July 27, 2012

They don't make 'em like that anymore

In the past there were cricket teams who used to put the fear of god into opponents. Not any longer

When he was playing golf that seemed to come from a different universe, Tiger Woods didn't only beat opponents, he often took away their will to compete. Opponents looked at him with awe, eager to see what he would do next rather than thinking of ways of combating him. Woods had that aura that sportsmen dream of possessing. When he was scorching the back nine on the last day, there was an air of inevitability about it all. His opponents had bestowed on him the cloak of invincibility.

Michael Jordan had it, and Roger Federer did - the mystical quality that injects hopelessness into the opponent; which causes them to temporarily abdicate their skills and drool over what is on display. It takes a long time to build this aura and only a few defeats to dissipate it. When the inevitability of victory is dented, it is almost as if opponents are being shaken out of their reverie and awoken to the fact that victory is a possibility. Federer might only have lost a few games here and there, but it made opponents sense an opportunity where earlier they were overwhelmed by the aroma of despair.

Only two teams in recent times have managed to bring this aura to cricket. Both used to win matches before the contest began. Both got into tense situations, but then, almost inevitably, both they and their opponents on the park believed the champion was going to win. West Indies through the late '70s and into the '80s were like that, and so were Australia for about 15 years from the mid-90s.

The 1948 Australians, in the eyes of some the finest team assembled, produced some stunning victories that gave birth to such a legend, including scoring 404 on the last day of a Test to win (aided, no doubt, by the fact that the English bowled 114 overs, but that only marginally diminishes the significance of what Australia did).

The great West Indies added to their aura significantly when they chased down 344 in 66 overs on the last day of the Lord's Test in 1984. They had an ageing Clive Lloyd at No. 5, Jeff Dujon at six and Malcolm Marshall at seven. England must have fancied their chances - they even declared their second innings (even if at nine wickets down) - but by the time the game ended (and Viv hadn't even come to the crease!) they must have been left wondering just what they needed to do to win against West Indies. The news would have travelled: you can't beat these guys, and that would have led to West Indies winning a couple more matches before those games began.

England might have thought the tide was turning against Australia in the World Cup of 2003 when they made 204 for 8 and had Australia 135 for 8, needing 70 at a run a ball with two wickets in hand. I was watching that game, and at no point did it cross my mind that Australia would lose. Seriously. They just had their air about them, and of course they won. When you win games like those, the opposition starts to believe in your invincibility. The aura appears.

In recent times, with Australia having slipped and the leadership of the Test rankings yo-yoing a bit, no team is able to generate that kind of aura. Nobody seems scared of anyone anymore, and that may be good for the game. India didn't seem too inclined to go for it in Dominica in July 2011, when after a slow phase of batting they needed only 86 from 90 balls with seven wickets in hand. India had the opportunity to make a statement about their strength; instead they suggested they, the No. 1 team in the world, weren't confident. You don't build an aura like that.

And England allowed the opposition to score 637 for 2 at The Oval last week, often bowling as if they just had to do something with the ball in hand since they had run in 15-20 yards with it. Champions don't give an inch; England were offering a mile at times. The series might well have a twist but by the time the game ended, England's image had been dented.

There is no aura in cricket anymore, no runaway leader in tennis, it seems mandatory that every major in golf must have a different champion, and Formula One is struggling post-Schumacher. Only Spain in football can now claim to have that aura. Unless, of course, that occasional cricketer from Jamaica scorches the track at the Olympic stadium in the next couple of weeks.

Harsha Bhogle commentates on the IPL and other cricket, and is a television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andrew on July 30, 2012, 6:54 GMT

    @SamRoy - the ONLY reason the Saffas 1966-70, is they weren't around long enuff to create that aura. I have almost zero doubts that they could of. @Omegazone - correct. There is no cricket teams creating any aura about them as the difference between the top 6 teams is quite minimal & it means that any side in the top 6 can beat another side in the top 6. Until a team starts to win more games in succession & start to increase the margins of those wins, the only auras we'll talk about is teams from history. @SIRSOBERS - I think your point was valid for the first 10yrs of this century, I think the last 18mths to 2yrs has seen some pretty low scoring, where most sides (probably only excluding India), have been knocked for sub 100. @jonesy2 - in Rugby League, St George won 11 straight premierships, they had an aura.

  • Nathan on July 29, 2012, 23:49 GMT

    Harsha, not clear what message is intended by your article. To me, there were two teams that challenged other teams across the globe by sheer brilliance and effort as a TEAM - Australia thru 70s and WI team thru 80s post their massacre in 75-76 series in Australia. Teams in the 90s like Pakistan (Wasim/Waqar), WI (Amrbose/Walsh) and Aus (McGrath/Warne), with the combo of bowlers in their team brought in fascination to the competition during the matches - but as a TEAM Australia demonstrated their killer instincts much better - that helped them to maintain a stranglehold, but were not invincible. Personally a particular team or player dominating a sport in the LONG RUN is not attractive - but their performance changed and challenged other players to bring out their best. Jordan, Woods, Federer, Nadal, Lara, Tendulkar, Warne, Schumacher, Ronaldo etc. brought in fresh approach that made the games they played more interesting and also posed a challenge to others to bring out their best.

