Australia's mighty fall

In a week that witnessed arguably the biggest upset of all time, Australia were left groping for answers as they stumbled to four successive defeats on their historic Ashes tour. After "laughing off" their crushing defeat against England in the Twenty20 game, Australia were humbled by Somerset, despite amassing 342, stunned by Bangladesh, despite getting the toss advantage, and outplayed by England in what turned out to be an agonising seven days for a team that has steamrolled opposition for more than a decade.

One has to go back nearly ten years to encounter a situation when the Australians lost four or more games in a row, in the Carlton and United Series in 1996-97. The five-match sequence began with the 12-run defeat against Pakistan at the Adelaide Oval and Australia struggled throughout the series against a Wasim Akram-led bowling line-up and a West Indian side propelled by Brian Lara's magical knocks. It was the first time since 1987 that Australia had failed to enter the final of their own competition, barring the World Cup in 1992, but it wasn't as big a surprise as the recent reversals as the quality of the opposition was of a higher standard than Somerset and Bangladesh.

Their poor form continued on the Ashes tour of England in 1997, when they lost to Worcestershire and were whitewashed in the Texaco Trophy but they still ended up losing only three games on the trot as their match against Durham, before the three one-dayers, was abandoned.

In 1998, Australia struggled on their tour to India as well - after taking a hammering by a Sachin Tendulkar-inspired Mumbai in the opener they were beaten in the first two Tests at Chennai and Kolkata, but here again these weren't consecutive defeats with draws against the Board President's XI and India A in between.

The last time Australia went through a torrid streak was in early 2002, when they were again shunted out of their one-day party with New Zealand and South Africa making the final. They were upstaged in their opening three games of the VB Series with Shane Bond and Jacques Kallis dealing the crucial blows.

Yet, the most staggering part about the current slump is the quality of opposition Australia have succumbed to. Ricky Ponting said that the improved performance yesterday was a consolation but if he is a numbers man he will beware of an ominous precedent - Mark Taylor lost his one-day captaincy after the Texaco Trophy whitewash in 1997 while Steve Waugh suffered the same predicament after the bad patch in 2002.