipation and suddenly they are gone. This series was a wonderful opportunity to study teams and attitudes; it was like a laboratory that is rarely accessible. And now we must wait.

Australia found things happening to them in this series that they regularly dished out to opponents when they were playing such wonderful cricket; they were being asked questions that they used to interrogate others with, and I was waiting to see what answers they had.

Australia's strength has always been their attitude. They are admirable fighters, but with things stacked against them, with the aura diminishing, that would have been tested. Even a third Test would have told me if Australia had it in them to bounce back, to see if someone put his hand up and supported Ponting, who was both admirable and gracious.

Australia's strength in their prime was that they won the big moments, always found a player to chip in at the right time. Inevitably on a long tour of Australia (haven't you ever wondered why the Aussies have never done a two-month tour of India like other teams do in the Australian summer?), the opposition will find itself a bowler short, be reduced to a couple of key batsmen, even find a critical game-changing decision go against them. This is not to insinuate anything; champions inevitably seem to get the fifty-fifty decisions in their favour.

Here in India, in a two-Test series, they fell short at the big moments. They were a strike bowler short when it mattered on the last day in Mohali; short also after a good opening partnership on the fourth day in Bangalore, when they needed someone to build on the lead, and on the last morning, when they needed runs and time in equal measure. A poor decision, which if it were right could have won them a game, came along too.

Teams playing Australia when they were in their prime often discovered that they could compete for 80% of the time and lose overwhelmingly. It is something Roger Federer's or Tiger Woods' opponents could have claimed as well. Australia did better than 80% here and were still down 0-2. A third Test would have tested their resilience. We would have known if they bleed like others, who are used to having to enter a game with hopelessness as their shadow.

Australia's great players won them matches, the aura they generated won them many more. Now they are shorn of both, though still possessed of a fighting spirit

Or else, of course, we would have discovered whether they had it in them to come storming back and bring the series down to 2-1. And - and this is equally important - we would have learnt if India could play like a No. 1 side, able to crush an opponent when down, to take away hope, to inflict wounds that take long to heal.

Australia's aura is gone. It was inevitable after the loss of one of the greatest collection of cricketers to play the game. Outside of the big five, Matthew Hayden, Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, and Steve Waugh before them, Australia possessed players of extraordinary ability: Justin Langer, Damien Martyn, Brett Lee, Stuart MacGill, Jason Gillespie. Now leave out Ponting and they have none. Michael Hussey is a fine personality but seems in decline, and Michael Clarke hasn't yet become a Ponting. The bowling is inexperienced and spinners rare to find. The great players won them matches, the aura they generated won them many more. Now Australia are shorn of both, though still possessed of a fighting spirit.

India, 11 points clear at No. 1 now, showed the power of positive thinking. With 478 before them in Bangalore, they played for a win; with 92 to get in Mohali and No. 10 in, they trusted the tailender; and on the last day the captain sent a rookie out to go and find his place in the world. So often it is the thoughts that determine action. India thought positively and hence they played positively.

Their batting looks good in home conditions but the bowling has no bench strength. New Zealand in these conditions and with this mindset shouldn't pose a huge challenge but South Africa away will.

The Ashes, to see if Australia can arrest their decline, and the tour of South Africa to see if India can conquer a peak: December and January should be great months for cricket lovers. And neither of those is a drinks-and-starters kind of dinner invitation.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • am on October 18, 2010, 19:07 GMT

    Highlights are being played in neo cricket and everyone can see how the umpiring decisions made the 1st test so close.. but justice prevailed in the end.... 1st Innings.. dhoni 's catch was NOT clean at all. and clearly it was taken on one bounce and even the commentators have been very vocal about it. dont know why people try to overlook.. then gambhir.. in 2nd inning.BIG INSIDE EDGE.. and billy bowden gave it OUT.. not only that decision changed the course of chase but also led to mini collapse..ishanth too was NOT OUT.. but he was given out. and for australia it was mike hussey's wicket... and overall there were more decisions going AGAINST india.. and if all these decisions.. may b match would have been less tense.. than it looked.. in the end people only crib about ojha's wicket but u shouldnt forget bad decisions going against indian team before that.. billy bowden is average umpire.. even though so many decisions went against indian team .. still they WON and they deserve it

  • Cric on October 18, 2010, 12:05 GMT

    @Wolver , every team is strong in their backyard ... a team cant be No1 with dumb luck ... India is a very good team ...

