Events and people that shaped the game

No. 34

The rise of Australia

In Madras in 1986 started a march that inspired awe in everyone who came across it

November 6, 2010

Text size: A | A

The Australian team (from left: Steve Waugh, Dean Jones, David Boon, Geoff Marsh, mark Taylor and Allan Border) celebrates the first Test win, England v Australia, 1st Test, Headingley, 5th day, June 13, 1989
From Border to Waugh: a smooth transition © Getty Images
Related Links
Players/Officials: Allan Border | Bob Simpson | Steve Waugh
Teams: Australia


When Bob Simpson and Allan Border joined forces in India in 1986, Australia were bottom of the cricketing heap. By the time they departed a decade later, Australia were top of the world - and getting ready for the Waugh era.

Simpson, in his autobiography years later, was frank about the mess they inherited: "Shotgun selection had been applied… long-term planning and philosophy were urgently needed… the work ethic was non-existent… the whole training exercise [was seen] as a bit of a joke." Then suddenly, almost overnight, there was hope.

Border was the ultimate tough guy, Simpson the first great professional coach. Border gave his men heart; Simpson ideas. Technical nuts and bolts were tightened. Fielding practice assumed a never-before-seen intensity. Old pros perceived as lazy and uncommitted were replaced by dedicated juniors who cherished the baggy green: David Boon, Steve Waugh, Geoff Marsh, Merv Hughes, Dean Jones.

That first Test together, in Madras, was tied - thanks to a Border-like bullishness from Jones and Greg Matthews. The shock 1987 World Cup triumph was based on two vintage Simpsonisms: "catches win matches" and "the team that runs most singles wins". By 1989, Border had moulded a team into his own cussed, unbending image. They murdered the Poms and the course for world domination was set.

By the end of the 20th century the Australian team led by Steve Waugh contrived spectacularly to eliminate the draw from Test cricket. Like the United States, after the cold war, Australia had no opposition. Stalemates were ruled out.

Waugh's Australians hastened the game. They made huge runs shamelessly fast from the time the openers took guard, which not only made their opponents feel inept but which also gave Australia more time than any team ever before in which to regularly take 20 wickets. Australia advanced, and the world followed.

Ricky Ponting kept the legacy going as long as he had the players who imposed before they could be imposed upon. Many fans today rhapsodise about Mark Taylor's daring and diplomacy, about Steve Waugh's ruthlessness and razzmatazz. Border, in retrospect, seems dour and unimaginative, Simpson too autocratic. But it all started there.

This article was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine in 2003.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Email Feedback Print

'Chanderpaul was always out to prove himself'

Modern Masters: Playing in a weak team, his single-minded focus is to be the best he can be

    The Bangladesh album

ESPNcricinfo XI: A look at the side's international highlights: from shocking Pakistan in 1999 to whitewashing New Zealand

South Africa's domestic spinners eye their chance

Firdose Moonda: Ahead of the first-class season, we look at the players the selectors will be watching closely

    Catch dodgy actions early

Ian Chappell: Kids mimic the cricket heroes of the day, so the problem of throwing must be tackled below the first-class level

Four Pakistan women to watch in the Asian Games

Ahmer Naqvi: A look at two bowlers and two batsmen who could be crucial to their campaign in Incheon

News | Features Last 7 days

Champions League T20 still battling for meaning

The thrills are rather low-octane, the skills are a bit lightweight, and the tournament overly India-centric

Automaton, man, inspiration

Twenty years on, Shivnarine Chanderpaul continues to be understated, underestimated. And that doesn't bother him. What's not to like?

Busy keepers, and Waqar's bowleds

Also, high scores and low averages, most ducks in international cricket, and the 12-year-old Test player

85 Tests, 70 defeats

Of the 85 Tests that Bangladesh have played so far, they've lost 70 and won just four. Those stats are easily the worst among all teams when they'd played as many Tests

'My kind of bowling style is gone now'

Former New Zealand seamer Gavin Larsen talks about wobbly seam-up bowling, the 1992 World Cup, and his role in the next tournament

News | Features Last 7 days