Friday, September 16, 2005

A new Phoenix?

Another Ashes series has ended. Last time around, the picture that lingered was of Steve Waugh stroking the last ball of the second day at Sydney to the boundary to equal Bradman’s century tally. But two years later, it is the sight of Flintoff slurring and tottering at Trafalgar Square and Vaughan commenting about some of his mate's lack of sleep to Tony Blair, that will stay with me for sometime. The English, by all accounts, are still having a party, four days after their victory. And quite rightly so, for it has been a series of nail biters. Warne’s stunning wicket tally, Hoggard’s cover drive, Simon Jones's reverse swing, Geraint Jones tumbling catch off Kasprowicz, KP’s butter fingers, his towering sixes and last, but the most important of all, Flintoff! What a series!

So did Australia deserve to lose? Yes they did. England was the better team. But, on hindsight, I think all of us had placed Australia in a higher plane than they deserved. Sambit Bal sums it up perfectly when he writes -

The Australians have been hustled by Shoaib Akhtar and Shane Bond before, but they have had easy runs to pick at the other end. With England, there was no getting away. Harmison pinged them; Hoggard kept them tentative; Flintoff challenged them incessantly; and Simon Jones kept them pinned to the crease.

Consider this English bowling attack that showed its mastery of a previously reviled Oriental art, four bowlers all of whom prised out batsmen almost at will and another whose efforts with the ball were overshadowed by his batting! That is something that Australia has not faced in the recent past. Then Bal follows this argument with a comparison that has stayed with Australia through their run of successes these past few years, but this time with a difference.

The big unanswered question during the West Indian reign in the late-'70s and mid-'80s was how great the West Indian batsmen really were. After all they never had to test their skills against their own bowlers. After they have been put through the wringer, we are now able to venture a guess about this Australian batting line-up.

Ok, I think the caliber of at least ONE all time great is being questioned, but nevertheless the question seems to be valid.

But Australia have been barracked unfairly from some quarters too. Another Cricinfo column, this time by Anil Nair talks about the air of invincibility that the Aussies bought with them when they landed in England, but seemed to have left it behind in their hotel rooms when they made it on to the field. However, sample this -

To have had only nine debutants in five years and 68 Tests - contrast it with England's 26 in 75 Tests for roughly the same period - speaks of a set-it-in-stone syndrome at work, at once formulaic complacency and an attempt at myth-making.

As far as I know, this fact, in the past has been thrown around as one of the reasons for Australia’s awesome run. And suddenly the next day it is slammed as shortsightedness? And the same actions that were billed as “motivational” are now being slammed as the necessary rituals of a cricket team bent on creating an aura around itself in the manner of the Chicago Bulls. That is something I don’t understand.

There are usually two ways to categorize the positive result from a contest involving two equally matched participants (this series apparently was, if you consider the margin of the results)
  1. A win resulting out of a team raising its game utterly dominating the otherwise equal team
  2. A win resulting out of one good team playing below potential and imploding in the face of good opposition
We all know which team's results typically gels with the second description. And when it comes to the 2005 Ashes, I think it was the first case all the way, the poor form of some of the Aussies notwithstanding. Hence this is not the end of the road for the Aussies. And I am of the firm opinion that no team can be labeled No.1 unless they play well all the time, or at least most of the time, home or way. Australia has done that consistently these past years and they are still the best team in the world. As for who is the second best, of course it is England.

Last year, just after the Aussie tour of India, I got into an argument with a friend who said that India was the second best team in the world, but I quietly pointed out to him England’s record over the past few years starting from 2001 when they went to Pakistan. Still he did not see eye to eye with me and pointed out that India had drawn the series in Australia. I think we were at a stalemate then with neither of us willing to let go. But now, he will have to change his opinion.

So, IMHO, all that England has to do to become the best team in the world is to play consistently during their sub-continental trips in the next few months and get to Australia and at least draw the series next year. As far as India is concerned, their first priority is to win more than one test match every away series and at least one series outside the subcontinent. Now if that is not stating the obvious, then what is?

18 comments:

Filtered Sambhar said...

good one anti's,

come back and become a sports editor dude!!!