  • B on July 29, 2012, 15:21 GMT

    @ Dubious, agree with you - the WI team to Aus in 75-76 were manhandled by Lillee and Thomson - Holding was playing in his debut series - the WI team had a very cavalier attitude the whole series - they had technique and talent in plenty but not the will-power - in fact, Lloyd had various complaints, including 1. Too much cricket and 2. No women companionship for extended periods!!! But getting back to my original point, that series and the WI home series against India were the key factors that drove WI to an all-pace attack, starting with the last Test against India where Bedi declared and gave up the Test as too many batsmen were injured by the pace bowlers - the carnage started then, with the series in England where Holding, Roberts and Daniel massacred them - beginning then and all the way to the mid-90s, it was WI all the way. The only ones who handled them well were the Pakistan team of 77-78 and the Aussies until 1980.

  • Jay on July 29, 2012, 3:28 GMT

    Harsha - As the Bard said: "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown"! Ryan Lochte dethrones Michael Phelps - for the moment - as king of swimming. Usain Bolt is looking over his shoulders at Yohan Blake & Co in the sprints. Federer wins Wimbledon for his 17th major, displacing Djokovic - for the moment - as No 1 in tennis, with Nadal in the chase. Never mind it took Roger 21/2 years to go from 16 to 17. Yet Harsha raised a big ruckus about Sachin taking a long 1 year to get his "damn 100th"! Even Woods hopes to catch Jack Nicklaus with 4 more major wins. Even Spain's soccer "aura" could be dismantled in a few days. Who cares about aura anyway? It's the competition that matters: England, SA, India, Australia battling for the Test crown. Can't have it any better. No, it's not Bolt, but Phelps to watch: 3 more medals would make him the greatest Olympian ever! How about the Queen of England being "hijacked" by 007 James Bond? Danny Boyle & the Bard got it right! It's the moment, Harsha!

  • Dummy4 on July 29, 2012, 1:09 GMT

    Atm only gayle,tendulkar,steyn and sangakara have an "aura". Ajmal,cook,amla,mathews,dhoni and shakib will get there but they need more time. Players like afridi , sehwag, KP etc had it for a while but they couldn't hold on to it. Amir (if he decides to comeback) will surely get there. Imo england cannot become a great side until they start grooming their own rather than letting some outsiders do their jobs for them. Because whenever I look at their team I don't see that kind of spark that tells you that they want to win something for their country, in short they don't look like a team. Where as SA has everything but nerve, they have the talent the pride and the ambition but somehow manage to find a way to give away their goal. I do believe that the west indies will rise again and so will pakistan and australia because these teams have always had that hunger. India on the other hand imo is going down the wrong road,sadly they have chosen money over pride and greatness.

  • Dummy4 on July 29, 2012, 1:05 GMT

    You have hit the nail on the head.The aura of invincibility is a thing of the past. Thanks to pedestrian performances and a singular lack of consistency, teams seem the press the self-destruct button more these often.

  • Dummy4 on July 28, 2012, 19:31 GMT

    I think of it in a positive way. It brings more uncertain games and fierce competitions to the game of cricket. Never been a fan of rankings anyways. I will have 5 equaly good quality teams than 1 invincible and 4 ordinary teams any day

  • Ali on July 28, 2012, 17:30 GMT

    I don't know about the others but I certainly feel that this wasn't one of your better efforts Harsha.

  • Dummy4 on July 28, 2012, 14:37 GMT

    What a pointless article. Is Bhogle saying it was better years ago when 1 team used to rule the roost for 15 years. Surely Cricket is better now as it is more competitive with 4 teams competing for top spot

  • Harsh on July 28, 2012, 10:40 GMT

    More than a top team we should have something like the late 1970's when West Indies,Australia and Pakistan were closely bunched together or in the late 1980's when West Indies and Pakistan were neck to neck like in the 1988 series in the Caribean.

    We need to reduce the amount of cricket and prepare tracks that suit seamers Today we have exciting test cricket but at the cost of the high standards of the past.For test cricket to survive we need more of the series like the 1960-61 Frank Worrel trophy won 2-1 by Australia or the 1988 drawn series between Pakistan and West Indies,rather than Clive Lloyd's team's 5-0 whitewash of England in 1984 or Steve Waugh's whitewash of India and Pakistan both by a 3-o margin in 1999-2000.

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