Australia were quite fittingly re-crowned champions of one-day cricket on Sunday, a team that was a class above all their competitors in the tournament. Their supremacy in international cricket was further emphasised, when they put up an awesome show against a resurgent India and strolled through the competition undefeated. Never has a side been so dominant since the mighty West Indies of the 70's, and even they might not have matched the brilliance of the Aussies on the field. Spectacular ground fielding, a brilliant batting line-up and a fiery bowling attack, its hard to find a chink in the Australian armour, much to the discomfiture of all opponents.
Another amazing aspect is they were missing two key components of their bowling attack, Warne and Gillespie. Shane Warne is the man who is responsible for the revival of spin in modern-day cricket, and the manner in which he exited the tournament would have surely shaken up many other sides in the world. It came on the eve of a crucial encounter against Pakistan, but without blinking an eyelid, Australia got onto the field and spectacularly swept aside a potentially dangerous Pakistan. They never looked back, constantly improving as they went along in the tournament, while a distraught Pakistan never managed to recover from the mauling.
In the final, a remarkable fact about the Aussie side, was the collective effort, each man contributing towards the victory, without necessarily trying to be a one man demolition like a Tendulkar, for India. Hayden may have had a dismal tournament going by his extremely high standards, but he set the platform with Gilchrist from which the Aussies launched towards a massive 359. Martyn proved his worth in the final, inspite of nursing a damaged finger, while Ponting led from the front with both bat and on the field. The fielding of the Australians, on its own, was a joy to watch in the tournament, as they set the benchmark for all other teams.
However, it was the commitment and body language of the Aussies that set them apart from all the other sides in the competition. Many would argue that it is easy for a side to display spirit if they are a constantly winning, but they dug themselves out of a hole against New Zealand and England, when they certainly looked dead and buried. Brad Hogg stepped up in the absence of Warne, while Bichel, a man who has been on the sidelines for quite a while, never let Australia down after the injury to Gillespie. While many players of the calibre of Bichel may have been disheartened at never managing to find a place in the playing eleven, inspite of credible performances in the past, he waited for his opportunity and grabbed it with both hands when it came. The strength of the Australian reserve players is remarkable, where they have a back up player, almost equally as capable to cover for their main stars.
So what can Pakistan and the rest of the world, learn from the Aussies? There is surely a lot to learn, but above all is the fact that national pride is of utmost importance, and no one individual is bigger than the game itself. The absence of a star player due to injury is not due cause for drooping of shoulders, instead it is a chance for the side to prove that they are a brilliant unit, not a one-man show. Secondly, the Pakistanis especially, must learn to deliver on the field, rather than try and intimidate the opposition in pre-match press conferences. Seniors in the Pakistan side had suggested that Australia had dropped the World Cup by dropping Steve Waugh from the side, while some felt that they could not handle the raw pace of Shoaib Akhtar. The Aussies let their performances do the talking, and its time we learn from that!
The use of the `all-rounders' has also been highlighted by the Australian side. While sides like England, Pakistan and South Africa go in with a few bits and pieces players, the Aussies believe in the picking of specialists. A solid opening pair is one of the reasons for their success with Gilchrist proving to be a better all-rounder than the likes of Afridi, a magnificent keeper and an equally competent batsman. He also proves that he is not merely a pinch hitter, but an aggressive batsman with supreme shot selection.
The combination of the side consists of six specialist batsmen, a wicket keeper and four genuine bowlers. However, they have made sure that the likes of Lehmann and Symonds can complete the quota as the fifth bowler, while the other four bowlers look to bowl the opposition out. The manner in which the fifth bowler is utilized by Ponting is worth watching as well. He looks to bowl the opposition out within 40 overs, and if he can't manage that, then he makes sure that the pressure is on at the other end with Lee firing on all cylinders. That does not allow the game to drift, a mistake often made by the Waqar Younis in the current World Cup. Bowlers like Bichel and Lee, have been made to work at their batting, and are now very useful contributors as well. Thus he refrains from picking individuals who are mediocre in either department of the game, but are merely classified as `all-rounders'.
Other sides must also take a look at the manner in which the bowling and batting line-up is structured. The attack has two line and length bowlers in McGrath and Bichel, who stick to the basics, one genuine attacker in Brett Lee, Brad Hogg as a useful spinner and a few cover-up bowlers. Each individual knows his role, and thus they complement each other. The Pakistan bowlers on the other hand attack on all fronts, with Wasim, Waqar and Shoaib Akhtar looking to rip apart the batting order single-handedly. While that has worked on some occasions, but often means that there is no one to peg things back when the main plan goes wrong. Saqlain also tends to try too many things, rather than playing on the patience of the opposition. The likes of Afridi and Razzaq too cannot always stick to the basics, thus letting the opposition off the hook.
The Aussie batting has a few flamboyant stroke-makers (not mindless pinch-hitters) in Gilchrist and Ponting, a rock solid Hayden, a patient accumulator in Bevan, while Martyn and Lehmann are versatile players. The Pakistani batting line-up consists of a complete set of stroke players, with no man playing the role of the anchor. Hopefully, Taufeeq Umar will prove to be the answer to that problem, while Faisal Iqbal must learn to be the accumulator in the middle order.
The World Cup may have ended, but there are many more important events to come in the year. The Aussies have certainly thrown down the gauntlet and set a high standard, its time other sides try to reach it or continue to be pulverised by this Australian juggernaut that seems to roll on and on.
Ed: If readers wish to correspond with the author, please email Taha Noor