?! said...

IMHO, everybody who talks Ponting's 159 or Warne's tally is missing the point. The reason the Aussies were the best team is that they had a team of consistent performers : Hayden, Ponting McGrath/Gillespie etc who could come up with a brilliant performance now and then. In this series, they were reduced to depending on individual heroics like every other team.

anantha said...

?!: Yup! Thats true. But you know what? I read some stats about Gilchrist coming in at no.6 and boosting the total with the tail's help and those stats are mindblowing. I can't remember exact numbers but that did not happen both here and when they were in India in 2001. Going by that, you can probably say *they* did depend on individual performances even before this.

Filtered Sambhar: Thanx. You are being too polite :) But I know ;)

Arvind said...

I agree with you that the Aussies are still No.1.England have to win abroad consistently ,especially in the subcontinent and down under, to stake claim to be the No.1 side.To do that,they need a quality spinner.They are not gonna get seaming wickets everywhere.
Giles is simply not good enough for sub-continental batsmen..Nasser Hussain's version of leg theory notwithstanding.

And you are right about Gilly..IMO he is the single biggest reason for the Aussies' domination of the game over the last 6 years.In spite of the brialliance of the openers,Waugh,Ponting,Warne and McGrath, I don't think they could have acheived what they did without Gilly.Its not surprising that they've lost both the series' in which he has fared porrly.Actually,to be fair to him,he has been in the wrong end of some poor umpiring decisions in both the series'(remember Bhajji's hat-trick).

anantha said...

Arvind: A slight correction to your second line about England. If you'd look closely, since 2001, England have actually performed consistently in the subcontinent. Since 2000/01, they have played 15 tests in the subcontinent, winning 6 and losing 3 with 6 draws. And I think England only need their batsmen to counter the threat posed by the sub-continental spinners. I don't think they will be troubled by Kaneria, but the twin threat posed by Kumble and Harbhajan might cause problems. But they have won three of their last 5 series in the subcontinent and Giles has a total of 48 non-Bangladeshi wickets in those, with 18 coming in the last tour of SL in 2003 that they lost. And I think Giles is a much better bowler now. He might not pose problems for India, but I think he is enough to plug one end. And if I were to think impartially, I wouldn't see anything wrong with the leg side line. Warne does it to exploit the rough and Giles does it to plug the run flow. So, in my eyes, they only need to draw a series in Australia.

Filtered Sambhar said...

hey anti,

let me not comment about which is the best team in the world rather comment what's aussie's problems?
if u have a close watch on all their games so far after the WILLS World Cup finals from when they actually pressed the gas & went on to dominate the world scene, they had something like 3 guys performing in one match of their's extremely well. Most occassions it would be the openers with McGrath & Warne or Gilli/Ponting. But in cases of any other team in one match you would get only one or max two players steeping on the gas which was much below par. So when you had a series when only one or two guys actually came up to stepping the gas it was really difficult for aussies to do something. And that too England were simply superb,is the word i want to use for this, aussie were lost. Anyways in cricket24x7 the same topic came up and this is what i had to say to Jag & Gun..
'''Hey Jagdish & Ganesh,

First of all would like to say this is a nice blog, this is my first visit thanks to anti's blog..

The aussie's have a different outlook to the sports cenario of theirs, especially cricket. They do panic but I really don't think they would be worried so much as they did when they lost to South Africa and New Zealand, since that was a home series. This having their loss to England in England's home won't hurt them so much as much as it did the earlier time which lead to the sacking of Steve Waugh from the ODI team.

'The' point here is a comman hassle faced by every team. It's like the high's and low's. It's got more to do with the gravity funda- whatever goes up has to come down. Since the Aussies have been dominating the cricket scene for nearly about 10 years now they certainly have their fall outs and that includes the coach too. I am sure that they don't follow this age funda too so for them age is no bar.

Let me give you one inside view about their cricket. My friend lives there who played with me & cricketers who played with me have been there (Deepak chowgule,Udit patel, etc) for the Border Gavaskar Scholarship to Australian Cricket Academy, so what I am saying is something real. It seems they have such good bench strength, which could be made available off anytime by croping upon the international arena and could still be the best. That is something which any other country lacks and would want to have. For example India would take time to adjust if Sachin, Rahul & Sehwag retire together all of a sudden.

