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They said Australia would suffer the losses of key players. They were wrong, and how
January 6, 2008
The tears from the SCG Test farewells had barely dried when Australia lost the CB and Chappell-Hadlee series in the same month. One of the two most dominant eras - only the 1980s West Indies could come close for sustained success - was over and a period of gloom would surely follow. Barely a week into 2007 and Shane Warne and Justin Langer had already joined Damien Martyn in international retirement, while Glenn McGrath was looking his age - or older.
A sad time was made more depressing by the predictions. There would be no recovery by McGrath for the World Cup and at the end of the year, after an extended break between Tests, Australia would start the slide to second or third in the ratings. Like long-term weather predictions, the forecasts were stunningly inaccurate and instead of a drought there were more floods of success.
Sunshine filled Australia's Caribbean campaign and they not only won their third consecutive trophy but achieved it by remaining undefeated for the second tournament in a row. John Buchanan stepped down without losing a World Cup match and McGrath, Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist became the only men to lift three versions of the prize. They were rarely pushed, twice disposing of South Africa and Sri Lanka, their main rivals for the title.
Contributions rained, from Gilchrist's century in the final to Shane Watson's 145 runs at a strike-rate of 170 and the stunning collections of McGrath, Brad Hogg and Shaun Tait. Matthew Hayden's three centuries managed to overshadow the marlin he landed along with citizenship of St Kitts, and after celebrations lasting days and spanning three continents the players got a rest. It would be another five months before their first engagement, the World Twenty20 in South Africa.
Before the tournament the Australians tried to talk about it like it mattered, but only when they lost their first group game to Zimbabwe did they start to take it seriously, and even then it was more for pride than the prize. Seeing the team struggle like any other side was strange and they recovered to reach the semi-final, where it was India who succeeded and celebrated in a way that upset the Australians, who are masters of the on-field party. At the end of the year it was the only trophy Australia contest that they didn't hold.
The global prize-winners reconvened in India for an emotional one-day series that was overshadowed by Sreesanth's behaviour and the monkey chants directed at Andrew Symonds from a small element at a couple of the stadiums. Australia succeeded, but if anyone close to the teams can remember the result, please email. Attention was already diverted by the Tests that were about to start and Australia's evolution was ready to be measured by Sri Lanka.
By the end of the series the gap between Australia and the rest of the world was the same as when it started. Phil Jaques, who collected a hundred in each match, was looking like a taller version of Langer, Mitchell Johnson was capable in his first two games and the rest purred. Sri Lanka's dreams of picking up a win in Australia were dismantled as quickly as Muttiah Muralitharan was by the home batsmen.
India arrived with similar thoughts and suffered a deflating defeat in the opening Test in Melbourne. The gaps left by Warne, McGrath and Langer will not be able to be filled in the long term, but the way they were covered in the early stages of the transition was impressive.
New man on the block
Jaques had debuted in 2005, but was only a seat warmer for Justin Langer, who would stay another two summers before providing a full-time opening. Having beaten Chris Rogers, Brad Hodge and Shane Watson for the spot, Jaques rammed into Sri Lanka with hundreds in both Tests of the series, and his five scores above 50 pushed him to the top of Australia's run-scoring list for 2007.
Glenn McGrath burned so brightly until the end that his spirit could almost power the lights at the conclusion of the World Cup final. After signing off with Australia's final wicket of his last Test, he struggled in the following two one-day series and there was a danger he would end up as a Caribbean casualty. The doubters should have known better after all his unbelievable recoveries and he walked away as the leading wicket-taker, the Player of the Tournament and the owner of three World Cup victories.
January 5, Sydney. Only once, 86 years earlier, had an Ashes clean sweep occurred, before Australia achieved the second one in the most ruthlessly mean fashion. Just one England Test was played in 2007, but the memory of Kevin Pietersen, an attacker without many peers, being restricted for hours despite being in brilliant form was the final stage of England's suffocation. The 5-0 success allowed the Australians to accept even louder roars before the tears and goodbyes for McGrath, Langer and Warne.
Life after Shane Warne will never be the same. Stuart MacGill tried to keep things interesting with his off-field injury dramas, but nothing can match Warne's contribution to gossip and the game. Most disturbingly for Australia, dismissing opposition batting orders is going to get much harder.
What does 2008 hold?
Predictions of Australia becoming regularly beatable were downgraded after the Sri Lanka series and the opening Test against India. Poor weather and a massive turnaround from India's batsmen seem the only ways to stop the record of 16 wins in a row being extended. By next Christmas expect Adam Gilchrist to be a Test specialist, Matthew Hayden to be preparing to exit at the SCG and Shaun Tait to have a long-term injury.
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