  • Wolver on October 18, 2010, 9:45 GMT

    SA will beat India in SA. India has always been hopeless in SA. Hopefully that will stop this rediculous comparison by indians with champion Aus and WI teams. Hope Indians put up a good fight, else it won't be much fun.

  • Liam on October 18, 2010, 1:55 GMT

    @bbrajiv so called fans like you crack me up! Try opening both eyes and you will realise that no team is innocent when it comes to these incidents but it is only Australian teams that are critisized for it! So don't believe everything you read in the tabloids! As usual a woderful article by Harsha and I agree that India are a well desevered number 1 team, but enjoy it while you can!

  • Stephen on October 18, 2010, 1:25 GMT

    Australia's vulnerability has made the upcoming Ashes series infinitely more interesting than it would've been otherwise. England are a strong team, but a wounded Australia is a cornered beast and will fight to the last ball. Should make for vintage Test cricket and I can't wait. Ponting's rookie bowling attack will be tested; players could be broken or they could make a claim for greatness. Hauritz will bounce back in local conditions and should play - but hopefully at least one of our exciting younger batsmen like Phillip Hughes, Callum Ferguson or Usman Khawaja will get a chance.

  • rajiv on October 17, 2010, 18:08 GMT

    @Hamulus ..i burst out laughing everytime i see aussies and ausie fans complaining about behaviour of other teams..u probably have forgotten that aussies r the most bad-behaved team in d history of cricket..mr glen mcgrath (no doubt he was a great cricketer) once spat on a west indies batsman); there r so many instances..ponting ruling ganguly out from slips in sydeny as if he was the umpire (thats too when he catch was not taken cleanly)..and who can forget mr michael slatters rude and disgraceful behaviour when he abused dravid in mumbai after the third umpire declared that mr slatter had not taken d catch cleanly..what was dravids fault? hahahaha

  • Srihari on October 17, 2010, 17:10 GMT

    @Hamulus - Agreed Billy got it wrong, but it would not have come down to that if Ishant was not wrongly sent off in the first place... If not for that bad decision Laxman and Ishant would have won the match.... you win some you lose some! Both the teams played wonderfully!!

  • Nasser on October 17, 2010, 14:58 GMT

    A fine article by Harsha - yet again! Very much to the point. As a Pakistani supporter, I am very pleased with India's performance. India are on top of the world and never had it so good. They have lacked confidence and aggression in the past. This is now changing - fast. They now need to start winning series abroad against the South Africans and Australians of this world; and they can do it.

    Harsha made a very valid point that Australia plays 2 tests in India but plays 4 and 5 at home, getting undue advantage. They have also usually got the better of close and not so close decisions against teams from the sub-continent.

    But, I will never take away from them their performance over the last decade plus. They have been amazing. Their most strong points are mental strength and high professionalism. To succeed continously and at all levels a team needs professional approah, stragtegy, selection based on merit and longer term approach and emphasis more on fielding than b & b.

  • J on October 17, 2010, 13:49 GMT

    To Hamulus: Mate, learn to accept reality and forget living in the past! Haydo, Gilli, McGrath and Warne have retired. They are not part of the Australian team anymore. So the 11 Australian players that lost the series 2-0 to India is the best 11 players that could play for Australia. So please do not refer to them as an under-strength Australian team. They were not good enough to beat India...accept it!

    The playing conditions in every country is different. Indian conditions are different from Australian playing conditions. There is no right or wrong, when it comes to playing conditions. India have lost series playing in Australian wickets and Australian conditions. Australians lost the series playing in India on Indian wickets and Indian conditions. But the fact is that Australia lost...accept it and forget about referring to conditions as an excuse for the lose!

    Indian Team very well know how to keep the Australians under control. There is nothing you can do about it...accept it!

  • natmastak on October 17, 2010, 10:43 GMT

    Good article . but ,its no big deal to beat aus nowadays ( but rickey's face after first test was priceless ). And this is esp for aussie fans - whole world now knows abt ur sportsman spirit after the tamasha ur athletes did at cwg delhi .

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