Infact I have written a comment in anti's post(superstarksa.blogspot) which spoke about cricketers lives..

visit my blog:
SAMBAR 2 SYDNEY
sam2syd.blogspot.com'''

Filtered Sambhar said...

man anti, can i say shall i join you in this sports editorial stuff????hehehehehe....

Ram said...

Hey Anti, thanks for the input on my blog!
And on this post, Australia are still in my opinion the best team in the world. England have a young team that have been doing well, but it remains to be seen how long this good show will continue. And regarding India, had you asked me this question just after the 2003 World Cup, it would have been unfair to state that India was not the 2nd best team in the world. A consistent show in the ODI's and an amazing victory in Pakistan coupled with an equally better performance in the drawn rubber against Australia.
Ganguly should go. Even if he scores a double-hundred the next game, he doesnt deserve a place in the side. He is a liability. There are no two ways about that. He goes, else Indian cricket is doomed.

Filtered Sambhar said...

dude mail me as soon as possible at sgbharathwaj@gmail.com
i have the feedback for that stuff which i was talking about otherwise u could call me in 09886988480...dude it's asp !

VC said...

Good post, Anti.
Especially the line "A win resulting out of one good team playing below potential and imploding in the face of good opposition" & the following one.

You may want to be very, very, very specific about the last few lines and say "win more than one test match in either Eng, Aus, SA, WI or NZ" i.e. outside the subcontinent excl. Zim.

Hathirpithi said...

aNTi,
since you are so busy with cricket, can i borrow your "Q&A" and "Untouchables"?

anantha said...

Hathirpithi: If you notice, I am actually reading Q&A! :p

vc: Thanx boss! And the first step i want them to do is to win a series in Zimbabwe, cos (correct me if I am wrong) I think we haven't won a series there yet! But that will happen if we were to win "more than one test" in this series, so that was implied.

FS: Thanx boss..

Hawkeye said...

machi,

The ICC test rankings reflect the true positions of the teams accurately.

My main gripe about India is -- not winning in the West Indies and RSA. I thought we played pretty poorly to lose the Barbados and jamaica tests. good teams dont lose that. The 1st test in RSA was so crucial. I guess we should have won that test too but lost it badly.

India is certainly not the second best team in the world. These were the small details that puts us where we are right now in test rankings. I still see test matches revolving too much around dravid and sachin, with sehwag as the surprise elemnt. The "other" opener is always a bonus, you never know when laxman is going to play and I'd rather not talk again about ganguly.

Regarding ENg Vs Australia -- I still think Asutralia is a good team. But england's bowling has become remarkable (as u rightly pointed out). They are not winning because of Vaughan"super" captaincy (it wud become that case if england was india). They are winning because the have 4 awesome bowlers, 1 top-notch allrounder and 2-3 batsman who are pretty consistent.

they have finally built a team that could win a world cup. something they planned to in 1999.

anantha said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
anantha said...

Hawkeye: Right now I don't know how the ICC is ranking the teams and neither do I care. I don't know how the equation is made and spreading it over 5 years takes the punch out of the rankings. I was discussing this last yr with a friend and we were wondering if its possible to shorten this period and also provide a weighted system of points to account for differences arising between home and away tests. Also I think we should make 3 test match series mandatory, regardless of who the teams are. That way I think we can squeeze in more test series and also not reduce the ODIs (which is something that the clowns running the BCCI would welcome)....
And abt Australia, that is what. It is still a good team. Dropping Gillespie would be fine, but Martyn, I am not sure. Cos every batsman in the team was out of the runs, not just Martyn. Same cannot be said about the bowling and Gillespie. And mebbe its time for us to do some chopping as well. The funda is we need to back the right players and we shld realize that their inclusion is subject to a place being available and not at teh expense of a proven commodity. Going by that yardstick, I think Gangs is STILL worth a few years more as a batsmen, if he can get out of this funk and no Yuvraj or Kaif is going to measure up to Gangs if he can recapture even part of Brisbane '03!

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